Author Topic: some observations on a recent major remodel  (Read 3906 times)

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Offline HowardH

  • Posts: 1271
some observations on a recent major remodel
« on: December 29, 2013, 10:28 AM »
In April, we purchased a house that was 22 years old and pretty much hadn't been touched since new.  My wife, as wives tend to be, decided it was due a major remodel.  We didn't move any walls or do anything structural in nature, be we still managed to spend upwards of a small fortune on updating.  Most of the major trades were used.  Painters, plumbers, electricians, glass, carpenters and cabinet makers.  We also got all new appliances.  What was supposed to take 10-12 weeks ended up taking over six months and we still don't have everyone out of house yet.  The painting was supposed to take 5-6 weeks and has taken over 3 months and they aren't done yet.  The Dallas area is booming at the moment and the subs have more work than they can do and that has contributed to the delays.  On one hand, the subs did beautiful work.  It was amazing to watch their skill level in applying an italian plaster with a hand trowel in our dining room that is as smooth as what an ETS 150 with 320 brilliant can do.  The cabinet guys did great work as well and what was interesting to see was how they took my wife's vision and transformed it into reality.  The work itself wasn't rocket science, the ability to make it happen from some rough notes was.  Now comes the ugly part.  I'm sure you contractors out there may have something to say about these comments.  First, I'll point out I did some contracting back in the day.  I worked my way through school building fences and patio covers in Houston doing the first oil boom and my partner and I were swamped.  We built over a couple of hundred fences over a couple of years so we learned how to manage our time.  That's where I have my problem with most of these guys.  It was maddening to have a crew come over, start on a particular job, and then disappear for a few weeks at a time and nothing got done.  I'm sure they went to other jobs but I really don't understand why they couldn't have come back and finish the job they started.  Most recently, we only lacked having the frames painted around the master bath mirrors and it took them a month to get back and they worked for two days and then they took off to do something else and who knows when they are coming back.  Finish the job!!!  They are still owed money but they seem to be in no hurry to get it.  It was the same thing with the cabinet guys.  Work for a few days, disappear for a week.  Work for a few days more, disappear again! Too make matters worse, these delays cost me a lot more since we couldn't sell our existing house at the time until our new house was ready to move in.  We paid about 4 months more in double house payments than we planned and it got expensive.  Just yesterday, the owner of the painting company needed to come by and look at some options on finishing those mirror frames.  He said he would be by at 9... then it was 12.... and then it was going to be 5 and guess what?  He never made it!  We ended up blowing a Saturday waiting for him to show up to no avail.  I'm in a business where if I did that to my clients, I wouldn't have any.  I worry about being ten minutes late to an appointment, much less blowing it off completely.  But for some reason, contractors get a pass on that.  Unfortunately, this trend was pretty much across the board with all the trades.  I don't understand how the same rules in most all other business don't apply here.  It's like the attitude is, "we have so much business, we don't give a rat's patootie if you don't like it that we are habitually late or don't show up for your job".  My wife said for me to shut up, it won't do any good.  I suppose that attitude is fine during busy times, but during lean times, maybe not?  As Woody Allen once said, "80% of success is showing up".  I have made a fairly successful business by being there for my clients, showing up when they need me, not blowing them off and waiting weeks to get back to them when they need something from me.  I do understand there is an order to these things and one particular sub-job has to be completed before another trade can come in and do their work.  I also understand that they are working several jobs at once so juggling where to be on any particular day can be challenging.  However, to get 98% finished and then take off for month I don't get.  The GC followed the same rules, not responding to emails, texts, phone calls for days at a time.  Why not simply respond and say the sub we are waiting on is finishing up something else and he will be here shortly?  Having no information is much worse than at least knowing they are busy and won't be there for awhile.  If I'm going to be late to an appointment, I give my clients the courtesy of letting them know and when my expected ETA is going to be. Nobody is ever upset when things happen as long as they know about it.  He made a telling comment early on when he told me that clients quickly forget about the pain of the job as soon as it is finished and the contractors are gone.  It must be standard practice to not worry about the time it takes to get a job completed.  Even tho if they pushed to get the job done, they could conceivably do more jobs in a given year and make just that much more money.   Was I expecting too much from these guys?  I don't think so but maybe my expectations are too high.  That's enough time on my soap box.  Before you guys bring out the tar and feathers I know most contractors (especially those who frequent this site!) are hard working guys trying to make living for their families.  It's hard work with long hours.  However, I imagine how much better they could do if they did a better job managing their time and doing some of the most basic communicating with their clients.  It could put them ahead of their competition and be the difference of keeping busy or starving during lean times.  Just my two cents worth...
Howard H
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Offline tjbier

  • Posts: 328
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2013, 11:13 AM »
That is junk.  We do not treat jobs that way, we show up stay there til its done. There have been circumstances where we leave for a day and then come back, but that is not normal.
 I am a self employed builder with no employees, but recently  I have committed to a builder I worked for a few years ago to be his site /project manager and he can also work on site  but have the time now to be gone to focus on contracting.  It will turn into a full time job in the spring if we both think its going well, the point being that the 2 of us have a lot of experience in building /contracting and we are trying the this method to keep guys on site busy and focused as "the boss is gone" mindset will not apply and he can keep getting the next job all set.
  Sounds like they bit off more than they could chew and are trying to keep people happy but instead are  everyone off.
Tom- ps, I read these.

Offline Saskataper

  • Posts: 278
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2013, 01:20 PM »
Managing subs is a ton of work and can be a full time job.  I'm a drywall contractor and often have times where it is really difficult to keep everyone happy.  It seems all to often jobs that I have committed to and were supposed to be ready at different times suddenly come ready all at once because of delays or schedules that have gone quicker than expected. So then I am stuck either bouncing between jobs or having no choice but to put one off if they were behind schedule. I do get all of my work through word of mouth so keeping my clients happy is very important to me but I do have to prioritize sometimes and the one time client like a homeowners reno job will likely be put off before the clients that have given me lots of work.
That being said the squeaky wheel often will get the grease and I'll have to decide who will be more upset with me if I delay them.
My best advise is to be the squeaky wheel and let them know that they are costing you money, stay ontop of them. On bigger jobs that involve a few different sub trades having a good GC is a big advantage as the subs will be keen on keeping them happy. But again finding a good GC can be difficult, I know I have worked for some pretty awefull ones that didn't have a list of subs that they always use or subs were tripping over each other because the scheduling was terrible.

Offline CarolinaNomad

  • Posts: 307
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2013, 01:56 PM »
I'm a self employed builder/GC as well.  I build one or two houses a year.  And even though, I provide repeat business, I'm still not high on the totem pole as compared to a tract builder for some of my subs but much higher than a homeowner's renovation.  Just like most people, the subs makes sure to keep the builder's who provide repeat business happy.  And I find, if most of your trades are subdivision trades, then you will definitely not get the attention you need.

Therefore, the way I read your story (I could be wrong), your project was considered "filler work".  What I mean by that, when a contractor has a big contract, there is always one or two days of down time.  So, when they are not working on the big contract, they come by and work on yours until they need to go back to the big contract.  I'm not condoning the behavior.  I just try not to hire those types of trades.

A lot of your issues rests on the shoulders of the GC.  Does he have so many projects going on at one time and then added yours?  How well of a relationship does he have with the trades?  There's always a few GC that try to take on more projects than they can handle.
resides in NAINA

Offline Jon Hilgenberg

  • Posts: 1113
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2013, 02:45 PM »
I just played a minor role in a renovation very similar to yours. There were a lot of scheduling conflicts and this resulted in a lot of setbacks.  My schedule as a cabinet installer was such that multiple jobs all delivered at once, keeping me from taking on any more work.  I did however fill in a couple of days to keep the wolves at bay, so to speak. 

It was frustrating for the homeowners, and they were very understanding of the situation in that they knew that I was not the one they needed to be frustrated with...I wanted nothing more than to stay and finish the job, but it really wasn't mine to finish.

It all comes down to communication.  If you can't be there, tell them.  Then take the time to set a hard schedule to BE there.  I've always found that instead of trying to piecemeal the schedule by trying to have a warm body on site here and there, it's best to just be polite but firm and tell them a fixed date as to when I can be there.

I feel for you, heck, this frustrates me.  But the squeeky wheel does indeed get the grease.

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Offline Sparktrician

  • Posts: 4009
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2013, 03:52 PM »
One thing that used to irk me to no end was the company I once worked for would hire the sleaziest, low-ball subs, then fuss because they didn't show up when needed on a tight schedule, and threw off the rest of the subs' schedules in a ripple effect.  The bozo that kept hiring these no-shows just didn't get real project management processes or understand that cheap isn't conducive to getting things done on time, and not being done on time often cost more than hiring reliable subs.  I'm not even going to touch the concept of good communications between builder and sub since the same bozo that hired the low-balls had a habit of irritating nearly every sub we ever had to the point that good subs refused to work with him any more. 

« Last Edit: December 29, 2013, 03:54 PM by Sparktrician »
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Offline SMJoinery

  • Posts: 530
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2013, 05:09 PM »
Hi Howard

On behalf of the industry, I'm sorry for the hassle.
I'd also love to say it's very rare but alas it's not.
Like all problems it comes down to common sense and communication.
I was brought up on the understanding that you "Do unto others as you would have them do to you".
You won't be surprised to hear that I've won plenty of jobs because I've turned up to survey when arranged, submitted a detailed estimate as scheduled and communicated throughout the process without delay.
I had an instance 2 weeks ago where the client contacted 5 contractors (including me), spoke to 3 and arranged a survey with them (including me), 2 turned up (including me) and only 1 quoted (guess who).
It's not rocket science really it's actually quite simple.
I think any contractor who is sloppy with the logistics of the job will follow through likewise with their other attributes but they will always pick up work because some clients still decide the contractor on price despite how protracted that process was and how much hassle they go through.
I'm not the cheapest, my quality is first class, my communication is even better and I do what I say I'm going to do, when I say I'm going to do it!
Sorry for the rant...and don't get me started on the cleanliness and organisation in the rear of other trades vehicles!!
Best regards

Offline BMH

  • Posts: 382
Re: some observations on a recent major remodel
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2013, 10:08 PM »
I feel for you, been there a couple of times. The secret is finding the right general contractor. When you find an outstanding GC you just don't give him up. I am at the point where I just ask him for an estimate for our remodel and then let him know when we will like him to start and wait for his call. We pay by the hour and he copies us on all of his invoices.

People think that I am crazy but his bid are within 10% of my estimates and we rarely have a day without a sub present and they are great. I have a problem I call him, they have a problem they call him before talking to me. He hates coming bag, so he clears his punch list at the end of each jobs. We had a loose lock and called him, he was there at 4pm same day, fiddle with it for an hour, called his hardware guy that replaced it and came back at 8 pm to replace it. Told him it could have waited and his answer was no I got other jobs to take care of.

This is what you call a real General Contractor and that why I am happy to pay him.