Old House Contractors: Price Is Important

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Inspection, Old Houses, Old House Construction, Home Improvement Tips, Old House Musings

In reference to my Customer Service blog, Gary writes: Great blog and post. I have started working with a new site (and local publication) that was started mainly because finding contractors with the intangibles is so hit or miss. I have more than one contractor friend that I’m sorry to say I wouldn’t hire so I found their approach refreshing. They actually research recent customers to assess if the customers would recommend a contractor to friends and family. With locating many contractors for a job so much easier now on the Web etc, providing good customer service will be vital to a companies’ long-term success.

Considering a Contractor? Don’t Forget the Price

I checked out the site and there are a lot of good consumer protection tips. And having spoken with another champion of consumer protection, Mike Holmes, I know it’s imperative to have a fair balance of trade between contractor and customer. I’m also a licensed contractor and its clear that the Attorney General in my state is concerned about poor performing contractors.

But there is a crucial missing element in the Web site Gary mentions to help guide old house consumers. Price.

Pricing and Old House Contractors: Pricing Is Important

Contractors that have the infrastructure in place to be licensed and insured, belong to the Better Business Bureau, have photos and references and a stable of pro-quality tools, and a professional sales presentation that can bring all those to bear—nevermind the extensive technical knowledge required—have fixed costs that the fly-by-night rip-off-types probably don’t. As a result, a true pro can’t be the cheapest ride at the fair which many homeowners expect (more on this below).

So, as far as deposits go, a good contractor will expect one before “starting” work. If you recall, the contractor started working when he did the estimate, not when he dug the hole or hung the cabinet. A deposit reflects the true nature of the scope-of-work and this includes fixed costs of doing business—just like any other professional company or corporation that runs in the black.

And, I hope you’ll forgive me for putting a fine point on this, but there’s a misperception many white collar professionals have of tradesmen: that we are somehow not professional businesspeople like those who drive to an office. Many contractors deserve the “strong-back-weak-mind” moniker. But all shouldn’t be painted with the same brush.

Without question, dolts and dishonest persons exist, but I believe managing the expectations of both parties is the best way to keep the balance of trade fair. Really, it’s simple if both groups are honest and respectful of the other and both are willing to bend to see the project through for a fair price. I’ve only been working successfully this way for a long time. Nickel-and-diming a professional doing his due diligence just makes the experience harder (and, I hasten to add, more expensive and take longer).

Old House Contractors: Price and Professionalism Go Hand-in-Hand

So, and this gets back to Gary’s salient point: protect yourself to be sure. And feel good about the contractor you hire—this is huge. After all, they will be in your home. But if you expect all that and a bargain basement price, well, something’s gotta give. Professionalism has a commensurate cost. If it doesn’t—that’s a signal to start worrying.