Have you done THIS before?

Building a new home. Have you done this before?

Have you done THIS before

A good question you should always ask your contractor (see our other blog about “What Should I Ask My Contractor”) is about his or her experience. Honestly, for something that will cost you thousands of dollars, you want to have some kind of comfort that the person you are ready to hire is capable.

We have all heard stories – horror stories – about contractors who were unscrupulous; walking away with money and never returning to the job site, forcing the homeowner to pull permits, entering into contracts that are against California license law to name just a few.  Believe it or not, after 30 years in business, we are asked about our experience often, and are happy to oblige.  However, there is one looming question that seems to baffle even us, after all these years. Have you done THIS before?

A perfectly good question really. If you are hiring a solar panel contractor, would you want him to install your pool? Naturally not. Fortunately, you can check license numbers and the type of license the company holds by going to www.Cslb.ca.gov. This can give you some preliminary information to help guide your next round of questions.

Barring that though – you find the contractor is a general building contractor who has passed all necessary requirements (exam taking, job experience, holds the appropriate level of insurance). A B contractor is licensed to build all kinds of stuff – from remodels to new homes. This type of license is the top of all trades, and has an incredible amount of responsibility to the public to ensure the projects under his tool belt are performed according to code at the minimum – but you still want to know, have you done THIS before? 

By way of example, many years ago, the very first time we remodeled a bathroom, we had never done one before. It was our first time.  How did the client become confident to allow us to work on this project? I think it came down to honesty. We were new at the time, and so our first client had these very questions. We were upfront and honest – telling the client that we had experience with other projects that demonstrated our proficiency and understanding of building science while also explaining the process to become licensed in the first place. Mainly though, we listened to the client’s needs and took every detail to heart, as we explored options for the client.  

You might say – well, that’s fine, but how did the client gain trust that you would perform the job well? That’s a great question, and quite frankly, there is no roadmap here. Professionalism is unique to every tradesman, some having more than others really.  The way I would approach this is to look back over the first meeting to see if certain things stood out with you – were they on time for the appointment – virtual or in person? Did they take pride in their appearance? Did they listen? Did you have a good rapport with them? 

Sometimes these things stand out when you first meet someone, but don’t put too much into one area. I am reminded of a great scene from The Pursuit of Happyness (Muccino, 2006) when Will Smith, playing Chris Gardner, a homeless single father who ultimately became a wealthy businessman and motivational speaker, had an interview with Dean Witter. Through a series of unfortunate events, he was in jail the night before over past due parking tickets, ran to the interview after his release and had the worst outfit for an interview that you could think of. When asked, “what would you say if a guy walked in for an interview, without a shirt on, and I hired him? What would you say?” Without missing a beat, he responded with “He must have had on some really nice pants.”

So, you may find a contractor who is out on his maiden voyage, green, ready to go to impress you. Use your judgement and feel free to refer back to the “What Should I Ask My Contractor” blog . To be honest, we haven’t done every project under the sun either, some out of opportunity, others we walk away from when we feel we are not the right fit for you. It takes wisdom to do this – particularly in an industry where there is so much high-pressure selling tactics that consumers are already on guard to reject each quote regardless of how well thought out it could be.  Once you have made your decision to move forward, your contractor should be keeping you updated as the project progresses – the good, the bad, the ugly. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand.

Ready for another true story? This one will be quick, I promise. While doing some small jobs for a commercial client many years ago, we were told about a particular issue that none of the other contractors could fix or figure out. So, we got the call and showed up at the location, with the manager in charge explaining that they had several other companies out and they could not fix the problem, so the regional office called in “the best” vendor they had, which was us. We were so amazed because the problem wasn’t something we were familiar with either, but apparently, we had somehow gained the trust of our client so that – even though they knew in advance this wasn’t our specialty – they knew we would figure it out. We did. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bottom line? You may not find a contractor that has done THIS before. And yet, there are ways you can build trust and confidence before that first hammer strikes. Do a bit of due diligence, at a minimum.  Not all of us are crooks or just after the dollar.  There are many of us out here who take our work as a matter of pride. 

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