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The Renovator Dating Game

Posted on February 20 2018

The Renovator Dating Game

How do lonely single socks find that special someone? matchsox.com

Ok, that's my little joke. But this blog is all about finding that special someone ‐ not to love, but to handle the task of being your General Contractor. This process can be as frustrating and as elusive as finding true love.

One would have thought that husband and I could easily find a contractor with so much renovation experience and with my professional contacts. However, here is the dilemma: wonderful contractors move on to bigger and better things, so they don't have time for past clients, especially if our scope of work is on the smaller side. Unknown contractors could be a bucket of trouble, fly by night types who have questionable credentials and little experience. Even seasoned professionals may not be right for you if their price point is too high and in our
case, if they're uncomfortable dealing with the WHAT IF'S of an older home.

What choice was left for us? Word of mouth, friends'/family's referrals. This is when finding the right contractor becomes a lot like blind dating. Recommendations are all well and good, but if that spark, that connection is lacking, then you need to move on to the next name on the list. Tell yourself it's nothing personal and trudge on.

The Dating Game - How To Choose a Home Renovation Contractor

We met and interviewed 6 different general contractors. The process was long, stressful and painful. Let's play the Bachelor Game. Try to figure out which candidate we chose:

Bachelor #1
He was recommended to me by a girlfriend who had recently had very similar work done in her home with a new kitchen, new flooring, new lighting and reworking of interior walls. Damian seemed like a lovely guy, very relaxed in his demeanour. He asked all the right questions, made all the right noises. Damian is a personal friend of someone who I like and respect, made me feel very comfortable with him. He asked when I wanted the work done. Not having a hard deadline, I suggested early spring, as their industry would be in a sort of dead period at that time of year. He said he wouldn't rush with a quotation as we were looking close to 10 months ahead. I was okay with that.

Bachelor #2 
Knowing it's always a good idea to get multiple quotes, I asked around for more
recommendations. An old friend gave me the name of a guy he knew to do good work. This friend is a prominent real estate agent, so I trusted that he would know the difference between good contractors and bad. Tony was all business. He was loaded with the latest gadgets to help with his work. He came with Bluetooth behind his ear, smart watch and a giant tablet which communicated with all devices. He asked lots of questions, focusing mainly on structural elements of our demolition. He took lots of pictures and enquired about architectural drawings, which I was eager to provide. Couldn't say I liked his brusque manner. But I really thought he was knowledgeable and understood what we wanted for our renovations. He left promising a quotation soon.

Bachelor #3
Dave was recommended by former clients of mine. I had seen his work and really liked his meticulous nature. I also liked that he was very open to having the homeowner work alongside him. I knew that husband would want to do some of the work so that aspect seemed promising. He looked a bit scruffy but very personable. He spoke a lot about his own home renovations and remarked how similar our homes are. That also made us feel good about him. He left promising us a quotation and some sub‐trade referrals for cabinetry. He also emailed us photos of his house ‐ areas which pertained to our design ideas.

Bachelor #4
Marvin was a very personable guy, recommended to us by our kitchen company rep. She said that he had extensive experience working on older city homes. He was very informative and very easy to like. He asked lots of wonderful questions and paid particular attention to our wants and needs and he seemed very surprised and happy to have drawings to look at as the average homeowner doesn't usually provide such aids.

Bachelor #5
Jason was a relaxed recent import from the west coast. We met him at our friends' Christmas party 2 years ago. When we saw him again at the last party, I enquired about a quotation for our house. He has a deep respect for keeping a home design honest with good, honest materials. I didn't know anything about the quality of his work, but knew I liked him enough to want a quote.

Bachelor #6
Charlie was a general contractor used often by a designer friend of mine. Charlie was a last minute cold call. But he stayed a long time and with his thorough questions, there were no stones unturned. Charlie said his speciality was cabinetry and his experience was primarily with commercial properties and a smattering of homes, including his own. He seemed deeply worried about some of the walls we wanted to remove. He wanted us to consider calling in a structural engineer to evaluate the situation. His knowledge base was impressive and despite meeting him just a couple of days before Christmas, he
was very easy going and friendly, not too bothered about the late notice.

Which did we chose in the end?

Bachelors #1 and #4 were the only ones who provided us with quotes. That helped narrow things down. It was a disappointing result, but there was nothing we could do about it.

We chose Bachelor number 1. He really was our first choice. But getting to that decision was difficult and frustrating. I won't bore you with all the ins and outs of how we came to this decision. But what I want to share are the lessons learned.

The best advice I can give is go with your gut. Your instincts are never wrong. If the person seems off to you, then let them go, regardless of how impressive their portfolio or flashy phrases. This is a person who would have full access to your home and life. He/she needs to be trustworthy and have your best interests at heart. The most eye opening lesson I learned came from a conversation with Marvin. It's normal and important for a homeowner to interview more than one prospective contractor for a good comparison base. Just as important is to
know is that contractors are doing the same with homeowners. They also want to ensure that the jobs they take on are with people they will get along with, be honest with them and provide a safe and positive work environment. Sounds like common sense, right? But I had never before thought that the tables are reversed at every first meeting.

Like dating, each are evaluating the other. I had naively thought that people in the construction industry should be grateful to be getting any work. But they also have standards to live by. Why did I not conceive of the fact that a relationship is a 2 way street! The main factors for our decision were based on our budget aligning best with Damian's quotation and his extensive experience working on older homes. I love his calm demeanour and his willingness to be flexible with who we are and our needs.

We start demolishing in 2 weeks. We are already feeling overwhelmed by the task of packing up the contents of our main floor. Where will all the boxes go? Where will our large sofa be parked for the duration? And most importantly, will things be settled enough for me to hunker down and watch the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4th?! Stay tuned!

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