What a lot of people don’t know is that we started Modern Builders out of absolute frustration with general and sub-contractors. Oh, and we lost a lot of money and bad players in the industry, like many of you have over the years. Through it all, we learned a few lessons we think can help others.
The story is that, as an investment property, we bought a fixer upper – well actually a complete gut renovation – of an historical, yet abandoned house and hired a friend as our general contractor. Btw, there is nothing wrong with hiring a friend. The world is relationship-driven but checking that friends’ qualifications and getting references is critical. We did neither.
Lesson one: Hiring a friend is ok. Hiring a friend without checking their work is a mistake. Unfortunately, we rightfully fired that friend. There was a lack of communication. Lack of clear pricing. Often changes in work schedule. Shoddy workmanship. Even “missing” items from the home that we wanted to keep.
Lesson two: Stop by the site and see what is being done every day. If something doesn’t look right, ask. If it still doesn’t make sense, ask someone else with more experience than you. You have to check in, which will save you time and money. A project schedule – and keeping to that schedule – is critical!
Lesson three: If you don’t hear from your contractor several times each week, you should assume nothing is happening. Communication is critical. If they don’t call or text you back within a couple hours or by the end of the day it should be a red flag. Either they are too busy (red flag) or the are avoiding you for some reason (red flag).
Lesson four. Hire slow. Fire quick. We have all heard this before. Trust us…do it. If you feel as though things have fallen behind and that explanations are not making sense, go with your gut and cut ties.
As the process on this project continued, we hired a second contractor. He needed a higher price to complete the job because he needed to fix things. That seemed reasonable. The contractor had a great rating on Angie’s List and his references were great too. We paid a deposit and the work started. Things seemed to be going great. Suddenly something changed. We noticed work stopped and things were not ordered. Also things were done completely out of order to make it appear as if progress was taking place when it wasn’t. For example, light fixtures and cabinets were installed before the drywall work was begun. so they ended up covered in dust and in some cases damaged. The contractor ghosted us for days and even weeks at a time. He then suddenly requested another deposit before work that wasn’t complete could continue. Red flag!!! We had to fire this contractor as well, which lost us even more time and more money.
Lesson five. Make sure the contractor is giving you updates on expenses. This contractor we later found out was robbing Peter to pay Paul. He had another project where he wasn’t getting paid, so he used our deposit money that is supposed to be used for supplies and labor to pay his other project to get final payment from them. So, his subs wouldn’t continue work on our project until he paid them for the other and it delayed our work for weeks. Ask your contractor if they have a line of credit. Many small businesses do not, but if they say they have the capability to be a GC for your project and have this available liquidity, it is unlikely this will happen. Ask them how many projects they are working at once and you should ask to see one.
We finally found a contractor that worked. This contractor did the estimates, showed what they were working on, stuck to the project budget, and took us with him to do some of the purchases for the home such as all of the tile. He over-communicated. The project was done on time and on budget (well the revision of the revision of the budget).
In conclusion: Do your homework. Ask questions. Stop by all the time and unannounced. Watch the budget. Demand communication. Or save time and money and just hire us.