Evaluating a potential GC

Optimist999June 8, 2012

This is a question about checking out a GC to do my kitchen.

I took one possible GC into the bathroom, which was done 8 years ago (by a GC who I checked out, including references), showed him the tile wall in the shower, "Tell me what you think about this."

He pointed out 1 or 2 things he would have done differently, e.g. taking the tile up to the ceiling, instead of leaving an 8 in. gap betw the top of the tile work and the ceiling, but otherwise had no observations about the work.

Then I pointed out the fact that the tile was of different widths on the 2 ends (about 1/2 in. missing on 1 end). He commented that the contractor did not start with a center line, so as to make the tile on both ends the same width. Everything I've read about tile says that that (barring some definite reason for not creating a CL) you do start with a CL.

Then I pointed out a few corners where there was a noticeable discrepancy in the corners (picture available on request).

This fellow says he's been doing kitchens for 35 years. Yet he did not notice the alignment problem, or the CL problem, until I pointed them out. Or, alternatively, did not wish to comment on them (even tho my asking him for an opinion should have been a tip-off).

The lack of negative comment, even diplomatically phrased, disturbs me.

OPINIONS, please: do you think he should have noticed these flaws?

And suppose I point out the problems to another contractor: what do you think would be something appropriate for the contractor to say?

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Asking a contractor to comment on a previous contractor's work is impolitic and a poor interview technique for gauging anything other than his ability to keep quiet. The focus should be on the work HE has done in the past, not a critique of someone else's work. You should be viewing installations that he has done and see if they come up to your standards, and if so, that's all that matters. I'd be more suspicious of the contractor that comes in and immediately starts giving you smoke about how much better he could have done the same job and running someone else down. The man who says little but lets his work do his talking is the one you want.

Don't be surprised if you continue this method that you get very few people who will get back to you with quotes, as well as the price of the quotes that you will receive from those who do give them to you. If you expect the highest quality work from your trades, you have to be prepared to pay top dollar for it.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 5:03PM
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I agree with Greendesigns - judge them on their work, not on what they think about the work of others.

We ended up going with a GC for our addition that had done lots of additions and work on our block. He was easy to work with, and neighbors we trust had used him on multiple projects. Plus all the additions he has done blended in with our 1920s homes quite well.

Overall I'm happy with our choice. They didn't end up being the cheapest, but with this type of thing you oftentimes get what you pay for.

Of course talk to me in a few months and I might have a different opinion of our general contractor. We are so far four weeks into the process.

It can be a scary thing picking someone who will be in your home and who you will pay a lot of money. I would definitely get a subscription to Angie's list and call as many people who used them as you can.

Of course, the contractor won't give you the clients who were unhappy with him, and that's why Angie's List and the BBB are great resources.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 5:17PM
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Green Designs:

You said: I'd be more suspicious of the contractor that comes in and immediately starts giving you smoke about how much better he could have done the same job and running someone else down."

But that's not what happened. I specifically ASKED him for his opinion.

He could have not commented *explicitly* on the previous work but just sort of rolled his eyes or shook his head; he could have said explicitly he was not comfortable commenting on someone else's work. He could have said diplomatically he thought it was inferior work.

If a contractor is EITHER (a) afraid to criticize another's work, or (b) does not appear to recognize bad work when he sees it---how can I trust him?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 5:19PM
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Janieful and GREENDesigns:

1. Thank you, Janieful, for your suggestion re Angie's list. I will check it out.

2. I am intrigued by your viewpoints about contractors not making negative comments about what is CLEARLY sloppy work--so sloppy that the consumer can see for himself.

Could each of you say more about your viewpoint? I don't understand why it is such a bad practice *when the consumer can see clearly how bad the work is*. If contractors don't make some effort to get rid of bad ones, won't they always be regarded with suspicion? Is there something in the Contractor's Code of Ethics that says "thou shalt not speak ill of a competitor or prior contractor" ?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 5:57PM
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Janieful and Green:

Another question just occurred to me.

Suppose a contractor recommends Brand X for some item I need, and suppose I say "Hmm, Consumer Reports says Brand Y is better", or suppose I ask "why do you recommend Brand X over Brand Y or Z?".

In your opinion, how should the contractor respond? Should he keep his mouth shut and not "bad mouth" another brand?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 6:39PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It says a lot about you that you would put someone on the spot like that and focus on the negative of a previous unrelated job rather than focus on the person in front of you and their work and references.

No one gains anything by bashing the competition, you included. You're only making yourself out to be someone that most contractors will not want to work for.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 7:11PM
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How was I putting him on the spot? I was asking his professional opinion about some work done by someone else--work that was *clearly* inferior. (I will be happy to send you a photo if you would like.)

I wasn't demanding that he answer. He could have dodged my inquiry quite diplomatically. I've seen doctors dodge quite diplomatically--and I think there's more of a code of ethics among docs than contractors.

PLUS, this question was in the context of "now, if I should hire you for this job, how will we resolve things if I see YOU doing work that looks sloppy to me?"

And you said after all, "...focus on the negative...rather than focus on the person in front of you and their work and references. " How, after all, can I get some kind of objective idea of his work and references? What contractor is gonna give a potential customer negative references, or say anything bad about himself? Isn't it very naive to expect that a contractor, hoping to sell his services, will give a prospect ANYTHING of a negative nature?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 7:32PM
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I don't think a 1/2 INCH is that much to worry about. I agree that you sound rather nit-picky in your criticism, and I also agree that a contractor will be reluctant to work with you. They rely on referrals and word of mouth. They aren't going to want to pick up a really high need customer without a premium, if at all.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 12:09AM
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Would you worry about a half-inch gap in installation of cabinets in your kitchen? A 1/4 in. gap? How about 1/16?

There is no gap in the tiling. Rather, I can see that the tiling job violates what appears to be the # 1 principle I;'ve read about in all tiling: "FIND THE CENTER LINE, then make sure the tiles on either end of the job are the same width. "

I will report back here on whether I have any trouble getting contractors to work with me. If a contractor decides not to work with me because I will be a demanding (tho not unreasonable) customer, then I certainly don't want that contractor to pick me as a customer! So asking the tough questions may yet work out well.

That said....I cannot imagine a competent, experienced contractor turning down work because a prospect pointed out a gross failing in a prior job done by someone else. BUT, we will see.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 2:41PM
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There are other rules for tiling besides finding the center line. There are exceptions to the rules.

Now, if there was a 1/2" GAP in the tiling, then I'd be concerned. But, a 1/2" difference in a field tile, across the width of a shower, not really. Just MO.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 3:17PM
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If your tile wall has a window in the middle of it, a simplistic "find the center line and stick with it" approach isn't going to work. You need to find the best solution for each situation; and there's more than one way to skin a cat.
If you think there is only one right answer and therefore all answers beside must be wrong, then you are no true optimist.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 8:56PM
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