Paranoia about contractor?

ahmnjAugust 21, 2014

Hi - I've appreciated everyone's help, and I've had something come up that is making me uneasy about the contractor we've just signed a contract with. (Yes, that's done, and we've paid a relatively small deposit.)

The job is our Master Bath, which includes a small addition and rearrangement of the bath. We interviewed a number of contractors, visited jobs they had done, and gotten references. We're in NJ, which makes it harder lately - lots of contractors are mired in Sandy recovery still.

But here's what made me tense. When we were reviewing the contract language, based on a drawing done by an independent architect (who had done work with the house before we bought it), I asked about adding a clause to confirm that all millwork and wallboard would be US-sourced. I had done that with our Kitchen remodel in 2012, and there was no problem.

The answer was no, because "it isn't specified in the drawings. But of course we'll use US-sourced millwork anyway." DH thought that was fine, but I'm uneasy. Since when does the lack of a level of detail in the floor plan tie my hands dealing with the contractor?

Separately, we have some windows to replace. We had done some of them at the time of the kitchen, and we wanted to use the same windows, and so we had an idea of what the cost might be. Their quote came in quite a bit higher, so we asked if they could break it out by window unit, so we could understand the quote, and maybe prioritize the windows that were in the worst condition.

The answer was no! They "only quote jobs as a whole", and won't break out components. We said fine, forget it for now, and may try to beg the guys who did it before (now working on Sandy projects).

But these two situations made me nervous. DH says I'm over-reacting and too paranoid, but I've been in sales, and I can't imagine ever responding to a client that way. (Oh, and in advance of signing, they didn't want to tell us who the project manager would be - but they finally gave in. How nice of them.)

So am I crazy? The work we saw WAS good, and the project mgr is very experienced and has been responsive otherwise, but it's nerve-wracking.

Thanks...!

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HandyMac

Those red flags would cause me concern as well.

I understand companies work with suppliers to get better prices(which may or may not be passed to customers) and in some cases for training and minimize the need for installation differences---creating call backs and other problems.

Mill work does not fall into the second category---but can be a big difference in the first.

Ditto the windows.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 3:22PM
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ahmnj

Thanks Handymac - it's strange. And I might have been unclear - we weren't asking them to break down every component - just a cost for doing fewer windows! The units are mostly two-light and three-light casements, plus one with four. But they wouldn't even break it down by which window units we would replace! It was very odd...

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 3:38PM
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snoonyb

If they are reluctant to break something out, tell them, ok, we'll remove it from the scope of "your" work, and please bring a new contract by, reflecting that deletion.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 9:22PM
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Trebruchet

"If they are reluctant to break something out, tell them, ok, we'll remove it from the scope of "your" work, and please bring a new contract by, reflecting that deletion."

I'd dump a client that pulled that trick. Not my type of customer.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 10:36PM
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pnbrown

Me too. I have a good nose for pain-in-the-ass clients.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:48AM
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ahmnj

Soonyb's suggestion really doesn't apply here, since this was a project OUTSIDE the MBR contract, that they were quoting as an add-on for their accounting reasons. I don't see it necessarily related at all.

Ultimately, my goal is to treat (and be treated by) the contractor as a partner and grown-up, and I'm concerned that what I'm seeing, the selective release of information, unwillingness to clarify their business practices on paper (the US-sourcing) and "do it all or nothing", just doesn't fit those goals.

Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:50AM
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geoffrey_b

Part of the deal is that when you have people / equipment on site you can get more work done - than if you say "well I'll take this window here, but leave that other for now."

I think you're being a PITA client.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 11:49AM
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ahmnj

WOW! The hostility towards paying customers I'm getting from (I'm assuming) tradespeople? WOW!

We have no one on site yet, only just have the permit application in for the MBR, and asked the contractor if they were interested in doing a DIFFERENT project, replacing some windows.

They said yes, we said could you give us a quote on these 7 multi-pane windows. They gave us a quote. We said we can't do the $$ right now, what if we do these two that are the worst - and they wouldn't give us a quote to do just those two.

Again - no one on site, nothing. Just a separate (new) project that we thought might be good to do when they did have people on site - later in the year.

What's really scary is all of the attacks on a customer trying to balance needs and pocketbook! No wonder we dumb homeowners get paranoid!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 12:27PM
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millworkman

But in defense of the responder's you are giving us this information piece-meal a little at a time. No one can read your mind and know all the detail without your feeding us the info.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 12:31PM
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ahmnj

Was trying to keep things brief - thought I made it clear in the first post that it was a separate project from the MBR. I did mention that we had JUST signed a contract, which imply that we were in advance of starting the MBR work. Oh well.

-PITA

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 12:36PM
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snoonyb

Trebruchet

We've been through this before.

I believe in customer service. I have my hand in there pocket and as long as that remains the case. What ever they want.

And the price is reflective of that.

AHMIowa

Make no mistake, they are not your partner and they have no intention of enjoining you.

They have their hand in your pocket.

Treat them as such.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 5:08PM
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EmmJay

If a promise isn't in writing, it's worthless. If they'll use U.S. sourced materials anyway, why refuse to confirm that fact in writing? And that's exactly what I'd ask. When someone like that says, "I said I'll do it. Don't you trust me?" my response is, "Why aren't you professional enough to back up your word in the contract?"

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 5:12PM
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pixie_lou

If you wanted everything US sourced, it should have been specified in the bid documents. Asking after the fact to insert that into the contract isn't fair. It sounds like the GC intends to use US sourced materials, but didn't take the time to make sure every single screw, staple, glue, widget, etc. was US sourced. And he doesn't want to be held contractually liable.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 6:29PM
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renovator8

Anything written in the contract supersedes the information drawings. I hope the GC is just a little inexperienced or unfamiliar with contracts instead of devious.

If you had called the reduction in scope of the window work an "alternative" the GC would have priced both ways without question. It might be the way you presented the request that made the GC hesitate although it shouldn't have.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 6:55PM
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dekeoboe

They said yes, we said could you give us a quote on these 7 multi-pane windows. They gave us a quote. We said we can't do the $$ right now, what if we do these two that are the worst - and they wouldn't give us a quote to do just those two.

Perhaps they don't want a job to just install two windows. Maybe it was worth it for them if it was 7 windows, but isn't if it is only 2 windows.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:52PM
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energy_rater_la

it has been my experience that once you start
breaking down cost per item that you ( the tradesperson)
gets all the difficult work. since you have broken
the job down...then the client takes the easy stuff..
or hires cheap labor..
and you get the all hard work..for less money.
& are expected to eat any issues left by cheap
labor that you have to fix.

I bid jobs, not per item.

people who ask for break downs, price breaks...
these are not my types of clients.
this isn't my first rodeo.

while you may not be one OP, there are
certainly pita people on both sides!

best of luck with your project.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:03PM
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Trebruchet

"I bid jobs, not per item.

people who ask for break downs, price breaks...
these are not my types of clients.
this isn't my first rodeo."

Amen, brother.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 6:03PM
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snookums2

You are making a purchase. One, you have asked for US sourced drywall (health concerns) and millwork. They will not guarantee that. Two, you asked for an estimate for windows. It is more than you can spend right now and they are only willing to do all the windows, not what you need. So this is not the right company for your job. They are not willing or able to deliver what you want - none of which is unreasonable.

Any increase in cost to source as you desire should simply be included in the bid. Do not accept a loose verbal that they will use it. They are not guaranteeing it and will do what they want, not what you want. And will probably forget about it altogether. Needs it on the drawings? Then amend them. There's a good reason they won't put it in writing. Deal with it now, not down the road. It doesn't get easier.

There is often more economy of operation in doing a bigger job. We used to hear a saying around here that contractors don't want the small jobs. That might be the case here. Plenty of people, however, only need one or two windows replaced. The bill should simply reflect that additional expense, of a lack of economy. Don't let someone coerce you into doing more than you can or want at this time. Get other estimates. Since the first is over budget, pick the most necessary windows and also ask how much if they were to do them all. Then you can assess what you need to do. You are entitled to manage your money too.

Seems they don't want you to be able to see labor, overhead, markup on those windows, just a lump sum. Fine, but you don't like their price so it's a deal breaker. Reducing the job to 2 windows is not asking for a blowout of itemized charges. It's a completely legitimate and reasonable request for work.

I would pass on this company though as they don't seem either reasonable or customer oriented, and you need both for a successful venture and outcome.

There is a reason for that non-transparency. Just as there is a reason they won't commit to writing, for US drywall. And a reason you are hearing 'no' to what you want to do to your home. Do you really want to be bossed around in your own house? Because they will not change once work begins, and are not interested in serving your needs or meeting your requirements for the work. Who knows what else they will or will not do. You are the employer here. Your house, your money.

The other thing is, you are a lay person. Just seeing their work means nothing more than it looks good. What happens underneath the surface materials and appearances is what's critical. Problems there might not surface for years. They don't sound like the type of people who would step up to the plate if there were problems to deal with.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Sat, Aug 23, 14 at 19:32

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:06PM
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HandyMac

I also bid jobs---when I did that work.

But, I also did the small jobs larger companies did not want. Two windows instead of 10. And I might bid those windows individually.

I understand why some companies/contractors do not want to waste the time necessary to individually list each item when doing an addition, remodeling, or new construction.

IO hired a fellow to build a new house for us---did not require an itemized list of materials. But, the reason I hired him was because he was not above explaining what his charges were and why.

It is the buyers money----they should get what they ask for. Or go find a more agreeable contractor/company.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 2:02AM
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Trebruchet

handymac:

It has nothing to do with wasting time by individual listing and everything to do with defining appropriate roles. There are things that are absolutely none of my customer's business, such as my costs, my markup, my discounts, my profits, etc. Your money doesn't buy the right to stick your nose where it doesn't belong.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 7:21AM
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PRO
Sophie Wheeler

Do you want to share your paycheck stubs with your contractor? How much salary you get, what you pay for insurance, what % is going into your 401K, what your net is? If you're not willing to share that, then why would you expect a contractor to share his financials with you? Unless you're doing a cost plus contract, that informatiion is not your business.

When you get bids for a lump sum project, you get to compare specifications of the products used, not their % of cost to the total lump sum. If you want to see all costs in the project and pay a set % on top of that and another % fee for project supervision, then you need to write the original contract to reflect that pricing structure. You don't get to pick and choose parts from different contract types that only benefits you.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:16AM
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snoonyb

Trebruchet

" such as my costs, my markup, my discounts, my profits, etc. "

And exactly where in the OP's original post, are any of these things asked for?

Or, did you arbitrarily, perceive the intent as such, rather than as was stated, budgetary concerns?

A simple back-quote will do.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:24AM
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ahmnj

Was off the grid yesterday - and it's been honestly fascinating reading the comments.

I appreciate the comments by those confirming that there's nothing unreasonable asking for a smaller scope of work, or confirming materials. (And note, I never asked them to break out all costs - labor, material, etc.)

I am still honestly amazed with the hostility being shown towards paying clients. And yes, I am a layperson, but I try to understand what's going on to make sure I don't get "taken" too terribly badly, and I try to work with people positively but attempt to maintain a professional relationship. You know - "Trust but verify". It's my house, a significant expense, and I'll have to deal with whatever happens long after the contractor is gone.

At this point, we're going to have a hopefully useful meeting with the PM, review some of these concerns, and see where we go from here.

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 11:40AM
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snookums2

The OP was not asking for an itemization, just needed to reduce the amount of work to what they could afford. Who doesn't do that??

That aside, this subject of profit margin (essentially, what is reasonable for the work at hand) comes up frequently. Of course what we consumers pay for things is our business. It's our money, afterall. If we feel something is too expensive or we are being taken advantage of we can look elsewhere or pass altogether and do without.

As far as our pay stubs, it is no secret that contractors charge more in affluent zip codes or if they can see you can afford it. They are visiting our houses. They can see its value, the furnishings and amenities. I have been asked numerous times over the years what I do for a living. So yes they do have a window of opportunity there, through which they are assessing your paycheck when they are at the house - and can be snoopy about it. I've heard them talk openly about this online and one told me the neighborhood thing himself. Same thing when they only want to work for rich people. They are looking at our pay stubs.

This is not unique to the construction industry. Other businesses do it too. As snooby said somewhere, when someone has their hands in your pocket, treat them accordingly.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 1:17PM
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Trebruchet

"And exactly where in the OP's original post, are any of these things asked for?

Or, did you arbitrarily, perceive the intent as such, rather than as was stated, budgetary concerns?

A simple back-quote will do."

snoonyb:

I wasn't aware that the rules of this board required direct responses to original posters only. I have always believed that some reasonable thread drift is healthy. While my response was directed to handymac, snookums2 took us in this direction beforehand with this:

"Seems they don't want you to be able to see labor, overhead, markup on those windows, just a lump sum. Fine, but you don't like their price so it's a deal breaker."

I hope that quote will do.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 5:36PM
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snookums2

" While my response was directed to handymac, snookums2 took us in this direction beforehand with this......"

Not so, that familiar subject was broached in posts earlier up in the thread, before my comment. Please do see your post of 18:03, directly above mine, along with the others that preceeded early on.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 7:02PM
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snoonyb

Trebruchet

Yes some thread drift can be informative.

We all have varying approaches to success.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 8:30PM
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