One of the *ahem* joys of owning or managing real estate that everyone will experience at some point or another is managing contractors. In a past life (before I had children), I worked as a general contractor in a commercial and industrial setting. So I hope that I can provide some insight into how contractors think and how to get them to perform well and for a reasonable price. To that end, let’s get started!
Tip #1: COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
I know that contractors have a bad rap. There are plenty of horror stories out there to suggest that they deserve that reputation. However, in my experience, the majority of contractors actually do want to do a good job at a fair price. Excluding the scam artists, most contractors take pride in their work, enjoy solving problems for people, and want repeat business. You’ll know you’ve picked a contractor of this caliber if she shows you pictures of past work, provides references, and responds positively to compliments about her workmanship.
So why are they so difficult to deal with? Why do they show up late, take longer than they were supposed to, or fail to do all of the parts of the project? The answer is almost always: COMMUNICATION. Managing contractors is very similar to managing employees...in order to get the maximum level of performance, the expectations must be very clear. As a GC, in most cases where I had to settle an argument or dispute between clients and subcontractors or contractors and supervisors, the main problem was that one person wasn’t sure of what he was supposed to be doing! I solved the problem on one job site by installing a large dry erase board where the key tasks of the day could be clearly written down, and starting a morning meeting where everyone was given marching orders. Those simple steps cut down on almost all misunderstandings. With text and email, it’s easier than ever to write down clear expectations. Write them down, then say them, then say them again, and then have the contractor repeat it back. Do everything you can to make sure everyone is on the same page before the job ever starts. If the expectations aren’t clear, there is almost no way for the contractor to meet them.
Another thing that you can do, as a homeowner or property manager, is to clearly communicate the priorities to the contractor or handyman. (By the way, I HATE that term, because as a woman it is strange to introduce myself to tenants as the handyman! A friend of mine has suggested the term ‘handylass,’ and I think we should try to make that stick!) I’ve been doing some handyman...er, handylass...work lately, and it has been very helpful to me to have a property manager who understands this concept! She will generally email me the items that are priorities to the property owner right at the top of the email, along with a list of other issues to address. If you simply send a list, or even just send the contractor out without clear instructions, you are asking for problems! He might spend a ton of time on the minor issues, and then schedule a later date to come back for the things that were actually the most important. However, because most contractors really do want to keep their customers happy, if you tell him which tasks to prioritize, he will work on those first almost every time.
Just remember: being very specific and clear with your instructions and communicating to your contractors which tasks are the most important to you from the beginning will set the job up for a smooth and swift completion.
Contributed by Cassie Villela.
Cassie Villela is a real estate investor and mother of two in San Antonio, Texas.