Category Archives: Sub Contractors

Sub Contractors: Adversaries or Allies

We have post titled: “To Pre-Pay or not to Pre-Pay”.  In that post we speak of prepaying subcontractors,  basically don’t.

But on the other hand… Treat your subcontractors with respect.

MOST subcontractors are just people out there trying to make an honest living.  In every project mistakes are made.  If you decide to build a house or townhouse and act as a general contractor, you will make mistakes.  Get over it.

Most subcontractors will do their best to prevent you from making mistakes.   But, like you, they will make mistakes too.  Plumbers/electricians will drill through beams in the wrong places or cut out floor joists to make room for toilet drains.  Drywallers will use long screws and put a screw through a wire or water pipe.  We could go on for pages.

The question becomes how to handle it.  Most of the time they will fix their errors then tell you about it.  If it is out of their expertise they will just tell you about it.  They may try to hide their mistake, which upsets me.

When you see a mistake, politely ask about it.  If you have no idea how to fix it, ask them for ideas.  “How should we fix this?”  Almost always they’ll fix it.

HUGE mistakes are generally not too bad.  One of my neighbors townhouse projects was framed with the top floor three inches too tall. The city inspector caught it.  Vaulted ceilings were framed in, beautiful exposed 6″x14″ beams 15′ in the air.  The roof sheathing installed.  On the plans were two different measurements.  The home owner/contractor saw it, but never asked.  The framer saw it and never asked.  P1010470The architect did not know his mistake existed. To a layman it may seem a disaster.  But the three met on site, had a discussion, called in the structural engineer, who said support the roof, cut the studs shorter, lower the roof back down. It was three guys two days.  $40 an hour x 3 guys x 16 hours = $1900 in labor and few hundred in materials, mainly new top plates.  Now the problem came of who pays?

The homeowner offered to pay.  The framer was too embarrassed to let him.  So the homeowner had the framer do other work, (build decks, and side the house)

If the homeowner started the conversation by shouting, screaming, pointing fingers and declaring war – the process would become a long drawn out mess. As it was it was less then a week start to finish.

I guess what I am saying is, it is not a battle of who is right, or who is in control.  It is a battle of trying to build a house and get it done, quickly.  The less drama, the better.  There is enough drama with the Weather, Building Department, OSHA, L&I, Utility Companies all things you can’t control.  And must do what they ask. (more or less)

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Pre-Pay, or Not to Pre-Pay

I talk to, and advise home owners or builders just starting out.  Often times they call to ask how to get money back from a subcontractor.

I always ask, “Why do you need money BACK from the subcontractor?”

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Then the tale starts of prepaying for materials or worse, prepaying for labor.  Don’t prepay money to a contractor or subcontractor for anything.  Ever. 

I’ve done it.  Prepaid for stone.  It was to show up the next day. Never arrived.  After two weeks of leaving screaming voice mails into the poor guys phone, he called back to say he was in the hospital, crashed his motorbike leaving my house.  Ok, now I feel like a jerk.

Another time prepaid the contractor for 1/2 the kitchen cabinet costs.  He arrived about a week later with new rims and tires for his truck.  I called the cabinet company, the cabinets were not ordered.  Don’t pre-pay!!!  That is it, NEVER again.

Reputable sub-contractors do not need funds upfront.  If your pushing a subcontractor into jobs larger then he normally works on it can be a stretch for them to carry costs, so be reasonable, work with them.  Offer to pay for the materials. WHEN THEY ARRIVE ON THE JOBSITE.

Sometimes you need to special order items, kitchen cabinets are a typical item.  The sub contractor, kitchen designer or contractor will ask for an advance for a deposit.  Don’t give the subcontractor the money.  Call the supplier/manufacturer directly and pay that way. Sometimes the contractor will be strongly opposed to this.  Probably because they drastically inflated the cost of the cabinets or materials to you.  Just tell them, “Sorry this didn’t work out.  I was really looking forward to having you do my kitchen.”  If they want the job they’ll work with you.  If they are flat out lying and no deposit is required, then they’ll disappear, which is a good thing.

Another great topic is how do you pick a contractor… In a few words the handshake test.  If I don’t think a person will honor a handshake deal, I don’t do business with them.  (But ALWAYS back it up with a contract!)