3 Tips for DIY Chicks: Interviewing a General Contractor

5:22 PM Katy 2 Comments

***I wrote this post years ago when I was building the cottage on Tybee Island -- but since I'm now in the process of interviewing a contractor for this Lake house mess, I thought I would take this out of the draft folder. I re-read it and it still holds up, so I know it's good. :) ***

When you're trying to hire a guy to help you build something, you have to be picky. It's almost like picking a boyfriend -- if you get a bad one, he'll take your money and your self esteem.

After searching for a while, I did find one general contractor who didn't blow me off, didn't talk to me like I was Miss Daisy ready for the Alzheimer's Unit (EVEN IF I AM), and took me seriously when I said I wanted to do a lot of the work myself. Here are the things I would look for in a contractor, if I were starting all over: 

#1. Ask him if he has ever worked with a client who did some of the work himself.

My contractor had previous experience with framing a house and letting the client finish what he wanted, and he was prepared to let me do that. [the contractor I am considering for my current mess is going to let me jackhammer my own concrete to save my demolition costs.] Not all contractors like this. It depends on his comfort level with taking out a permit in his name and having everything pass inspections, if you're going to be doing the plumbing and electrical yourself, let's say. You need to ask. And beware the guy who says "yeah sure" - but then tries to intimidate you at every turn. (More on this below..)

#2. If you are worried about money and/or the scope of the work, be honest and note the response.

 Especially if it's something outside the norm (like building a tiny house that barely fits on the lot and will be highly problematic. ahem.) This doesn't mean give him all of your financial information. If you say "I'm trying to do this without a bank loan, so my budget is tight, can you work with me?" - Does he immediately say "oooh. you probably can't afford this". Or does he say "I'll work up a general line-item estimate to give you an idea of what you'll need" ? If he laughs at you, that's a good sign to move on as well. I asked one contractor to give me an ballpark estimate on what it cost to build a new house on Tybee Island (price per sq ft) and he actually replied: "How much money do you have?"  (don't pick that guy.) Depending on where you live, you may run into a very tightly-closed contractor community. It may even feel like you are dealing with the mob, because they are very intent on keeping any competition out. Just be aware of this before you go all Pollyanna into a contractor meeting so you don't feel like you got your ass handed to you afterward.

#3. Avoid the guy who uses scare tactics.

The first builder I called quoted me for demolition of the existing shack. I chose to go with someone else with a lower quote. I called the builder again afterward for an estimate on building the new house, and he was offended that I handled demolition on my own. "oooh but he's not local!! if he messes up the lot and causes it to drain on the neighbor's property that could be a huge expensive mess for you!" Basically he tried to scare the shit out of me (and almost succeeded) because I didn't hire his buddies. [I hired a licensed professional, The Sarge, who handled all the permits and he was awesome.  Find him here, if you need demo in the Savannah/Tybee area.]

If a contractor makes you feel intimidated, confused, hopeless, or stupid -- run away. I don't care if he's the most popular contractor in the area. That doesn't mean squat. If the thing you are trying to do really is outside of your budget, he can tell you that with respect.

I realize that a lot of this advice has to do with gaining confidence.  Hopefully this helps another woman out there who is thinking about building something BIG, but is too afraid to try! xo

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  1. I'm planning on remodeling my kitchen and need to get a contractor. Thanks for the advice about how you should ask them about the cost and if they are flexible. I would also suggest that you make sure to get a licensed contractor that has a good reputation. http://cochisetech.net


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