9 Truths Your Remodeling Contractor Won't Tell You

Interior domestic kitchen installation

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From all the complaining about remodeling contractors on Yelp and Angie's List, you'd think that all contractors sported devil's horns and carried pitchforks. Actually, most contractors are honest, competent, and diplomatic. And they have a few things to say about clients. We surveyed a number of contractors to gather their thoughts about things they wish homeowners knew--before starting the remodel.

  • 01 of 09

    They Don't Want to Work With Your People

    Interior domestic kitchen installation
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    You've hired the contractor for a full-scale kitchen remodel. The contractor is fully on-board. Then you say, "Oh, by the way, my nephew Larry is a plumber. I want you to use him."

    Truth: As Leah Cole notes, "To me, a contractor's most important asset is his network of tradesmen." The contractor is a facilitator at the center of a vast group of tradesmen or subcontractors ("subs"). He has his go-to people, and he has others in mind as back-ups. Almost as important, he has a blacklist of subs he won't work with, this list forged from years of hard knocks.

    By using your uncle to install HVAC, he would be working with someone with whom he has no established relationship. Second, he is depriving work from a group of subs who may depend on him for steady work. Third, you're doing yourself a disservice by not taking advantage of a group of men that he knows can get the job done.

  • 02 of 09

    They Don't Like Reusing Your Old Stuff

    Home Renovations - Tear Out
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    You just love those knotty pine kitchen cabinets from 1952. So vintage! So romantic and evocative of a mountain cabin! You ask your contractor to pull, refurbish, and reuse them with the remodel.

    Truth: One problem with old things--cabinets in particular--is that they may hold up while in place, but fall apart upon removal. Old things have that tendency. Wood flooring cannot be easily removed and reused. Old leaded-glass windows look cool but are impractical. 

    If you do want to reuse an item, factor in the added time and cost (to you) that it will take to shop it out to a qualified professional.  

    Contractors aren't meanies about this; they just know that homeowners often don't understand the implications of reusing items. Rather than being a money-saver, it can add more cost than the homeowner expected.

  • 03 of 09

    They Have a Greater Allegiance to Their People Than You

    Foreman discussing plan on laptop with tradesmen at construction site
    Hero Images / Getty Images

    As a client, you're valuable to the contractor, not just as a source of immediate revenue but for that all-important thing called word-of-mouth.  No HomeAdvisor lead or Google Ad can remotely come close to the value of positive word-of-mouth. 

    Truth:  While that's true, it's also true that you're only a ship in the night compared to their relationships with tradesmen.  Contractors might know you for two months, but often they know their people for years--decades even. 

    Should you have a problem with a certain tradesman, the contractor might go so far as to pull him from the project--only to placate you and keep the project running.  But that's a rarity.  He'll first try to smooth things over so that everyone, client included, works in harmony.

  • 04 of 09

    They're Not Trying to Make Extra Work

    Construction worker examining blueprints while working at construction site.
    skynesher / Getty Images

    Suspicious homeowners are convinced that contractors underbid remodel projects, all the while planning to load up the projects with extra tasks after the contract is signed.

    Truth:  While some unsavory contractors may do this, it does not represent the norm.  In Avoiding the Con in Construction, Kia Ricchi reminds us that "change orders can be costly and disruptive."  Really, who wants another change order?

    In a perfect world, contractors would love to have all intended work itemized on the contract.  Because this is not a perfect world--walls are found to be crumbly when thought to be solid, foundations worse than expected--change orders exist.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    They Can Work Permitting Magic, But Not the Kind You Think

    Quality Conscious II
    jhorrocks / Getty Images

    Homeowner wants special provisions:  "I want to build my addition on a drainage easement, have no receptacles on the kitchen island, and put no windows in my residential basement.  Can you get the permit office to approve this?"

    Truth:  Uh, no.  Contractors cannot make the permit office bend the rules.  Don't even ask them to try.

    Contractors may have good relationships with the permit office that have extended for years.  One reason for the good relationship is that the contractor doesn't ask the office stupid questions like that.

    However, we live in a social world.  Goodwill that the contractor has built up over years of working with permit officers and staff counts.

  • 06 of 09

    They Want You to Shop for Contractors

    Engineers and architects handshake. Agreement and are willing to work together.
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    Client's words that are music to a contractor's ears:  "I searched the world over--fifty contractors!--and thought you were best suited for my project."

    Truth:  No, it's not a vanity issue for contractors.  He doesn't chuckle with false modesty and buff his nails on his shirt when you say that you looked around but chose him.  Instead, he wants to know that you're settled with him as the best fit for your project.  Second-guessing once the project has begun won't help anyone.

  • 07 of 09

    Their Fee Is Not Negotiable

    Sign here please!
    skynesher / Getty Images

    "Ten percent?  Fifteen?  Twenty?  Contractors' markup fees are outrageous!  I'll try to bargain down his fees to save money."

    Truth:  Contractors can be your ally in saving money.  Contractors who operate professionally, which describes the majority of them, work in concert with the client, not against.  So, with his years of experience, he can help identify a myriad of places where you can pare down costs.

    But his markup isn't one of them.  If you envision his fee as pure cream enabling him to buy all those yachts and Bentleys, know that only part goes to him as personal income.  He also has a business to run, and that pays for the business.

  • 08 of 09

    They Like Perfectionist Clients More Than Legal Opponents

    Couple and Builder
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    Feel like you're being a pain in the rear by delivering clear, exact information to the contractor?  Afraid to add to the "punch list" that comes at the end of the project, detailing remaining items to be done?

    Truth:  Fear not.  While no contractor likes a client who is impolite or a pain in the rear, he wants to deal with requests now--before the project is finished.  Resentments that fester and turn into lawsuits help no one.  Just be civil and professional about it, and he will, too.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    They Want You Out of the House

    Man installing thermal roof insulation layer - using mineral wool panels. Attic renovation and insulation concept
    artursfoto / Getty Images

    The contractor is remodeling the entire first floor. Surely you can live on the second floor. Isn't that why they invented hot plates? Doesn't that bathroom counter have room for a microwave?

    Truth: It's your house and the contractor will not tell you to vacate your own house. But for big projects, it's best for everyone if you stay out of the way. It's a safety issue. It's a space issue.