The joys of juggling contractors


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Miss D. and I were recently paid a sum of money that’s been due to us for a long time.  We’re putting it to work, rather than leaving it in the bank to lose double-digit percentages of its value every year to the ravages of inflation.  So far, we’ve installed a new HVAC system to replace our old, faltering one;  bought a new dual-fuel inverter generator for emergency use (something that’s likely to become more important as our aging regional and national power infrastructure begins to break down more often – a very real probability);  ordered and half-paid-for a new garage door;  paid off debt;  and re-established a small emergency fund.  Still in progress are a patio and utility shed for the back yard, a new and larger rear gate to allow vehicle access, an upgrade to our electricity main board, and a couple of other minor matters.

One problem I’m finding is that many contractors are either reluctant, or actually unable, to be specific on dates and costs.  I’ve been trying to nail down quotes for the patio and shed, only to find that potential suppliers are vague on costs, uncertain about the date(s) on which they’ll be available, and (I think) deliberately vague on specifics.  It’s been very frustrating.  In the end, I decided to use it as a sorting and selection device.  Contractors who couldn’t or wouldn’t be specific on the details of what they proposed to provide, and/or who couldn’t supply drawings of structures that could be used by an insurer to assess damage and/or rebuild in the event of damage, were dropped from my short-list.  I finalized the bidding on both projects yesterday, using two contractors rather than one because of cost and other factors.  I hope both projects will be complete by mid-year.

I learned two very interesting things in the process of getting a building permit from our local municipality.  The first was that, for an uninsulated, unplumbed, unpowered utility shed, I didn’t really need a building permit:  but if I expected an insurance company to pay for any damage, I needed one, because without it they’d deem it an illegal structure and refuse to cover any loss.  This has apparently happened in the past.  Allied to that, insurers apparently expect to be able to examine construction drawings, done to professional standards, that show what type of building it was/is, the materials used, specifications, measurements, etc.  Without them, they may deem it an “informal” owner-built structure and pay out only for the cost of generic materials, without labor or any other considerations.  If any of you plan small projects like ours, you might want to keep that in mind.  It pays to “go by the book” if you plan to cover the work under your insurance policy.

I now have four contractors lined up to do five separate projects over the next few months, with an electrician still to be selected to upgrade our main board.  (Interestingly, some electricians refuse to install a generator cut-over switch, apparently due to liability issues if anything goes wrong during a power outage.  I don’t get that – why be a professional electrician if you won’t do the job? – but lawyers have apparently added a complicating factor.)  The fun part is going to be to keep the contractors’ noses to the grindstone, making sure they honor their commitments and arrive on the specified dates.  Sadly, I may end up having to pay more for materials, depending on what happens to the economy over the next few months.  They’ve all inserted clauses in their contracts that until they actually receive the material from their suppliers, their prices may be subject to change.  Frustrating, but I suppose it’s inevitable.

So far, so good.  Onward!



  1. I'm having to deal with a lot of the same. I recently bought a foreclosure, got it for a good price but it needs some work (and all new appliances), but in the end I'll have about 3x the space including a much larger back yard for gardening. In my area they are a bit unclear on what all needs building permits, definitely anything structural but I'm not sure they define it the same way I do. Plumbing in natural gas yes, but the estimates I've gotten for reroofing haven't mentioned it.

  2. Having an old house and a couple of rentals has taught me that contractors are iffy at best. I always check with better business bureau and yelp to see if they are timely and accurate in pricing. Have bought, rehabbed and sold a dozen more so the one thing I do is not let them off property when they show up. If they need an electrical switch and they do not have it on their truck or a PVC elbow I go get it for them. They leave and it takes them 2 hours to show up again. Nope not paying for them to shop. But also look up the utility shed you want on line and order the prints. You can shop and price and I have found it easier and much cheaper to buy and have the material delivered and have a contractor put it together. They charge to go to shop and padding hours is an easy dollar for them.
    But all this takes time so that is always a factor. Good luck.

  3. Up here in East Tennessee you can purchase prebuilt sheds in various styles and sizes. I would think that would help on the insurance angle.

  4. Well, I can understand the hesitancy to lock anything in.

    I could tell you what materials will be required, couldn't tell you the cost or when you'd be able to get those supplies.

    When will the supplies be available? When they get to the supply depot, current estimate is 4-8 months out. Subject to change.

    How much will the material cost? Well, I can give you a quote with current prices, but those won't likely cover my costs when they arrive and I have to pay for them.

    Well, what about labor costs? Well, people are quitting all over the place, so hopefully I will have the labor when we get to your job. If not I'll have to sub-contract or raise wages.

    Currently, we can't predict with any certainty, what the future holds. How much will inflation be in the next 4-8 months it will take supplies to show up for a project?

    So, how do you want to write that than in a contract?

  5. If you want to chase away more contractors, ask for a performance and payment bond. That, and worker's compensation insurance to keep an injured worker from collecting on your homeowner's policy. The bond will insure the project is finished as designed. The insurance will pay for any injury not completely covered by your homeowner policy, and prevent you from a judgement against everything you own. You pay extra for both, but if a contractor is willing to do both, you have a contractor that knows the pitfalls of his profession.

  6. You might consider buying material and parts yourself right now, if they are currently available. Having the "must have" items sitting in your garage waiting for the contractors to show up may be the difference between getting it done within a reasonable time frame, and not done at all. Buy as much of it as you can figure out is needed for the job. Cost will increase, and dollars will shrink, as time passes.

    You should be able to buy most all of what you will need. Some suppliers only want to deal with contractors/professionals, so you may encounter some resistance from the counter workers. THe pros tend to have brand preferences for certain things they do a lot of, for various reasons. However, finding it at all may be the bigger problem for you. THat's why I'm suggesting you do this now, and not wait for parts acquisition later.

  7. I engaged a contractor to update my kitchen last November, and I have some numbers and not others. I had to wait for the design consultants to become available, so it didn't get started as soon as I wanted. I have an estimate for how much the job will cost, and how long the job will take once materials are available. I just don't know when it will be done.

    The slabs for my new countertops were in stock in the warehouse, but my new cabinets were ordered six weeks ago, and the delivery date is estimated as sometime in the next few months. I haven't been told how many door handles and drawer pulls I'll need to purchase for them yet. There's also a pretty good chance that my new appliances will get here before the job even starts.

  8. Regarding the transfer switch, it all comes down to liability. If the switch doesn't work, then Lineman Sparky actually becomes sparky and dies and it's the fault of the homeowner, who will push it onto the electrician.

    And what scamorama said. The local utility may have to install it to 'certify' it (and get more money out of you.)

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