Hiring The Right Contractors

Alex and Michelle in powder blue kitchen by Michelle Gage

As an interior design professional, a lot of what the job entails is education. Yes, first and foremost we must educate ourselves, as we are valuable resources to those who hire us in our community. Secondly, it is part of our job to educate our clients. One of the trickiest ships to navigate in this industry is working alongside contractors. In the home renovation world, things go wrong. They just do. Even the most skilled professionals run into strange, unforeseen situations when tackling a renovation. The design process cannot be automated, as it is run by real life human beings. Homes, especially older ones, don’t come with a handbook, outlining how they’ve been cared (or neglected) over the last 100 years. Partnering with the right people gives your renovation a fighting chance. While these people cannot predict the future, they can be your trusted ally throughout the unpredictable process.

My success rate is pretty strong when it comes to hiring the right crew – but every now and then you get unlucky, as I did just this fall. Luckily, it wasn’t on a client job; it was on my own house – which, yes, does make it better. 

Mind you, there have been dozens and dozens of contractors in our home over the last two years of this renovation, so our track record is pretty good. While we’ve had problems with the home itself, we haven’t really had too many issues with the people working on it. We hire skilled professionals, not just the cheapest guy on the block. For the most part, they’ve all been pretty wonderful and I continue to recommend them on client projects and give them repeat work.

We’ve hired painters, paper hangers, drywall installers, plumbers, countertop installers, furniture movers, tree removers, house cleaners, waste removal crews, pest control people, spray foam insulators, HVAC technicians, structural engineers and countless other professionals to work on our home.

I’ve gotten so used to the same crews showing up day after day (and comfortable with them), that I recently broke some of my own rules when it comes to hiring help around your home. 

Here’s what I want to remind you of when looking to hire contractors in and outside your home.

  1. Always get a contract upfront – preferably one that outlines how they handle accidental damages to your property. This is something that every home service business SHOULD supply but it sadly isn’t always a given.
  2. Don’t try to be “casual and cool” and tell them to come by whenever they want. Make sure all visits are scheduled ahead of time. This seems like a no-brainer, until it’s not. I wasn’t worried about scheduling with this crew, since they were working on the exterior of my home and didn’t need access to the inside. However, they showed up unplanned and wound up making waves with another crew I already had on site.
  3. If you’re getting multiple quotes, don’t just go with the cheapest option. I can tell you, 9.9/10 times that option is cheaper for a reason – you’re getting a lower quality of service. The quality of service you receive goes a long way towards the successful completion of a job.

I’m sure you expect me to share a fourth tip of always getting recommendations, but that honestly doesn’t always pan out. This crew came highly recommended and were such a mess. While the recommendation can sometimes be good, it’s always best to stick to the 3 rules shared above just in case they drop the ball. I’ve had countless clients call me up because they weren’t happy with their existing interior designer, who came their way via a friend’s referral.

I have hired dozens and dozens of tradespeople in the past for interior work, only a few exterior. I thought I knew what to look for – and was in the middle of my kitchen renovation (therefore already strapped on time) and had a lapse in judgement. I hired the wrong landscaping crew – they were careless – and it resulted in lots of damage to my home (which means a lot of clean up for Alex and I after the fact).

Mistakes happen and occasionally you hire the wrong person. This crew came highly recommended but lacked accountability, which I take extremely seriously. I would’ve been more understanding of the issues if they had taken responsibility for them, instead of shirking blame, pointing fingers and causing more work for me in the process.

Luckily this was a job on my house and not a client’s because I’m left to clean up their mess.  However, when a job isn’t executed to our standards within our business – even by another hired hand – we take accountability on that too and make it right. There’s nothing worse, as a client, than being burdened by the help you hire.

Unfortunately this happens a lot to homeowners. We’ve hired SO MANY contractors on our own home that we highly recommend to clients. We try to test each crew out first before sending them into a new project. This one, in hindsight, wasn’t a good hire – and sometimes there really is no way of knowing until they’re on the job. “Home” is an expensive business and most of the work is done by human hands. Mistakes happen – and we totally get that. However, at the end of the day, you want someone who is going to work with you to resolve those deficiencies – not point fingers, get loud and avoid responsibility.

We rely on our trusted trades to partner with us to get the job done. A successful project can only occur if you’re working with mature team players. Ask how they handle changes. With our own home and client projects, we always come to the table with a fully flushed out plan. If you’re going it alone (sans designer) and have a hard time making decisions, you’ll want to know how your contractor handles that. Most will charge for changes to the scope, which could wind up costing you more in the long run than hiring a designer from the onset of the project.

My goal for this post was to simply provide a little insight into the process of hiring trades and remind you that you want the right PEOPLE, who will be your PARTNER in the design process. You’ll notice I didn’t name names or speak to the specific crew, as I am not in the business of bashing others publicly. I just wanted to shed some light on the topic, since there seems to be little out there on it. I hope you found this post to be helpful, informative and transparent (and I truly mean that because it was LONG and WORDY 😉 and lacks pretty pictures).

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