Nervous about hiring a contractor

7 Replies

I posted this in the contractors forum, but wanted to get some landlords' advice on this too.  I need to talk to and hire a contractor as I'm preparing to convert my condo in Chicago into a rental. Most of the things on my list are small wear and tear items that have come up from living in the unit for 11years. The biggest job is putting in a cheap ceramic tile kitchen floor, bolting lower kitchen cabinets to the walls, maybe adding 1 lower kitchen cabinet and then new durable but inexpensive countertops.  It's a small 100sqft galley kitchen.  However, I've never talked to a contractor before. I know next to nothing about construction and repair work. I don't know if there is a set price or hourly rate. I don't know what happens if they go over the estimate or time period. I feel like there are a million questions that I don't even know to ask, and I don't want to appear unprepared when I do this. Can anyone direct me to a resource where I can get a feeling of how the meeting will go with the contractor, questions I should ask, things I should know, and things to watch out for. I won't be here when the work is actually being done, and I won't be able to see it in person when it's done.  I'll already be moved out of state.  The property mgr I hire will oversee the work and do a walk-thru when it's done.  They've said I can have a friend come double check the work.  I'd really appreciate any help you guys could offer. Thanks!

You'll be frustrated when your tenant drops a dish and cracks the cheap ceramic tile. Ok with the condo association to rent your unit? Who will do the showings and collect the money and fix the clogged toilet? I would hire my own PM company and follow their advice how to rent the unit as-is or just sell the condo and buy something closer. Good luck.

douglas, this is what you do.... it's super easy..

write down the items that you need done. do not write down HOW you want it done (ie, you driwall screws to hang cabinets, i want a 1 1/2" p-trap here). 

just write down:

1. hand these 3 cabinets

2. rip up tiles and install new subfloor and tiles

3. change cabinet handles.

now, take 1-2 days and think about the list. add whatever else you need/want (paint, caulking, etc, etc).

good... you are almost there. 

get a few guys and LET THEM TALK. just ask them.... how are you going to do that? let them talk, you shut up. you will learn who knows their stuff and who doesn't. 

ask questions, please!

My advice: sell your property. If you don't have a clue as to what needs to be fixed, or how to get quotes from reputable contractors in your area, or how to verify the work is done correctly, or don't have the knowledgeable PM you'll need, get out of the business now. Don't saddle yourself trying to learn how to manage a rental (that's what the PM does for you) while you are out of state. Your description of what you want done sounds like you would nickel-and-dime contractors right out the front door; no one wants to install cheap stuff that only needs more re-work or maintenance, so do yourself a favor and get out of the rental gig before you get in over your head.

@Douglas T. The contractors are just people! Nothing to be nervous about! You should interview multiple and if any make you uncomfortable or seem like you're asking a stupid question then you just don't hire them. They should be trying to win your business and be as helpful as possible. All of your questions could go directly to the contractors and depending on their answers you can decide which to hire. Do your due diligence and research so you aren't getting ripped off. Also, Id say if you're this nervous about hiring your contractor it would be worth your time to come back and make sure the work was done to your standards.

Got any friends or family in the area?? 

As far as contractors, you'll want licensed, so it's permitted and inspected. Consider any electrical or plumbing upgrades now !! 

Ask a neighbor or someone in your building for contacts if possible.

put post on BP wanted contractor licensed, to do upgrade in Chicago condo.

measure, go online and price cabinets, tile and get a general drawing and list of what needs to be done. 

I wouldn't hire a PM unit the job is done what they gonna manage your contractor? you can set that up now but until the unit is ready to market or 2 week before at the earliest is about the soonest you'll need one.

Hire your friend to oversee the project take photo's and email you progress reports.

Give your contractor deadline and remember it's not cheap to do cheap it's twice as expensive to switch it out. 

Most contractors are 8 to 12 weeks out on a job before they can start so start hunting now. Good thing is it's winter and inside jobs are what the guys want. 

Craigslist has services section and you can check there for leads just get references and check license status before you hire anyone. 

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Do what @George P. said and write out a list of everything you want completed. Contact several contractors - most of whom will not call you back, and they have just eliminated themselves from the pool already by being unresponsive.

Print out several copies of the scope of work and give the same thing to each contractor who comes to give you a quote. (Again, you might have some no-shows.)

Ask them to quote the job AND give you an idea of when they can start and how long they expect it to take. 

I do a tile floor in two days. One to lay tile and one to grout. Securing cabinets to the wall is literally screws into the studs - allow 20 minutes per cabinet but it won't take nearly that long. A new cabinet can be hung in 20 minutes. I have never installed counters myself - I always go with granite and installation is included.

You do NOT want to pay an hourly rate for this, although you may end up doing just that because this scope of work really isn't all that much. 

Ask everyone you know if they have a handyman recommendation or contractor recommendation for you.

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