Keep my contractor or look for somebody new??

27 Replies

Hello fellow BPers :-)

So Im in a dilemma (or at least I think I am).  I have used the same contractor for two of my renovations so far.   I pay him $50/hr.  I play the role of the general contractor in terms of I usually get the materials and have the sub contractors lined up ready to go when they are needed (tile, electrician, etc).  My contractor does pretty good work, but he's an older gentleman and I noticed he can move pretty slowly.  Lets just say he's not breaking a sweat by any means for $50/hr where I know some other guys bust their butt for $20 an hr who are working under a general contractor.  

He doesn't give me quotes.  Its just a time and material situation....so I never know how much things are gonna cost me.  But he does get things done maybe just not as fast as Id like and I think thats a mixture of how he tends to be on the slower side of things mixed with me having unrealistic expectation of how long a project should take.  

So heres the new scenario.  I just inherited a house in Astoria Oregon and its a dump.  I was left with a little bit of money to fix it up.  I really want to stick as close to that amount as possible therefor am needing some quotes.  Should I stick with him because I know and trust him or should I try and find a new contractor who will give me a quote and hope that they do decent work and are decent people and easy to work with?

Its leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar, and not sure if I should go with somebody new or sit down and have a talk with my contractor and see if he can give me quotes or not.  Anybody ever been in this situation and have suggestions? 

What exactly are you using him for? It can be had to stop using a certain person, but you are putting your success in their hands. I had always used the same electrician I had known him my whole life and halfway into the last project I called another. My go to guy was just taking too long, always got it done but just took to long. I ended up hiring another one and it is like night and day he gives me a price does what he says quickly.  At $50 a hour you could get a few guys to replace him. Some guys are worth the money and some will take advantage of you. 

why can't your guy give you a proposal of how many hrs he thinks he will have on the job ? if your looking at a new property where you need to stick to budget as best as possible, this isn't the property to go contractor shopping. I'd sit down with him let him know u need a set price on foreseen work, and unforseen you can deal with then. if you trust him I'm sure he knows your not looking to screw him and he'd be willing to work with you. if he's not a newbie or capable of doing the new property I'm sure he can estimate he's time, unless he's new to the game that's maybe why he's hourly

Firstly I am surprised you are paying him per hour? I pay my subs and construction on a per job/project/item basis. Provide "X" for $x.00. His slowness benefits his pocket. What exactly is he doing? 

I say have him bid the job for the job, not by the hour. Personally I wouldn't be paying by the hour for work unless it is small dollars, additional scope that my contractor and I can keep tabs on the true hours, or hiring a guy for a set amount of hours. Giving open ended hours at a rate removed an incentive to move quick.

Try other GC getting written quotes.  I have very good idea how long a project takes. I offer a bonus if done on agreed time.  An older guy is good if there are a lot of details that those with less experience can over look.

Unless this guy is some Picasso and you are getting killer work at a great overall price, so it makes the wait worth it...... then its times to find someone else

Bids should be materials plus labor for the job.....not " $50/hr, and I have no idea how long it will take me"...... that only benefits him.......

@John Miranda He's been a contractor my family has used since I was a little girl.  He helped me when I was in a pinch when my contractor walked off the job and this guy was a family friend who had done work for my dad and basically saved the day and was able to step in and finish a flip of mine because everybody else was booked out months in advance.  I since have stuck with him because once again everybody else is booked so far out.  He does anything and everything.  Framing, installs windows, tile, does plumbing, etc.   He's in his late 60's and isn't the fastest...and sometimes that irritates me that he's $50 an hour but he does good work.

I think I know the answer (find somebody new), but I will just feel bad letting this guy go who has been a family friend and who has helped me in the past, and therefore I feel like i owe him these projects even though i feel its costing me in the long run.

Just figured Id get suggestions and opinions first :-)

@Ryan Kinsella  he does framing, can install new windows, does tile work as well (not the greatest work but can still do some tile),  he used to be a licensed plumber...so he can do plumbing as well.  I line everybody else up and get the materials that are needed.  If I'm not on site then he rungs to the store and gets the things he needs and I pay him back

@Brian Pulaski and @Sam Shueh  I think Ill start with that and get quotes from him per project if he's willing to.  If not then Ill probably start looking around.  And I just found out this morning he got caught by the CCB and is in trouble for working without insurance and told me he might need to bring in another guy to "work under" so that he can work for us.

Hi Amanda.  Out of everything you said in your post, you mentioned the word trust.  In this business, if you have a contractor you trust and know the job will be done then I am okay with paying a few more dollars extra. When i use contractors I look at total cost of ownership.  I have used many contractors where they took short cuts or missed key items in the scope only to have them come back which took a few days, in the meantime my cost per day per day to not have the placed rented out exceeded the cost of the work I was waiting for.  In the end I always went back to the contractor i could trust.  

Everyone's approach is different.  Having systems in place will help you generate better cash flow in the long run.  You could approach your contractor many different ways.  I would ask him what is a win/win situation where we could both enjoy the benefits of the deal.  You get trusted reliable service at a competitive cost and the contractor gets?....

You have a 60 year old experienced contractor thats working for $ 50 an hour , count your blessings . You trust him , he gets the job done . He was a licensed plumber . He can do just about anything .   He is a bargain in Maryland . 

Slow and steady wins the race . I am 57 and a contractor and can do just about anything .  First thing is I wont work for that little . Second when you have experience , you dont rush , If you dont have time to do it right , how do you find tine to do it over . 

@Matthew Paul  Thank you for your insight and perspective.  That is a good way of looking at it.  Id like to keep using him.  Im just hoping he can give me bids instead of an hourly rate.  Do you typically bid things our or do you only work for an hourly rate?

@Israel Torres  thanks for taking the time to reach out.  Trust is a big thing and one of the key factors that keeps me from moving on to find somebody else.  I should sit down and talk about a win win situation and what that looks like for both of us.  We consider each other family and neither one of us wants to screw over the other person.  Im really hoping he can provide me some bids that are fair to him but gives me a heads up of what to expect each project to cost.  thanks again for your input...its appreciated!

Just a suggestion but maybe you can use him for the more detail oriented work (like finish carpentry) and hire out the grunt, less skilled work (like demo and rough in framing) to a younger, cheaper contractor. Maybe everybody can win.

Keep your contractor AND look for someone new.

Always do this because... it's good to have options in business.

@Amanda M Laird  I only bill time and materials on the little jobs generally 2 days or less and they are generally jobs that are repairing  something with too many variables . Time starts when we leave the shop to pick up supplies . On larger jobs there is a scope of work for the whole job .We bid a price , anything outside the scope is an extra.  Now I will tell you this it will be more than 50 bucks an hour in the end . 

@Amanda M Laird I think you know the answer... but it can be scary...

"Its leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar, and not sure if I should go with somebody new or sit down and have a talk with my contractor and see if he can give me quotes or not. Anybody ever been in this situation and have suggestions?" 

We've all been in that situation... and This phrase comes to mind:

             "Excellence will never appear when mediocrity is acceptable"

I heard Robyn Thompson say this at a seminar and have not forgotten it.  It's so simple and so true. Take your time, get LOTS of bids if you have to, Require references - and check them. At the very worst, you'll confirm you've been paying reasonable rates for reasonable work - or you might even find excellence.  You'll know it when you see it.  I don't think you've seen it yet with your current guy. If you have to ask for it, he's not predisposed to providing it on a regular basis.

Good luck.

If he's good and trustworthy 50 an hour isn't much. I know guys who move really fast but that doesn't necessarily mean they are good. When I do T&M I will give a not to exceed clause, so if I tell you 2 guys @50 an hour, 10 hour max then that's 1000 even if it takes 12 hours, but 8 is 800 and this keeps people on task. If the scope changes then we renegotiate but I always make sure people know this. On bid jobs I have had clients who endlessly change their mind so I feel like T&M is a good way to go on small jobs and indecisive clients. whatever you decide, don't burn the bridge because you may find you were getting a bargain. I did like the fact that you take some responsibility for your expectations because even though a job may seem like it should take X , it will take Y no matter who does it. at the end of the day, quality work deserves quality pay.

@Amanda M Laird You can always look for new contractors and obtain quotes depending on the job. I prefer to work with contractors who specialize in different areas and hire on a per job basis. If you're wary about hiring new contractors, the best thing to do is to find someone that you can trust and feel comfortable working with. Start them off with a small job. If they do well, that's great. If not, it'll give you an idea of their work ethic. It's always a good idea to keep your eyes out for new members of your team especially when it comes to contractors. People get busy. Life happens. And you may not be able to depend on one person for all your job. If you're interested in learning more about hiring and working with contractors, I wrote a book on this exact subject. Hope that helps. Good luck! 

@Amanda M Laird  heres an example of the time and costs in what appears to be a easy quick job. 

Replacing a sump pump liner thats rusted away .The house is 50 years old .  1 hour looking at the job and taking measurements .  2 hours locating a suitable container to fit in a 15 and 3/4 inch round sump pit .  Then another 2 hours installing and caulking .   Total hours was 5 and materials was $ 45 .   

I billed by the hour plus materials . AND I saved the customer money . The sump pits they make today are larger and would require busting out concrete and digging out dirt . Then re cementing in the new pit .

Solution was a rubbermaid commercial trash can inserted in the old pit . Its actually a thicker plastic than a new pit .

All the customer saw was a little less than 2 hours work , they dont   " see " the other parts that go in to the job .   If I wanted to milk the job , I would have busted out the old and put in a brand new one , and had 2 men on the job for an entire day . 

I only pay per stage of completion based on proposals. I hate hourly anything if I can't be there to babysit the job. Hourly pay doesn't give incentive to work efficiently. Getting multiple quotes and holding people to their numbers is essential. At least you'd know where he stacks up moving forward and can adjust at that point. 

There is little difference between paying someone $50hr to work 2 hours vs. $20hr to work all day.  For me it comes down to production.  We have to sort though a lot of people, ask a lot of questions,  and best of all is finding a good referral. 

i don't want to reiterate what has been said already, but if you have a budget try telling him up front. say I need X, Y, and Z, done. Can you do all that for $xxx?

As an alternative, have you considered getting 1 or 2 competing bids and then comparing it to what his hourly rate comes out to? You may actually end up with a similar bill and not realize it.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

Lock We hate spam just as much as you

Join the Largest Real Estate Investing Community

Basic membership is free, forever.

By signing up, you indicate that you agree to the BiggerPockets Terms & Conditions.