A Personal Rant: I Can’t Stand Working with Contractors!


Yep, I said it.

I absolutely, in no way, enjoy working with contractors who do work on my house! I understand that a lot of you do, and that is totally fine. I can see the appeal and where it could be fun to rehab or fix up a property that you’ve bought, but personally, I can’t stand it.

A lot of real estate investing revolves around fixing up properties. One of the best things that fixing up a property can do is force appreciation. On a more minor scale, people fix up properties just because they need some work done on them due to normal wear and tear or whatever other reason.

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Hear Me Out

When I talk about contractors in this article, I’m putting more emphasis on the former as I’m thinking more in terms of doing improvements to properties than I am repairs. Contractors doing repairs for me rarely bother me, because the item is either fixed or it’s not. If it’s not, I tell them to come back, no problem. But improvements, such as anything requiring specifications of any level, is where I have the problem.

It’s fixing up houses, i.e. doing these improvements, to either sell or rent the property out that plays such a big role in real estate investing. I get it, I get why people want to do that, and it makes total sense to me. Do I want any part of it? NO.

Don’t get me wrong, contractors are far from the only people in the industry that can be frustrating to work with.

For example, property managers especially have a bad rep and can be difficult to deal with. For me, though, property managers are easier to manage than contractors because it’s the management style or technique that has to be dealt with. It’s a slower-paced managing of those guys, whereas contractors are a fast-paced group because they are working project by project — and get paid per project rather than a slow and steady on-going pay structure.

Then, of course, the big one with contractors is that you can see the results, visually! If a contractor paints the side of your property, you can see if he did a good job. If he fixes a leak in your roof, you can see if it still leaks. The latter is more of an example of repairs, but you get the point. I guess if you want to get technical, you can “see” a property manager’s work too, but in this case I’m thinking more in terms of the complication of needing a contractor to redo something versus just telling a property manager to adjust something (which isn’t necessarily a redo, and especially not a redo that could potentially cost you more money, as could be the case with a contractor).

Related: My Plan to Optimize Contractors and Begin Taking More Control of Repairs

Whatever, you get the point. So where all this is coming from is that I just recently hired a contractor to do some work on the house that I currently live in and the whole thing has been nothing but expensive, unsuccessful (so far) and stressful. Most of my day(s) since the work started have been taken up by this situation.

Do you know how many other things I could have been accomplishing in that time had I not had to use all my brain power over this contractor situation?

I’m going to give you two quick examples of times, including this one, that working with contractors has stressed me (and my wallet) to no end and in the end never even gave me the product that I was hoping for.

Contractor Flop #1

When I bought my very first house (personal residence) in Atlanta, the first major improvement I wanted to do was a driveway addition that extended around the side of the house so that multiple cars could park in the driveway.

The addition would allow some cars to pull to the side of the house — still on the driveway — with enough room to be able to get out around the cars behind them if necessary. I went over all of this with the contractor, and he swore he understood exactly what I meant about needing the cars to be able to get out around each other (meaning, the extension needed to start out in front of the side of the house in order to give enough spacing).

Sure enough, some $5000-something later, I had the driveway extension around the side of the house, but it started too close to the house, which caused it to still only allow a single-file line of cars in, so no room for anyone to get out. I addressed this to him, very obvious in my concern about the major missing part to the driveway, and he said there’d be no way to add that part in now that the rest of the driveway was done. I would have to hire it as a whole new job, i.e. pay for the addition as an individual job and not part of the other extension (meaning, expensive) and other than that, “Oh well” — nothing he could do.

Are you kidding me?

I just spent $5,000-something dollars on a driveway extension that didn’t meet the biggest requirement I had for the whole project in the first place. Granted, what was done was nice, but even then there was a ridiculously sharp drop-off that he didn’t fill in that I wasn’t happy about. I had no options of anything that could fix it unless I wanted to shell out another few thousand. No thanks!

To this day, cars can’t get out around each other in that driveway.

Contractor Flop #2

This is the one from this week. It is only about a 10% of the cost of the driveway project, so not nearly as detrimental, but stressful nonetheless.

All I needed was bookshelves built into my wall to hold my books. I had the property carpenter, who was planning to do it, but he’s so busy he couldn’t get to it.

So I went contractor shopping.

Related: The 5 Most Common Items Found in Contractor Lingo

I mean, building bookshelves on a wall is far from a huge project, but due to the weight of the books, I knew I needed something very substantial and sturdy, which is why I decided to trust a professional rather than myself (I’m notorious for screwing up anchors in walls and making big holes, but I can usually get away with it. But I wasn’t going to risk that for books because they are so heavy).

Then I thought to myself, well if I get someone to do the shelves for me, while they are here anyway, I will go ahead and have them fix some other small things around the house — touch up paint on the walls, hang a more sturdy bike rack than what I have, hang a surfboard rack…everything that needed to be hung in studs.

I had all the parts and racks, I just figured, why not let the professional do the drilling for me? The surfboard hangs over my bed, and the last thing I need to happen is a surfboard landing on my face in the middle of the night because I suck at putting anchors in walls. So, very minor things in addition to the bookshelves.

I found a contractor I loved. She (yes, a she) seemed impressively knowledgeable, and I liked her vibe, so I hired her. Most definitely, she really is skilled. The bookshelves are so cute and amazing-looking; she made them custom out of wood, and they will have no problem holding up my books.


She went to Home Depot to get the wood and have it cut. Their wood-cutter wasn’t working. So they had her rent a table saw to cut the wood herself. Well, that’s great and all, and she cut the wood perfectly, but that forced me to compensate her for the saw, and it added multiple hours to the job, which essentially got held over my head for payment purposes.

We were also down one shelf because we had a miscommunication regarding how many shelves there were supposed to be, but the saw had already been returned (I’m still down the one shelf and have a huge piece of wood sitting in my living room needing to be cut for it), and everything just started getting frazzled.

On top of that, the paint I bought for the shelves ended up not matching the walls despite ordering the exact same color as is usually used, so now I have walls that are multi-colored around these shelves. The contractor also didn’t bring drop clothes, so I have paint speckles all over my desk that I can’t get out. Then, because the wood cutting took so much longer than planned — and then there was the discrepancy about the number of shelves and how to place them — everyone was exhausted by the time any of the other work could be done.

We got the bike racks up, but no surfboard, no repair of another shelf I needed done, nothing. So I’m still sitting in a complete mess of ugly shelves because of the paint, shelves I can’t use yet until we repaint, a surfboard on the floor, wood in my living room, paint all over my desk, and nothing else fixed that was supposed to get done.

Now, she says, I will need to pay her an extra $100 to do the extra shelf. No way around it, she says.

I even asked if I could have her just forego doing the extra work (surfboard rack, etc.) in place of just finishing the one shelf. I have to have that shelf because there is a space missing for it on the wall, plus she’s the only one who can build it because it’s custom work (I mean I can probably find someone else to mimic her other ones, but that’s a whole other stress). And it’s not that I don’t have $100, that’s not the problem at all. But she already charged me, in my opinion, way too much in labor for doing the shelves already, so the thought of paying her yet another $100 on top of that just makes me want to walk face-first into a wall (or a bookshelf).

Plus, while I had a part in the miscommunication about how many shelves we needed, I did not have a part in the decision to rent the table saw and have to do everything manually. I would have told her to go to the Home Depot five miles from the one she was at and have them do all the cutting. I didn’t choose to do everything the hard and ungraceful way, she did. So for me to have to put more money into all of this? You must be kidding me! I can’t do it. The irony too is that I was blatantly trying to go the more cost-effective route with this whole project since I don’t plan to live there for more than another year or too.

Oh, add to all of that, I’m the one now who has to get the wood cut because she didn’t have a truc,k and the remaining wood wouldn’t fit in her car. So if she comes back to do the extra shelf, all of the wood will be pre-cut for her (via me, the client!) so she just has to screw it all together.

Seriously! I’m getting fired up thinking about it.


Props to all of of you who enjoy rehabbing properties.

I am not one of them.

You are probably better than I am at dealing with contractors and communicating with them and getting the results you ask for, but I can’t seem to get it right. It’s bad enough I’m a perfectionist, so looking at the paint splats and multi-colored walls right next to me as I type this is just beyond what I can stomach, but even if I weren’t a perfectionist, the stress associated with having someone who does their own thing despite my requests and charges me an arm and a leg for it is too much for me.

People can argue all day long that if you aren’t fixing up an investment property to force appreciation that you are making a bad investment, but I don’t care. I will not buy properties that are fixer-uppers. Maybe someday in the future I will be sitting around bored and decide to take on that kind of project (there is some appeal in being able to fix up a property that could make putting up with contractors tolerable), but for right now, I’m way too busy. I have a business to run, I have a ton of activities I’m always doing, and I just have other things I’d rather think about and I don’t want added stress to my life.

The properties I buy, yes they may be slightly more expensive, but they still have positive cash flow on them and any repairs they need are very minor. Therefore, no stressing over contractors doing improvements on them or having to manage anything about them.

Rock on to all of you out there who do it that way, but I’m too busy for it, and if just having a contractor try to build book shelves in my house could be so stressful, rehabbing full properties is definitely not something I care to take on. To each their own, but I am quite content buying houses that don’t need rehabbing.

Phew! I feel better, thanks for letting me get that out of my system, BP.

If any contractors in LA are reading this and want to come fix my bookshelves, come on! (Okay, knowing I don’t want to pay $100 for it probably isn’t enticing, but it’s her I don’t want to pay $100 to, not you.)

What’s your experience with contractors? For those who love rehabbing fixer-uppers, we want to know — what do you love about it?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Author

Ali Boone

Ali Boone(G+) left her corporate job as an Aeronautical Engineer to work full-time in Real Estate Investing. She began as an investor in 2011 and managed to buy 5 properties in her first 18 months using only creative financing methods. Her focus is on rental properties, specifically turnkey rental properties, and has also invested out of the country in Nicaragua.


  1. The main problem as I see it for Real Estate Investors, Property Managers, Landlords, etc. is that we want quality work done hassle free and cheap, with a huge emphasis on cheap. Often times our margins are thin and an expensive contractor can kill our profits. There is a reason why some contractors are cheap and others are expensive. Often times, you get what you pay for with contractors. I act as the contractor on my projects simply because the contractors I hired to fit my budgets were not any good, basically I felt I could do it and I can. Recently, I hired a good friend of mine who does high end renovations to do a renovation at my house. This was certainly a eye opening experience as it was the first time I hired a contractor of his caliber. Everything went as planned, the job was fantastic, the crews cleaned up after themselves, the price did not change, the job finished on time, etc. But his price per sq ft on average is about $150–which is more then my house is worth. I asked him if he could do my projects at the rates I need and he basically said the only way to make money at that level is to hire the bottom feeder sub contractors whose craftsmanship is sub par, who don’t keep there word and have to be micro managed extensively. I was certainly able to relate with my past experiences what he was saying, thus solidifying my reason not to hire contractors for my projects. I have felt the key is to finding good crews; right now I am running 3 crews that do great work and price is within what i need to pay. But I do spend a lot of time managing them.

    • 100% agree with this.

      I’m sorry for Ali, but BOTH situations were basically her fault. From the prices she’s reporting, she was looking for a steal – not a competent company or person trying to make a sustainable income and provide a quality product.

      In example 1 – any contractor that will do that sort of driveway work without a carefully planned as-proposed site plan is not one you want to be working with. At the VERY LEAST the contractor should have insisted on staking the boundaries of the new driveway.
      The price, and the fact that these things did not happen, tell me that this wasn’t a professional operation. My guess? Ali priced a professional operation and decided that it was too expensive.

      In the second example, the right thing to do would be to contact a company that does custom cabinetry or closet installations and talk to them about putting in shelves. Then, create an actual layout of what you want.

      The fact that the so-called ‘contractor’ didn’t even own the necessary tools to do the job tells me that this person wasn’t competent.

      In both cases – you got what you paid for. Poorly planned and badly executed projects awarded to people who appealed to your greed in telling you a low price.

      This is the same as going to a crappy diner, ordering filet Mignon, and when it wasn’t dry-aged, cooked just the way you wanted, and delivered on a hot plate with the potatoes just the way you like it…….. declaring that you just don’t like steak at all restaurants and that restaurants are all terrible places to eat.

      • Aaron, not sure why the jump to the conclusion that I tried to cheap out, because is quite the opposite from how I work. I am always willing to pay more to get things done the better way. I definitely had some fault in how both of these turned out, but not being willing to pay for competency is far from one of them (hello, I buy turnkey rental properties instead of foreclosures). I will pay more more all day long if it means the job gets done right and with little stress. The problem with the more recent case with the bookshelves, for example, I paid way more than I should have only because I thought it would get me quality work. It wasn’t until long after I got the quote and information for the work that I started seeing she didn’t have her own equipment, etc.

        In my view, there are two ways to go-
        1. save money by accepting less-quality work and more headache
        2. pay more money and get higher-quality work and less headache

        In the case of the bookshelves, I paid more but got the less-quality work and headaches. That’s what lit me up. If I had cheaped out, fine so be it for bad quality and headaches, I would accept those. For the driveway, I have no idea what a driveway should cost so I only went off the guy telling me he was awesome.

        But thanks again for assuming I’m cheap. 🙂

    • Good info Alex. It depends on the project if I want to cheap out or not. For my investment properties, it depends on whether it is something that will last or not. If it’s something that inevitably my tenant will tear up again, I want to stick with cheap. If it’s a permanent or semi-permanent improvement, I’d rather pay more to get it done right. There is a very tough balance finding the right crews for the right money. They do exist tho…some of the highest-quality work I’ve seen, those crews don’t charge that much. Oftentimes they are so experienced that they can do everything very quickly, so it doesn’t take up that much time, hence the lower cost. Versus the slow-movers who take all day to finish a project that should have taken a couple hours.

      The amazing crews that don’t charge much are extremely hard to find. I was just able to pull one of these crews off a property manager I know out here and he is here right now fixing the bookshelves. The whole thing is already going smoother than the expensive girl experience.

    • Totally agree with Adrian.

      I also try and plan some roadmap with a contractor for future projects.
      Trying to help them understand that this isn’t our last project together.
      If they are going to screw up we are not going to go to the next project.

      Also I’m trying to identify when do they start losing. The last thing you need is a losing contractor coming to work.
      If he got the job estimated incorrectly we better talk about as he realizes it. its annoying but it happens and building a long term relationship with a contractor requires me to show we are building trust.

      My last tip is setting up the right expectations. Expect for the worse! make him put everything in writing, any changes through the project should go into the scope of work.
      Contractors are mostly awesome handymen with terrible business skills 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your experience.


      • Ha! Lior you’re totally right. Like this chick for the bookshelves, great at building bookshelves but doesn’t have the business side down to save her life. I like how you go about it- expectations, future work roadmap, communication, etc. Very handy info.

    • Adrian, I have now learned, you are 100% correct. Since I’ve told my most recent story to some people, I’ve heard horror stories of people losing out on tens of thousands of dollars for making the latter mistake! Lesson learned, and I’m glad I learned it before it was to the tune of tens of thousands.

  2. haha I laugh *with* you, not *at* you. These are familiar scenarios, indeed.

    A couple of things … first, that bookshelf-builder has some nerve charging you when she didn’t bring the right tools to the job! Am I missing something? She bid for a job to build shelves, didn’t have the right saw – and that’s on YOU? I can’t even begin to fathom paying a contractor extra to show up at the job with the correct tools. She wouldn’t have lasted a day with me.

    On the driveway, I would have included a sketch with the contract. At the very least, the contract would include s Scope of Work with measurements: the driveway is to begin ‘x’ feet away from the house, extend to such-and-such a point, etc etc. But a detailed sketch, though it might take a little more time up front, likely would have solved your problem.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned in working with contractors is that it is impossible to be too specific with them. Each project we do, I find unfinished items that I swore we discussed. Or some detail that I didn’t think of until I noticed it wasn’t done (when you paint a room, you paint the ceilings, walls, trim … and, why yes, even the walls inside of the closets!). It can indeed be stressful, but once you find the good ones – and get better at weeding out the bad ones before you ever hire them – then it becomes a lot more fun. Plus, the good ones need less direction; they KNOW they should paint those walls inside of the closets! And they show up with the right saw. The difference is amazing.

    • Haha Karin…trust me, I’m still laughing (it’s either laugh or cry, I prefer laugh).

      What you say is exactly what I realize. Not only can you not be too detailed or specific with contractors, there isn’t a job too small that needs details. After the driveway thing, I realized exactly what you said- I needed to lay out requirements and have them drawn up and approved. Especially since my years in the engineering industry, I learned requirements like there was no tomorrow and I had never thought about using the same theory for contractors and whenever. So I had it in my head that needed to happen, but then the bookshelves seemed like SUCH a small project to me, I didn’t think once that we needed every single detail laid out.

      And no doubt, the equipment issue was absurd. I hesitate to even tell you she didn’t even drive a pickup truck! Lessons = learned. Like I said to someone earlier, had this been the more cost-effective choice in deciding who to go with, I wouldn’t have room to whine about it and those kinds of things would have been expected and dealt with on my end. But she was literally 4x more expensive than the original guy I had give me a quote. I chose her thinking that would buy me quality. Nope!

  3. As a contractor, looking for an investor to partner with, I understand your troubles. I am confused as to why there were no drawings with specific measurements and guidelines for your driveway? As far as your shelving goes… Was she a carpenter or an interior decorator or something else? No tools– red flag– means no work. And your friend is right, you get what you pay for. I compete with “low-ball joe” all the time because people think that they are getting a good deal. Relationships take time. Unless you start picking up a hammer yourself, you may want to screen your contractors with small jobs to get a feel for their price, ethics, and craftsmanship. Wish you were up in my area, I’d love the opportunity to show you what I can do.

    • Where’s your area Robert? I’d take you up on it anytime!

      As I’ve responded with to a couple other people (I guess I didn’t clarify this in the article), I didn’t pick the low-ball Joe on this one, in fact quite the opposite. The low-ball Joe would have done a better job, I’m certain!

      But fully agreed about the needing everything drawn up entirely. That’s one place I fell major short on managing this whole thing. I think four bookshelves, on one one small enough to not even leave budge room, what could go wrong. Well, a lot. Not requiring that is on me for sure. But then the showing up with no tools, yep, I was leery from minute one but talked myself out of it being a problem.

      I reeeeally like your suggestion about starting with small projects to feel out the relationship and the work, and then moving to bigger ones. I’m keeping that one in my backpocket! Thanks for sharing.

    • We did have a picture Dawn, and to this day I can’t figure out what went wrong with it. She says there were only three shelves on it, I thought I remembered four….who knows. She has the picture so I’ll never see it again. But regardless of that, the picture should have obviously been way more detailed, with specs and all.

  4. Informative and entertaining article as always, Ali!

    Seriously, we’ve all been there. Even with over a decade of experience, I still remember being naive and inexperienced. Though, it’s through our experiences where we learn the most and eventually gain the wisdom to be successful.

    Learning to work with contractors is definitely more of an art than an exact science. Finding good, honest and reliable people is the hardest part. However, when we do find them – they are worth their weight in gold.

    Thanks for sharing your stories, I enjoyed the read! 🙂

    • Thanks Rachel! I agree with all, and I’m counting my lucky stars that I started learning these {basic} contractor lessons before I learned them on a way more expensive project. So from that end, I’m excited I’ll know better how to handle it later. On the other end, it reminds me why I buy turnkey properties. Never once have I ever had a contract screw or stress!

  5. I agree with Aaron. Too often homeowners request a job, and don’t specify exactly what the work they want done is. ALL work and any changes should be in writing, and an amount specified. The shelves, etc. seem like minor handyman work, that shouldn’t have required a contractor, but I’m not sure of the total value.

    The driveway, again, should have had exact specifications,materials to be used, including a photo, site plan with all measurements shown for the planned driveway, and probably a permit of some type.

    Most of these issues are caused by lack of communication by BOTH parties. Hiring someone doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to make sure things are done to your specs. Next time, CHECK LICENSES, BONDS, INSURANCE, AND REFERENCES!

    • Totally agree Karen. That is the biggest place that I hold the blame on myself in these cases is that I didn’t require more specifications detailed out up front. That part is absolutely on me, and lesson learned. The hindsight about it isn’t even 20/20, it’s closer to 20/10.

      The bookshelves I only wanted to hire out because I have an atrocious amount of books and they are extremely heavy, so I far from trusted myself to install durable-enough shelves for them. I know for sure if I had done it myself I would have been woken up one night to book crashing out of my wall onto the floor with big holes left in my wall.

      One day I’ll get more handy and be able to deal with more of it on my own. But not today.

  6. I think you are lucky you were not taken to the cleaners.

    It appears that you did not have the project detailed in writing and signed by you and
    the Driveway guy and the “Good vibes” girl. The signed document could then be used to illustrate to the contractors that they did not live up to their promises, ergo they’re fired and you will see them in small claims court after you have filed a complaint with the BBB, Angie’s List, whatever.

  7. I started my career as an engineer, designing and building commercial and industrial spaces. In that field, the bid process was formalized, and the contractors were (supposed so be) of the highest caliber (whether or not they were is an entirely separate discussion).

    These jobs were huge, with 7 and 8 figure budgets, and hundreds of pages of plans and detailed specifications for every portion of the work. It literally could NOT have been made more clear, exactly what the work was.

    And STILL, there were enough screwups, incompetence, grey areas, and miscommunications that it kept the construction manager busy full-time for the duration of the project. So, yeah, telling someone verbally what you want (especially when that someone doesn’t even own the ****ing tools to do the work) is absolutely begging to get shoddy work done and be pissed off at the end of it.

    You have a problem screening contractors and clearly communicating expectations. Just like any other problem area, it can be worked on. I have full confidence in you. 🙂

    • Lol! Jay, I love your comment. I most definitely fell short in the screening and communication areas. Do you mean to tell me people can’t read my mind? You crazy. 🙂 And the ****ing tools – hilarious. Totally agree.

      But I know what you are saying too. I worked as an aerospace engineer for five years and we build small and big aircraft. We had requirements for evvvvvvvverything. I mean, even things that before I got into the industry I didn’t even know could be specified! And still, things still went wrong. Always. So yeah, even with a solid pack of requirements and specifications, there is still room to go wrong. So to not have even those, disaster certainly awaits.

    • Definitely on both sides Walt, very much agreed, but not all of us can do our own work. Like for me, I have zero interest in doing it for one, but for two, even if I tried, it would be a disaster. Most would say- “it’s not rocket science”, and they are correct. I actually have a degree in rocket science, so if it were rocket science I would be fine! But it’s not, and I suck at it. I’d cause myself more headaches than the contractor would if I tried to do it all on my own.

  8. Learn to draw accurate plans have the contractor write up a detailed proposal and contract (this a big part of why we are called contractors) walk the job and line it out on the ground / walls and make sure you agree on what is to be built and where.
    As an aeronautical engineer you should be familiar with this process.
    It sounds like you are looking for professional results at handy-man prices. Just a word of advise to anybody looking for a good contractor. If they don’t have the tools required to do the job, they are neither good nor a contractor. you get what you pay for.

  9. I know the feeling…

    I just hired a contractor to put siding on. They put it on, forgot? to put house wrap on. Took siding off and put on house wrap, and re-put the siding back on. They did not tape around the windows, and had to take quite a bit off again, tape the windows and doors, and out it back on.

    I do most work myself, as there are too many incompetent contractors. All they do is hire subs, and hire people that do not even know how to do things.

  10. Another point I used when doing dozens of rehabs, never, never, never pay up front. I used Home Depot and Lowes a lot for basic materials that way my money went to Home Depot and not the contractor. In fact as often as I could I used Home Depot and Lowes because if something were faulty the Company would fix it, return your money or give you a steep discount. One time I had Home Depot install carpet in a fourplex I owned, Near the end of the job the carpet layer, who was contracted by Home Depot, showed me the slightest flaw running through the carpet. I didn’t even notice it and the carpet installer called Home Depot to have someone come out and inspect the carpet. A few days later a guy shows up, takes a cursory look at the carpet, apologizes and says he can remove and replace the carpet, or .. give me a 50% discount on the entire job. Try getting that kind o service and immediate concession from Joe Smoe Contractor.

    • Ooooh Tom, I like that. it’s a really valid point too. Like the paint I bought that ended up not matching for these stupid shelves, I’m returning that to Home Depot for a full refund. If the contractor had brought the paint, I would’ve been totally out. Great advice! At least of everything I lost to her, I’ll get my $20 for the paint back. Lol.

  11. I am a builder/general contractor by trade, I was a superintendent for a large builder for 10 years and managed the construction of about 600 homes during that time. I left there in 2009 to pursue my own ventures, I do high end remodeling, have flipped 8 houses and own 7 rentals with 11 units.

    As a property owner, I certainly understand your frustrations with hiring contractors like myself. I wouldn’t want to pay the prices I demand for remodeling work. And for my rental properties I rarely do anything myself because I make it look too nice and the tenants don’t respect the property as we all think they should.

    If you are looking to have work done on your personal residence, you should pay more than you are used to for your rentals. I use subcontractors all the time – I have ones that I use for my remodeling business and I have others that I use on rentals. It’s all about price and quality.

    Recently I have done a few bookshelf projects on the remodel side. This is high end carpentry work, folks. It’s not like you just buy a few pieces of wood and screw them together. It takes a lot of pre planning and a lot of knowledge to make them look nice. If you want shoddy work, pay someone $15-$20 an hour to leave an uncut shelf in your living room and do a bad paint job. If you want it done right, expect to spend $50/hr for the lead man and $25 for the helper. It may sound like a lot if money but that is what it is going to take to get the job done right the first time. I lose a fair amount of work because people just don’t think that is a fair price.

    Your frustrations are understood. I get underbid all the time and I often go back to clean up messes that other contractors create. But at the end of the day it ends up costing the homeowners more money and a lot of headaches.

    It all comes down to this: You get what you pay for.

    I hope this gives you all some perspective.

    • what kills me is that most engineers and professionals in the “cubicle” business make less than that. and those people have THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars in school debt. you know… the place where they went for 4-9 yrs and stayed up all night studying (most of us did, anyway). contractors trying to make lawyer pay is just obnoxious.

      • Those professionals in the cubicle do not pay for the following –

        * Self employment tax (Which a lot of contractors do, even though there are ways around it)
        * Workers comp insurance
        * FICA, Social Security, Medicare/ETC
        * Tools
        * Training
        * Licensing
        * General Liability insurance
        * Performance bonds (Required in most places to maintain a license)
        * Gas to and from the job site
        * Vehicle maintenance
        * Warranty costs
        * Overhead costs (Things like cell phones, home office, office rent, warehouse space. Even the smallest contractor will have some kind of overhead)
        * Book keeping/accounting (Even if you do it yourself, those hours aren’t pro bono)
        * End of the year taxes (Majorly different for the W2 crowd vs. the folks who are W9 or have a corporation set up)
        * And let’s not forget things like advertising!

        If someone is billing you at $50/hr (Not unreasonable for a really skilled carpenter, even in this neck of the woods where labor is cheaper)… please bear in mind that they are NOT taking home $50/hr.

        Also remember this: Hiring a contractor for a one-off job like building shelves or custom cabinetry is not the same as hiring someone to do the same job 40 hours a week. A service purchased ala cart is always going to be more expensive than one that you hire on a regular basis.

    • Dave, thanks for your response! It makes me feel better to hear things like that from a contractor. And man, I would have loved to have gotten away with only paying the lead $50/hour and the side guy $25/hour! That would have been cheaper than I paid (stupid, in hindsight) thinking I was getting a good contractor. I’m always willing to pay more, but it’s when you do pay more but get the bad work that it gets really frustrating. Sure with you were in LA and I could have worked with you!

  12. And this is why I’m currently taking that contractor who has a small company but great skills and follow through and helping him grow his company as well as showing the advantages of working with investors who will also do what they say and know what’s expected of them. It’s a two way street. I feel your pain, but I have to accept the fact that I hired poor contractors because my skills needed to grow. As they have, my contractors have gotten better. This has created a reputation with the contractors i work with and we now have a mutual respect for what we are both competent at doing.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences. It helps us all grow and remember what we have done and maybe not told others about in our attempts at controlling our own destiny. Btw, these things also help remind you what you don’t want to deal with. That’s why your business model is set up the way it is. I don’t want to be a landlord. It doesn’t play to my personal strengths. There are others who are very good at it and I have a lot of respect for them. But it’s why I’ve chosen to do business the way I do. Thank’s Ali and hope you enjoyed your vacation in our great state of Alaska!

    • I did Roy! Sorry again about not being able to meet up. I want to go back to Alaska in the future though, I loved it, so maybe we can plan it again. This time I will know that I won’t have service up there, and can plan accordingly 🙂

      Yes, my strengths are not in contractor work or landlording or any of that. Therefore, I adjust accordingly! No reason to force something that goes against my grain.

  13. As I read through your story I could definitely feel your frustration. However, I could also see right off the bat where things were going to end up within not too many sentences. Your biggest mistake in your situation was leaving it to chance. Whether dealing with contractors, home owners, tenants, banks, lawyers, accountants, or whomever … always assume they have no idea what you are talking about or what you want.

    I see all the time where people think they are on the same page but in reality aren’t. Common words and phrases often have very different meanings to people. Assuming they understand or that you understand them is a key indicator of future problems.

    There is a very good reason why even simple contracts often take many pages. Buy a car with a bank loan and see how everything is spelled out perfectly and in excruciating detail. Open up a credit card account and see that paperwork. Buy a coffee maker and read the warranty. Lawyers in that form of practice specializing in spelling out everyone’s responsibilities so there is no confusion.

    Take that lesson within your own dealings. It’s not an insult to anyone’s intelligence to spell out exactly what you want in very simple concepts. Use clear language, use drawings, use measurements, etc. The clearer you state your desires the easier the job will be. It will allow you to define what you need from your service person both in skills and abilities and allow you to make more informed spending decisions. It’s your money; protect it.

    The added benefit in a clear and concise specification is that when something goes wrong, it’s often a supporting document that can be used to obtain relief from the party that didn’t read it.


    • Brad, you could not have hit in more spot-on! Most definitely assuming people can read my mind is what caused the major flunk-outs in these scenarios. But I like how you expand the same theory even into real life too. It really is true that everyone sees different things, no matter how obvious something seems like it would be, and communicating clearly (and with drawings as often!) is imperative. It’s sadly a skill that can take some practice to get in the habit of. Like just remembering in these kinds of cases to be sure to explicate as detailed as possible and have the drawings to back it up! And doing so is a good way to rule out potentially bad contractors….any of them who take offense to you wanting to spell all that out, that should be a red flag in itself!

      Great comment, thanks for responding!

  14. Ali , Even as a lowly flooring contractor I prefer a compete diagram with as much detail as possible to reduce miscommunication or contractor interpitaton.
    Have a plan and build to the plan.
    Some general contractors will not pay for or hold back a pecentage on a job not completed to specification.
    I may have missed it in you article or others replies but always get and speak to your contractors referances. Most people I have met are consistent , either good or bad.

    Thanks for posting I enjoy your perspective and the enthusiasm in you articles . Ted

    • Hey Ted, great thoughts actually. I hadn’t even thought of checking references! And yes, if I were the contractor I would want details mapped out as well, just to save headache (and heartache to some degree) of doing things not up to par with what the client wanted.

  15. Great (and entertaining) article Ali. Contractors will make you crazy.

    I learned from a really bad experience, that I had to get everything in writing (heavy on details). You should always have a copy of everything and require a written change order with the price for every change so you don’t get a giant bill for “extras” at the end.

    I also agree with the folks that said we often want a quality of work that doesn’t necessarily match the price we are willing to pay.

    You need to tell me about your Alaska adventure.


  16. Haha. Anytime Sharon! It was amaaaazing. One of the best trips ever. I could totally see myself living in Alaska during random summers.

    Great points, especially the addition of needing written change orders to avoid getting slapped with nasty extra charges. And it is true about the quality versus price we are willing to pay, although the bummer on this one (actually both) is I paid more hoping for the higher quality! Grrghh. Oh well, now I show off my shelves to my friends telling them that they are in fact looking at the world’s most expensive cheap bookshelves! 🙂

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