What we want in a contractor

The construction part of our business is inherently messy.

This isn’t new construction, where you start with a nice, flat lot and build exactly what your architect drew on the plans.

Our raw material is old buildings with weird framing where the foundation has probably settled unevenly over the years. That means that what is on the plans and what gets built are not always the same thing.

Sometimes the surprises are bad: It turns out you’re missing a crucial two inches to fit a shower you need to get the rents, the framing doesn’t allow you to open up the kitchen, etc.

Sometimes the surprises are good: You find concrete under the carpet that you can polish, the roof framing is sufficiently strong to allow you to raise the ceilings, etc.

In order to mitigate the negative surprises and take advantage of the positive ones, you need a contractor who who finds a way to say “yes”.

Most contractors aren’t like that. They want to stick exactly to the plans and, if you ask them to deviate, try to kill you with expensive “change orders” (additional charges over and above the agreed contract price). Because of the inherent unpredictability of our raw material, this forces us either to spend way, way too much money and time planning the project, to live with results which are very suboptimal, or to spend more than we budgeted. None of these is an acceptable outcome.

The contractors we want to work with know going in that changes are likely. They price the job accordingly, so that if we throw them a curve-ball, they can accommodate us (within reason; obviously massive changes necessitate additional payments).

The way they think about it is this: On any given job, they may make more or less money (more when we don’t change anything, less when we do). But, over time, they end up far better off, because we keep them working all the time, so they don’t have any down-time.

Amazing that more contractors don’t think like this…