When I opened my first business, back in 1981 (yes, I am dating myself), my first regular repeat client was a fireman from Woodburn, Oregon. He was a great person to deal with, always paid his bills on time, and never complained. I’d nearly forgotten about him, until I heard the following saga from a couple who had some interesting contractor experiences.
A couple years ago, they had purchased a 1960’s home and needed a combination garage and shop. As first-time home owners, they were prepared for the noise, dust and dirt of construction. What they weren’t prepared for how hard it was to find a good contractor.
They phoned contractors with websites having great customer testimonials and reached out to friends of friends, producing a short-list of candidates who they expected would be professional and provide fair price estimates.
The first contractor arrived with professionalism and a sense of humor. He even took off his shoes upon entering their home. He knew all the right things to say, promising great things for their new pole building.
“This is so easy!” they said to themselves excitedly. They never heard from him again.
The second contractor seemed like a cross between a newly sprung criminal and the creepy guy who offers candy to little girls. To top it off within the short time he was there, he said they needed $4,000 worth of electrical work to put in a temporary power pole to plug in all of his tools while the crew put up the building. Yet their house, with a 20 amp GFI outlet was only 30 feet away. They let him stay for 10 minutes then escorted him out.
The third contractor was a friend of a close friend. He and his business partner seemed like nice guys, until they wanted to charge $5,000 to scrape the sod off where the new building would be–or as they liked to call it, for “site prep.” Not to build the building. Just to literally remove the lawn where the 30 x 36 pole barn would be.
To them it seemed they had made a major mistake by already buying the pole building kit package. The materials sat in their backyard, with “lovely” blue tarps over them. The contractors no doubt realized they weren’t going to make money off of the customary mark-up they would have taken. Plus, they appeared to be in a desperate situation. Either the contractors thought “let’s get ‘em on obscene labor charges” or it just wasn’t a big enough ticket job.
Fortunately, they had been smart enough at the outset to ask another friend of a friend —a contractor who couldn’t do the job because he wasn’t licensed in their state—for his estimate. He came and gave his estimate before any of the contractors came. So they had a number to work off of to prepare the site, erect the pole building and pour the concrete floor and approaches.
After the three contractors came and went, the wife came up with a brilliant idea: One of their friends was a volunteer firefighter and knew firefighters who were contractors. Apparently, many firefighters work in construction for their second job, since they have so many hours off. Their friend put them in touch with his friend, a firefighter-contractor.
When he walked through the door, they had an instant feeling of sanity. He was clean, well-spoken, understood their budgetary concerns and in the end, gave them a reasonable estimate which was only ¾ of their budget number.
The work went swimmingly. They were happy with the craftsmanship, the contractor’s crew (firefighters, EMTs and other heroic professionals), adherence to Building Department rules and the overall time of two weeks total to complete the entire job.
Through the project they learned if you want the job done right, try your friendly, neighborhood firefighter. Maybe one day there’ll be a 911 for pole buildings!