By Don Huizenga, American Building Contractors, Inc.
No, this isn’t an article on how to have a personal relationship...as in ‘the personal want ads’ type of relationship with a contractor, but rather a few hints you can use to solicit bids for a project or repair damage from an insurance claim,
On the social ladder of honesty, contractors are gingerly placed on a step directly above a used car salesman. Why? I am not sure but I think it has something to do with our fear of having something “sold” to us. Combine that with a reputation for going out of business or saying anything to sell a job and you have a strong recipe for mistrust.
How can you make your bidding process productive and stress free? Easy...
Do your homework first
Too many Boards mix good and bad contractors together during the bidding process. Since people are more apt to remember the bad, the good contractor earns an un-warranted tarnish solely because of the other contractors with whom he is thrown into the fray. This ends up diluting the group to the lowest common denominator, thus making them appear equal when in fact there is a “white knight” in the bunch. Don’t just pick 4 or 5 contractors out of the phone book and ask them to bid. Pick 3 or 4 qualified contractors first...then have this group bid your project.
Establish applicable criteria to identify qualified contractors
First, pick contractors that fit your project size. If a contractor has never re-roofed a 100-unit townhome complex, do you want him practicing on yours? Call references. It amazes me how many board members don’t take the time to call a contractor’s references before they ask that contractor to bid. For some reason, people think they need to get references from the contractor after the contractor has been chosen to bid. Why ask someone to submit a bid when they don’t have ample references to do the job to begin with? It may take more time to whittle down your selection, but it’s better than finding a bad contractor among your good ones after the bids are submitted... especially if the low bidder is the one least qualified. There is no better method by which you can get information about a contractor than calling his references. Be sure the references reflect your project description too. Getting a good referral on a $10,000 gutter project is not the same as a good referral on a $1 million dollar project.
Let your contractors know exactly what is expected of them
Make sure they are all bidding on the same specifications. Make sure they all get a chance to interview. Make sure they are all treated fairly and try to realize that their time is valuable, too. Don’t make three contractors bid a project when you know, as a board, that you will probably choose one that has done work for you before. When you do make a choice, call the other contractors to let them know why they were not selected. It can be any reason and it is an appreciated courtesy. Contractors can use that information to improve themselves in the future...which is something we could all use.
Through an honest and productive Contractor-Association relationship, perhaps contractors can even move up a rung on the social ladder.