Things it’s Not Reasonable to Do to Your Contractor

Let’s start of with on time, on budget and exactly what you want it’s what anyone wants from a contractor and chances are you can have all that. Along the way to that though there are a few things that isn’t really reasonable to ask of your contractor. So here they are in no particular order, also included are some things you just can’t or at least shouldn’t do and why. These things are not all that uncommon to the point where someone ought to be putting it out there that it’s not reasonable. So not doing these things or at least being aware of them will go along way to keeping these things cool between everyone. A lot of this is inter-related so just read the whole thing. For this post I included just a few pictures from the last few months with out too much rhyme or reason.




  1. Say you’ll get the fixtures and then don’t

Lots of clients want to pick things like tile, plumbing fixtures and lights themselves that’s totally cool and if you happen to pick a place we get a discount we’re happy to share. If you say you’re going to get things make sure they are there in time for when we’re ready to install it and even before. Also make sure you have a place to store all this extra stuff so we’re not moving it back and forth all the time. Delays are the single biggest thing costing you money you don’t need to spend. Also make sure you know what we mean when we say things like, pre-hung left hand swing, sanded grout, mounting hardware included, 3-5 inch off-set and thermostatic mixing valve. Think about how many picture messages and face times are reasonable while you’re shopping, I’ll give you a hint it’s less than 20, probably way less.

2. Insist that you can live in the construction zone then complain about the mess

Chances are your contractor lives in something resembling a construction zone at home. Lots of them never really finish their own homes or live in a series of flips. Plus he has lots of experience with what couples vs. young families can handle. If he suggests you find other accommodations think about it. You can always ask him to minimize the time you’ll be out. If you choose to stay he’ll do his best to keep you comfortable but don’t complain about the mess. Do what you gotta do and shhh. PS know that this might mean he has to respond to an emergency at some point during your job.

3. Make EVERY decision a BIG decision

Not every decision is life or death even to the decor. I get it its your house and you want it to be perfect but certain things just aren’t worth stressing over. Certain things are a huge deal like tile, layout and even the overall ascetic but the edge finish on your countertops, laundry room sink faucet, whether or not the insides of the closets should match the room paint color don’t matter that much in the end. Just go with your gut or better yet budget and make an easy decision. It’s reasonable to cause a delay for a flooring choice don’t rush that but cream vs white cabinet kick boards on a cabinet are not. Again this causes delays and all those people you’re paying might be sitting waiting for your choice. Plus it puts way more stress on you and everyone on the crew.

You hired this guy because he has skills you don’t right? PS this one was a stolen boat recovery mission.

4. Not get what special order vs. in stock means

In stock means ‘throw it in the truck (at one location)’ special order can mean 2 – 6 weeks or more. A good contractor will tell you in enough time to get special order stuff in time. Often though you meet us and want it started right now but also want it done ASAP under these circumstances special order is generally off the table on smaller jobs.

5. Have special order tastes and an in stock time line

See above, we can get the feel of what you want pretty dang close because someone on the team is a great shopper but be ready to compromise. We can usually find you something with the same feel in town.

6. Change your mind and expect to keep to the schedule and budget

This is the number one thing that sours relationships and effects projects. If you’re taking on a renovation project make sure you have though about it a lot, have a clear image of what you want to see and be ready to make lots of fast decisions and communicate them clearly. We’d rather hear a clear ‘none of these samples are the hardwood I want’ then a wishy washy ‘hmm maybe that one, or that one or maybe something in between, maybe.’ Making a change isn’t usually twice the work it’s four times the work plus shopping, returning (if possible), re-prepping  and then re-installing. Making a last minute change can cost time and lots of money.

7. Tell him he has to be there every day or dictate the work schedule

No matter if you view your construction people as the help or not they are running their own business and you’re not their only customer. If they are ‘the help’ then they’re a freelancer unless you pay them a salary. Sometimes there isn’t enough to do at your house on a given day, someone else has a legit emergency, they do fit in a small job to keep all their guys (and gals) busy or maybe they just need a break from you house to keep quality up. Look at it this way if you’re ever the one with an emergency they’ll drop what they’re doing for you too.

8. Suggest ‘that guy’ is being paid too much

photo op only, don’t be this guy! Bracing an old wharf days before your daughter’s wedding.

Tied in with the last comment it’s not cool to tell people how to run their business. Here’s another little secret usually the profit in a job these days is built into labour costs in other words that’s how your contractor feeds his family and that guy feeds his. Maybe he doesn’t seem to be doing much in the demo stage but he might be a tiling virtuoso later on. Think the drywalled is over paid? Do you also know that where we are they are notoriously unreliable, messy and often sub-par? We pay ‘that guy’ because he shows up when we call, leaves the site as if he was never there and is a freakin’ master at what he does and he’s the only one we found like that! So yeah it’s a lot but he’s totally worth it. Do you know what your contractor worries about at night, sometimes before bone vs alabaster grout in your kitchen? It’s keeping all those guys busy and working so he doesn’t have to lay anyone off and what that would mean for their family. Whatever you do how would you like it if a customer, patient, student or whatever took time out of their day to let your boss know they thought you were making too much?

9. Demand that everything must be done on a certain date no matter what

You know who gets this commercial customers and boy do they pay for it! Not just in the final bill but before during and after too. If you want us to build you a small three bedroom bungalow we’ll tell you it will be about $160 000 depending on your choices if it’s a commercial rebuild it’s about $215 000 if they pay all the upfront legal costs like the crazy 28 page contract. Even then there’s wording in there for weather delays. In the event of which there is a balloon number that is agreed to to still make the deadline. The contract on day one spells out exactly how everything will look from paint color, trim width and design, flooring choice and plumbing fixture brand. Then there are no deviations from that plan what so ever and all the final choices are made on day one and after that the client is totally hands off! Be reasonable for the general residential customer it’s more of a process then a set out contract. We can almost always get it done in time as long as there are no big delays and we’re often working long hours, even overnights at the end to make it happen.

10. Sure do a hold back but tell them you will and know what’s actually legal

Here’s another secret a lot of the time your contractor is planning on taking that final check to start their next big job. We even plan our season building to bigger projects on that. If you want to be careful and do a holdback that’s totally fine and your right but as a decent human let your contractor know you’ll be doing that. Also it’s not legal to hold back 100% of the final payment. Chances are you can hold back 10% of that payment and extras for 30 days with cause. If you’ve paid payments along the way that legally means you were satisfied with the work at that point and therefore a legal holdback is only 10% of an outstanding amount again with cause. Then it’s for 30 days plus a few business days for you to check for leins on your house. Usually for certain things we won’t even give you a bill until that cause thing is gone. Get a new roof or window installed we won’t hand you a bill until it rains for example. For certain things there is never cause so if you hired us to cut down a tree and it didn’t hit your house it’s all cleaned up you owe us 100% of the agreed upon bill right now. Also if you’re happy just pay up and don’t be a dirtbag you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Also if you’ve really rubbed him the wrong way and he likes to pay lawyers you might get sued even after you pay. Don’t worry about this too much though a good one is generally too busy to go after you for interest.

NBD just a 120 ft pine tree 15 feet away from a million dollar home. Watch it fall here.

11. Ask him to take installments, or PayPal or an endorsed check or a credit card

You might think this is a laugh but all these things happened to us, THIS YEAR! We don’t take credit cards for a lot of reasons but one is the percentage fee that’s charged if you want to pay this way expect that you might have to pay that surcharge. We’re happy to take your money for a job well done in any number of ways, cheque, bank transfers, certified cheques, e-trasfers and cold hard cash is fine too. Sometimes if we’ve been recently burned or we’re otherwise sketched out we might insist on not a personal cheque. We don’t take cheques with someone else’s name on them, Canadian Tire money, the promise of future tax help (anymore), foreign currency or any other non-standard method of payment. If you want to pay some weird way tell your contractor before he starts and make sure he’s okay with that. Also we’re not a finance company for home renovations so we don’t take monthly installments either. Work that out with your banker before you start.

12. That quote you signed was a contract, if you break it so can he

This is the thing with contract law a lot of the time and money is spent arguing about who broke it first and in a more meaningful way. Were you a day late with a progress payment, you broke the contract in a big way. Did you ask for any extras then the deadline is moved. Usually our side is to preform the indicated work, to the relevant building codes, obtain relevant permits and inspections and to keep the site reasonably clean and safe. If the work is done to code, as outlined in that document a judge is going to be siding at least in the majority with the contractor. Also your contractor writes that quote so look carefully at the details in the wording because you and he are bound to it. Ours includes things like:

  • Subject to weather delays
  • Extra work above and beyond the scope outlined above will be billed additionally at the cost of materials and at standard company labour rates.
  • Major changes to the material used and scope of work performed compared to those outlined above may result in a different contract price and payment schedule

13. Be totally hands off unless you really mean it

We have the odd customer that just wants it done and they really don’t care or totally trust the details to us. One lady just says, well you know my style and what I like what ever you think is best, but cheaper is always better, I’m not fancy. We redid an entire rental townhouse this year for someone too who was like just send me bills I don’t care. We did also send progress pictures too. But sometimes people say that but then actually mean “I’m going to micro-micro-manage the hell out of this but only when I feel like it, other times I’ll be MIA.” As you can imagine that’s a special form of torture.

14. Expect then to stick to a price no matter what

Chances are this might not happen because once you start with renos it’s hard to stop. Adding extras, changing your mind to higher end stuff, or just changing your mind all the time are going to up to the price. But you never know what you’re going to find behind walls once you start that pretty much has to cost more. If you make some cheaper choices earlier on you’ll get credit for more expensive ones later. If disaster strikes with an unknown let you contractor know your budget is pretty firm and we’re happy to work with you to find cost saving within the original contract.

15. Ghost him on check day

This is crappy, did you know if you’re late with a payment we can shut down the job and if we’re concerned not come back once we’re paid. This is crappy behavior and we know what’s going on with you’re suddenly super busy and leaving for work before 7 am. Also for smaller guys or bigger jobs they might need that money to continue so you’re basically bringing the project to a grinding halt. You’re really just cutting off your nose to spite your face here.

16. Not believing someone onsite has taste

Lots of people put undue stress on themselves by obsessing over every detail and not delegating some of the choices to your contractor. We do this all the time so we’re aware of trends, products your not aware of and someone somewhere has some taste on site, I swear. Sometimes that’s even his wife who he’s showing pictures to at supper other times he texts her. Do yourself a favor and let us make the odd choice or two and stress less!

Believe it or not this guy fixing your plumbing, eating your pickles and drinking your (near) beer is an expert. Actually this one was for family so he get’s a pass on workplace professionalism.

Here are some other posts you might find helpful:

How to stick to a construction budget a definitive guide

Mistakes first time homeowners make

Construction industry myths

Have you ever done this stuff? Do you disagree with any of it? This is meant to be a window (pun intended) into the other side for homeowners and make the whole thing go smoother for everyone!

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