Having done a lot of construction personally and as a builder of custom suits at Kozinn+Sons Merchant Tailors in New York City, I would like to share with you the lessons I have learned in the hope of making your life easier. These suggestions apply to most custom work whether you’re doing a major renovation or having something built that will be one of a kind.
1. Most importantly--select your contractor carefully. Unless it’s an emergency, do not do the job if you’re not satisfied with the individual. Impatience leads to bad results.
2. Don’t feel sorry for yourself that you haven’t found the right person to do the job. If it was so easy, why aren’t you doing it yourself?
3. Check references. Take the time. You might get some good advice also.
4. Reject any contractor who does not respond promptly to your initial inquiry or does not provide a proposal when he says he will. This is a good indicator of what the relationship will be like.
5. Do not make price your main criteria. Pick the contractor you have the most confidence in. If you can’t afford this person, wait until you can.
6. Read the contract. Make sure it is clear to avoid misunderstandings. While you may not be able to dot every “i”, make sure that what is in the contract makes sense. (If he tells you it’s just a formality and of no importance, ask him why he needs it, then.)
7. Do not hold out the “carrot” of more work or a recommendation to a friend if your only goal is to motivate the contractor to do a better job. Believe me, he’s heard it all before.
8. Do not try to befriend the contractor. Don’t try to prove that you’re one of the guys. Keep it professional.
9. Expect to be involved in the process. Don’t think all you have to do is sign the checks. Ask questions of the contractor not as way to check up on him, but so that you can learn more and make informed decisions.
10. Monitor the project’s progress, but do not micromanage it. Treat the contractor with respect, not skepticism.
11. Do not make your goal “perfection.” Don’t even use the word, “perfect.”. Have some humility--You are not perfect. No one else is either.
12. If you find a mistake, this is not necessarily a sign of betrayal or negligence. Simply point it out and see how he reacts. Ideally, he thanks you.
13. If something bothers you, tell him in a straightforward way at an appropriate time. Don’t apologize for being “picky.”
14. Be decisive when choices have to be made on the job. You will gain the respect of the contractor and get the job done on time. If you have an architect, force him or her to make decisions in a timely manner.
15. Do not whine! (“This is so frustrating…”)If you’ve lost confidence in your contractor, fire him. Otherwise, shut up and accept the fact that “shit happens.”
16. Fire immediately someone who does not show up when he says he will and offers no adequate explanation. It will only get worse.
17. If the job has progressed well and your contractor asks for an extra because of something unforeseen, give it to him graciously. Custom work is unpredictable.
18. Encourage the contractor. Compliment his work if it is being done well or on schedule.
19. Do not use money as leverage. Most craftspeople want to put their energy into doing good work, not collecting money. Threats about getting paid only detract from the quality of the work; they do not motivate in any way.
20. Be the kind of client he wants to hear from in the future. If you were easy to work with, your calls will be returned promptly.
Kozinn+Sons Merchant Tailors
22 West 32nd Street, 5th Floor
New York NY 10001