This is a milestone column for me. It’s my 1,500th weekly column.
For weeks leading up to this day, I’ve wanted to produce a column that will save you vast sums of money and prevent confrontations, sleepless nights and arguments. My goal is to empower you with all you need to know so that you have the same friendly relationship with your contractor for many years as I had with almost all of my clients.
Based on my five decades of work experience, I know you’re in one camp or the other. What are those camps or tribes? Ponder these true stories and decide for yourself.
Twenty years ago my future son-in-law came into my office as I was doing some HTML coding on my website. He asked about it and also wanted to know exactly what my Ask the Builder business was all about. One thing led to another and we started looking at my incoming email messages from homeowners like you.
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This was the moment in time I discovered he was a brilliant young man. After looking at six emails in a row, he said: “Mr. Carter, you may not realize this, but you’re in the life-preserver business. Each one of those homeowners is yelling at the top of their lungs for you to throw them a life preserver. You’re not in the how-to-swim business as you just told me.”
He was referring to the fact that all my previous columns had been focused on sharing how to do this or that so that work is done the right way. Apparently, 95 percent of the people I was getting emails from weren’t paying attention to that messaging. They were drowning in DIY nightmares or jobs gone wrong with contractors. I’ve never forgotten that day, and I should have hung a life preserver on my office wall as a stark reminder.
To prove this point, just two weeks ago I received this dreadful email from one of my newsletter subscribers. Roy has read each of my weekly newsletters for over 10 years. He wrote:
“Thanks for sharing the story about Angel, who built a dormer with your advice. What an inspiration!
“I wish I had called you before letting a con man steal my money by not finishing my basement. The worst thing is the relationship and mental/psychological stress, not the money. Being taken advantage of when you ‘should have known better’ and ‘how did you not ask for advice’ has taken a huge toll on me.
“The money is a factor, obviously, but it can be replaced. The others may take years, if ever, to overcome. Finding out from our local permits department that this happens EVERY DAY to people was of no relief. It especially hurt me knowing that I am a subscriber of yours and could have asked for guidance, but I fell into his trap and got tunnel vision.”
There are a handful of reasons why Roy got into trouble. The contractor could have been a pro at using powerful seductive psychology to persuade Roy to sign a contract. I’ve written extensively about this psychology in past columns and newsletters. Roy may have put far too much trust in the contractor. I could go on and on.
Just days ago, Laurie hired me to help her. She lives in Texas and is about to buy a lot in Vermont where she’ll build a new timber-framed home. She’ll end up just about 100 miles from where I live in central New Hampshire. She had a list of very good questions. She wanted to know about how to purchase 10 or 15 acres that would require no blasting of bedrock ledge. She wanted to know about septic design.
Her list of questions also included what it might cost to create a driveway into this wooded lot. Perhaps the biggest conundrum was separating the responsibilities of the timber-frame company and the actual builder. You see, the timber-frame company just sets their custom wood frame on a foundation provided by others.
The difference between Roy and Laurie is as stark as night to day. Laurie sat and put thought into quite a few of the very important issues that she’s about to confront. I informed her that I could offer much more assistance and even drive to Vermont to help her choose the best lot if she wanted. After all, my college degree is in geology with a focus on hydrogeology. This means I know how to build houses that don’t have water leaks.
Just before writing this column, I sent a list of 11 items that need attention to Mike down in Florida. He’s getting new siding on his home and wanted me to review the proposal his contractor sent to him. Like Laurie, Mike put the brakes on before breaking out the ballpoint pen. You should do the same. Engage your critical thinking skills and stop trusting contractors. Get advice from someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight or research the best way to install things.
Subscribe to Tim’s FREE newsletter at AsktheBuilder.com. Tim offers phone coaching calls if you get stuck during a DIY job. Go here: go.askthebuilder.com/coaching