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5 common mistakes contractors make

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by Karen Hamilton

15 years ago, my husband and I bought a vacation home in Haliburton, ON. Built in the 1960s, our cottage stayed in its original form until last fall, when we could finally afford to renovate it.

Our contractor was okay to deal with and our reno turned out more or less as we’d envisioned and was completed on time. Yet despite all that, when we’re asked to give a reference, we don’t give glowing reviews; okay reviews, yes, but definitely not glowing.

The reason? Our contractor did things, little things, that when taken together, undermined our confidence in him. If his goal was to finish the job and get paid for his work, he did what he set out to do. But if his goal was a satisfied customer who would eagerly refer more work to him, he unfortunately missed the mark.


Here’s what went wrong.

1. Not following up on leads

One reason we hired the contractor we did was because he was the only one who responded to our request for a quotation. We phoned other companies, leaving our contact information with them (sometimes two or three times), but we never heard back.

2. No detailed quote

Call me high-maintenance but when I spend in the neighbourhood of $70,000, I think it’s nice to get an itemized list of deliverables rather than a vaguely worded, hand-written quote with a grand total scribbled at the bottom. I’ve received more detailed receipts when I’ve bought coffee and donuts at Tim Horton’s. Just sayin’.

3. No portfolio

Selecting the perfect vinyl siding for our cottage from the, oh, three trillion options available was challenging. I know our contractor was trying to be helpful when he’d point to a sample and tell me, “I did a cottage two lakes over in that one last summer” but a portfolio of pictures showcasing his work would have been even better.

4. No updates

Because we live a three hour drive from our cottage, trips to the job site were infrequent. Periodic emails with photos of work in progress would have been appreciated. Sometimes our crew was reassigned to another job, or bad weather kept them from working at all. Fair enough, but a quick heads-up would have kept us calm when we arrived on the weekend and wondered why nothing had been done. And even if a homeowner makes regular visits to the job site, it doesn’t mean they understand what’s going on. Regular communication goes a long way toward pre-empting misunderstandings.

5. Not addressing deficiencies

They say the last 3 percent of the job takes at least 15 percent of the effort. Tying up loose ends is a pain, but because deficiencies come to light towards the end of a job, they’re often what homeowners remember most. Consequently, how they’re handled plays an important role in overall customer satisfaction. In our case, a promised screen door that inexplicably took months to appear coloured our perception of service.


Karen Hamilton is part of the team at Hammerati is a professional network exclusively for the construction industry.


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3 Comments » for 5 common mistakes contractors make
  1. Mike Aubrey says:


    Did you supply a complete set of details and specifications to the contractor, or did you expect the contractor to work out all the details? Your column suggested the former to me. It takes a lot of time to work out these details.
    Many contractors and renovation companies are unwilling to do a potential client’s time consuming groundwork for fear that the quote that it produces will be shopped to death. If you had had a set of plans and specs you likely would have recieved more serious quotes. I think on the whole your contractor is a smart guy except for the lack of a portfolio and his tardiness at dealing with the deficiencies. good portfolio is really an excellent tool for self promotion.
    Mike Aubrey
    Tego Bathroom Solutions
    Ottawa, Ontario

  2. J Thiessen says:

    Why did you hire a contractor with no portfolio and only a ballpark quote?

    For the same reason everyone else does.

    You sensed that competent contractors in the area are booked far in advance and may be difficult to connect with. As far as your contractor is concerned if he can stay booked well into the future without producing detailed quotes or developing a project portfolio, then there’s little incentive for him to work on those areas. If he can come in under budget on those ballpark quotes, then even better.

    Unfortunately, contractors also sometimes avoid quoting on projects that raise red flags for some reason – perhaps the demeanor of the potential customer, unclear scope of the project, lack of clear end goals or sense of budget, and so on. Customers who have a consistently hard time connecting with a contractor do sometimes need to look in the mirror.

    Your last two beefs are completely legit – clear communication with the customer and prompt followup on that crazy-making list of little stuff at the end isn’t always easy but makes both the contractors’ and customers’ lives much smoother even without considering referrals in the future.

    J E Thiessen Renovation & Building
    Austin, MB

  3. Leo post says:

    All of the above comments are valid.
    However to often I found when there is lack of comunication between the contractor and homeowner things go wrong big time.
    First of all the homeowner is fully entitled to updates and progress of the job regardless where they live. 99% of the defficiencies and misunderstandings can be avoided by simply having the homeowner involved in the progress of the job.
    After all it is thier cottage/home. When they are fully involved they are more proud of the whole thing which result in a better sailing for the contractor. (It works for me, since 1976 in business)
    Mistakes can be avoided on time, misunderstandings can be cought on time and
    rectified on the job site right away. Thereby avoiding shange orders as much as possible which can become very anoying to the homeowner. The result of this is
    It results in a better cash flow for the contractor, payments are made on time becouse you have a happy customer.

    Leo Post.
    L.J. Post Construction Ltd.
    Toronto Ont.

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