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What makes a good contractor


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When I came to this city almost two years ago intending to move here for good, I started thinking about building a house, but after talking to various people about the difficulties they had with contractors, I was quite apprehensive. No one could give me an unqualified recommendation, but everyone was keen to tell me horror stories about huge amounts of work needing to be re-done, sub-standard workmanship and materials, and even whole walls left unbuilt because they were not included in the contract. It was nerve-wracking even to contemplate it all, although my expectations were not unreasonable. I wanted good quality work, clean aesthetics, structural integrity and functionality; no more, no less.

But after a ten-month project, I can honestly attest that although it required my daily involvement, it was not nearly as difficult as I has feared. One of the major reasons for the success was that we chose a very competent and trustworthy contractor.

So, what are the good qualities that we look for in a contractor? First, he or she should have a solid understanding of construction engineering, not just in theory but in practice, so of course, experience is important. A good sense of style and design is key, so that they can provide guidance, when appropriate. Your contractor must have good management skills, which means knowing how to deal fairly with employees, to manage conflicts, and treating them with respect and dignity, being assertive but not petty. They must have a foreman that they can trust and delegate authority to. He/she must have a calm personality, be open to reasonable suggestions and changes, and have the capacity, the passion and the commitment to the project.

Of course, sometimes projects don’t have such happy endings. It’s always easy to blame contractors, and surely there are times when they are at fault. But customers must bear in mind that they too may contribute to the complete or partial failure of a project. They may not have used good judgment in selecting a contractor. Blinded by excitement and in a rush to start, they may be too quick to accept a recommendation, and not take the time to look at the contractor’s other projects and talk to their previous customers. Another fatal mistake is lack of presence. Although errors and misunderstandings are inevitable, their impact can be minimized if they are caught right away, or even before they are made.

Another key factor in the success of our project was that we had a very complete contract, but also maintained an atmosphere of trust in our dealings with our contractor. She trusted us not to make unreasonable demands, and we trusted her to be as flexible as possible regarding changes to the plans, provided those changes didn’t affect her bottom line too adversely. The contract should be iron-clad, but without trust, no amount of paper will protect you, and an adversarial, aggressive relationship with your contractor will almost certainly backfire.

I count myself very lucky to have survived a non-theatrical, uneventful but rigorous construction process, from which emerged the house I had dreamed of. I must thank our contractor, Engr. Geronica Sinco-Martinez, and her highly competent crew of skilled workers, who made it possible for me to learn and to appreciate the art of construction. Believe it or not, it was a pleasure from beginning to end.

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