“Which one would you choose?”

I was deep into some small talk, enjoying a relaxed evening with my clients with a glass of delicious red wine in my hand, when the question abruptly brought me back to our initial topic.

“Uhm… well…”

Fits into a millimeter. 
If everybody has done his homework right prior the construction started, the building process is smooth and pure joy to watch.

 

With building permit in their hands and all the blueprints done, they have intensified the process of selecting a contractor. With quite some experience in their pocket, they thought it would be an easy job to pick one – the best one.

They did their homework to filter the potential contractors down o a manageable number of about seven.

An exemplary tender has been prepared for them.

Each has been granted a full access to the architect (me) in order to resolve any questions that might arise regarding the project.

Clients meet with each contractor at least once in order to get to know each other better, to have an opportunity to present their proposal, to negotiate the deal…

Contractors’ references have been checked and some of their previous clients contacted in order to gain further info regarding their strengths and weaknesses.

They have done everything by the book.

Now, they were two weeks behind their self-imposed schedule. The deadline until which they were supposed to bring a decision, slipped thru their fingers like water.

And now, they were facing a problem.

Which contractor to choose?

 

Small contractors might not have fancy offices and pretty secretaries to serve you a coffee. But on the other hand you could almost always count to get a personal involvement of the owner him (or her) self.  And that fact more than compensate for all the missing glamour.

 

“There is no doubt, they are all very good at what they are doing. No black spots worth mentioning has been found for any of them. Their proposals have been done competently. And their price tags are all very aligned. Except one, that is a bit cheaper. So… what would you do?”

“Huh!”

“Well…”

 

Family businesses have their own advantages. It is hard to point on something specific… it is simply the dedication, the mindset that is kind of different. And that difference sometimes makes all the difference. If there is a choice, I’d opt for the family any time.

 

I was striving to quickly shift my mind from a neutral to an overdrive trying hard to get the wine out of my head. I wanted to give them the competent and helpful answer so I leaned on my experiences and analytic mind to provide me with an adequate answer.

“If the cheaper one is substantially cheaper than the others, I’d trash it.”

That is an easy decision that life has thought me again and again.

“Contractor willing to go into dumping in order to get a job, always means trouble. Since we are talking about a mature industry, there is hardy to expect some big surprises. They are all good and it is evidently they are all very interested to win this contract. Therefore they are all pitching with only a slight profit margin. Very similar proposals and prices are prof to that.

But… there is always a ‘but’; But if the price difference from the average is not a substantial one, then the low-price-one is no doubt well worth considering.

In this case, I’d say, it might prove to be a good idea to determine the reason behind the price. Why is he cheaper?

 

Patience is a virtue.
Staying focused dealing with a nest of wires like that for a few hours straight is something not anyone could accomplish.

 

Basically there are finally many options tom consider:

  1. We have caught him at the moment of weakness. Either he is scared for the future due to the lack of contracts signed, he has some cash-flow problems and desperately needs a quick and financially secure job. Maybe he has a line of failed pitches behind him. Or there is some irrational reason behind his decision. It doesn’t matter really why is he insecure, afraid for the future. Something has driven him to try to win this contract by giving up his profit.

If that is the case, choosing that contractor is not the best idea.

If his path continues to go downward it might prove to become unreliable or – even worse – not being able to finish work at all. Working on a low budget margin, he could not afford to make any mistakes since he has no reserves. It is a good chance that he would try to hide all the problems under the rug instead of choosing constructive solving approach where he risks some extra work.

If, on the other hand, he afterwards gains some good, healthy, normally priced contracts, it might prove to be hard for him to give this under budgeted project an adequate attention and resources necessary to finish it properly.

Both cases are bad karma for the contractor as well as for the client.

  1. A contractor is a friend of yours and has given you a friendly price.

It is a nice gesture but one should not be misled by it. All the threats from the option A apply here as well.

  1. Contractor underestimated the project. Be it simply because it was not competent enough or he did not allocate enough time to study it in advance. The reason is basically irrelevant.

The fact is, that in that case, sooner or later, because of that underestimation, some necessity for additional works are discovered and the contractor would face a dilemma:

  1. Should he do it right on his own costs – it is something dictated by the professional ethics but the brute fact is that rarely happens – either due the lack of professionalism or because they simply could not afford it;
  2. Cover it up and choose a simpler, cheaper solution – bad news for the client;
  3. Try to extort some additional payment from the client – definitely not something clients are very in favor for.

This option is yet another one that a client should avoid at all costs.

 

Thinking before (hastily) doing is yet another quality of a good contractor. Doing it right first time is the fastest and the cheapest way to accomplish things.

 

  1. Contractor is well aware of the fact, that his price is to low, but would try to compensate it by fine print or complexity of the contract that would allow him to claim additional payments.

Alarm! Alarm!

Although it is quite common practice in the industry, one should know better than to be dragged into a deal like that.

If you suspect this is the case, don’t even think of outsmarting him. He is a Mafioso and is not to be trusted. If you would not comply and over pay, he would only drag you into quarrels, waste your time and suck your energy.

Turn 180 degrees and run as far as you can.

  1. Contractor considers the project as an important business reference for him. He is willing to sacrifice the profit on this project in order to win some future projects on this account.

With that mindset, we have finally arrived on more firm ground. Finding out that this is the reason behind, it might prove to be a right move to hire that contractor since it is a good chance that he would put some extra effort into the project in order to make it exemplary good.

 

Regardless of your thoughtful planning, inevitable some problems would arise at the construction site. Those are the moment where a good, professional and competent contractor is worth his weight in gold. You could rely on him to bring the problem you have missed to your attention and constructively help you solve it the best possible way.

 

There is still a similar danger regarding the unexpected works as in option A, since again, price involves no reserve. Be a smart client and clarify that out in advance and reassure the contractor that it is in their best interest to bring that cases out as soon as they arise so that they could  work on them for the best interest of both  parties. Even if that means that you’d pay some extra for additional unexpected work, at the end of the day, you’ll still come out with a very satisfactory work.

If you just don’t opt to squeeze your contractor just because he would like to do something really good for you, you would be just fine.

  1. And last, but… well in fact it is also the least option.

The contractor is so superior either technology wise and/or possesses the know-how, that give him an edge regarding its competition. Be it for the processes, materials, technology, the team,… or the combination of all these factors; he is capable to offer a lower price for the same or even better quality.

It is, although improbable, also possible.

 

It is not just about how well they do their work. It is also about how forthcoming they are when something goes wrong – as it always does – after a few years. I am trying to work with the contractors, that are prepared to stretch (literary) long way to ensure their customer satisfaction.

 

It is a clients’ dream since it ensures that the client gets his work done better, faster and cheaper while the contractor makes even higher profit. True win : win situation.

And if / when it happens, one should jump to it since it is an opportunity not to be missed.

So if aiming for the low price, one should do his homework and do some in-depth inquiry. Try to dig out the reason behind the lower price.

And if after that, you are still uncertain… go and trust your instincts.

Imagine who would you choose if the prices would be all the same to the last dime. And if you are still uncertain – if you are a man, there are good chances that you are…

Well… ask your woman. Ask your wife, your mom, girlfriend, mistress, grandma,… Let her meet the prospect contractors and talk to them. Women usually don’t need all the facts to pick out the right one. They trust their instincts. And they have something it enables them to process complex decision-making without all the data.

It is called good intuition.”

 

I have an unlimited respect for the craftsmen that are doing their job with care and passion and love. I admire them. I love to watch them work. Feel privileged if I could work withe them. And I have a deep appreciation for everything they have done, since I could feel that a part of their soul is embedded inside it.

 

I call them maestros.

And I am striving to follow their footsteps.

Matej Gašperič

Architect