Warning: This is a long post
” Ms Chan, please wear nicer when we meet up this Sunday” that’s what my contractor told me on the phone. Yes, we have agreed to award the work to this contractor and I call him Mr. Tan. Its a long process when it comes to selecting which contractor we should go for and what we fear most is irresponsible contractor that may run away with our money with incomplete work and or contractor that cut corners & poor workmanship. Once we signed the agreement with the contractor the Fear Factor episode starts. I can tell you my palm just sweat and my fingers tremble when I signed the agreement.
Mr. Tan just laugh when I told him “I scare you lari”.
Even though he assure us he is credible and I got his contact from the Lowyat Forum, we will still be cautious and worry until the day when- he deliver our renovated house the way we wanted it to be.
I am hopeful that everything will go smoothly as planned.
How and why we select Mr Tan all sums up to our own criterias but the major ones was Reasonable price. Although some people advise that we shouldn’t look too much into price however we thought even if we pay higher price, contractor can still deliver crappy work if they wanted higher margin. So it is a risk we are willing to take. Before continue further, I’ll share what I learn in the process of negotiation and selection.
First of all, waste time!
Waste all the time you have and not rush into anything. Due to we are already staying in our own home we have no rush into moving therefore we took a while longer to select the contractor and we prolonged the selection process. If you rush into anything probably you risk making hasty decision and you don’t want that because it comes with hefty price tag! It may not happen to everyone but its better to give time to yourself and think through what you really want and what outcome you are seeking for.
Read Read Read -Forum
Before I start calling contractors, I comb through as much topics and questions posted in Forum Lowyat on Renovation topic. I didn’t look into anything in particular but I read and understand what other home owner have to say, their experience on products, dealing with contractors, with authorities, developer, vendor –just anything.
Ask Friends, Homeowners
Don’t be shy to ask your friend questions, especially friends who have done renovation before as they have so much to share too. Ask anything and don’t be afraid to keep asking, that’s what friends are for right? to help each other. I am lucky as Hubby have an engineer friend and he help us draw the house plan and advise us on so many things, plumbing, electrical, wet works he is practically our building consultant.
Ask the Contractor
Other than Forum, and asking friends, ask the contractors! They are the one who do the work and they have to make sure you understand how things are done the right way. Don’t just listen to one contractor, keep asking the same questions to different contractor, the more you ask the better you become.
Narrow your search
Get quotations as many as you can, get referrals from friends or even in forum. Talk to the contractors, the more you ask and talk to them the more ideas they can share with you. Then wait for their quotations, some take days, some take weeks and some didn’t even bother to do so.
Don’t fret if some of the contractors did not responded, probably they foresee the margin is low and are too preoccupied with jobs on hand. Narrow down contractors, by comparing quotes and you may find that some can charge higher than others by 50% or more.
For me due to my frickle-mindedness and ever changing scope, it takes the contractor a couple more trips to check the site I think about 4-5 times at least if not more and sending the revised quotations. Those who are willing to come and check the site again and again are contractors who are willing to take the job, narrow that down.
Call anytime of the day – Investigate
Call the contractor at different time of the day; try to listen to the background noise or even the contractor voice. This is because every contractor will tell you they are good at their job and responsible and have jobs waiting for them. To find out if its true, call them at 9am, 10am, 3pm and you can guess if they just woke up from sleep or you may hear background sound of on-going renovation work carried out, or he is not at home, or not at shopping centre.
Also, look for contractor who always return your call, or even reply to your sms and answer all your question even if you call them 10 times a day and test them by asking same question if they will answer you the differently. Just act dumb. I think as a women, the contractor talk to women nicer and show more patience than talking to male customers.
Choosing your Contractors
How do you know if the quotes you get are reasonable? Read and research from the forum, discuss it with other homeowners, compare the quotes ~ and you’ll come out with the figure. You will likely be able to gage whether your contractor is overcharging you or his price is reasonable.
Negotiation, Selection and Finalise
Ask for progress photos of every work done, pouring cement, beams, brickworks -everything in the process. You can’t be at the site everyday to manage the work and you need a proof of the works done. If the contractor can’t accommodate or get offended to this request, then perhaps you need reconsider whether you should proceed to awarding the job to him.
Get the drawing, the layout of where the new pipes and plumbing is laid. This is very important as you may not know when you are going to hack somewhere in the house to repair burst pipe or whatever. So with the drawing and photos, your plumber knows exactly where to hack and not blindly hacking everywhere.
This applies to wiring work as well. Get the drawings!
Negotiate with the contractor payment terms you are comfortable with but remember to distribute the risk. For example, I am comfortable to give 10% down payment before the job starts because I knew that the first payment are used for drawings by architect, submissions etc followed by 15% during start work for buying materials and the rest of the payment based on completion of work.
Most of the time contractors are not willing if you are holding their payment after delivery of work, however in order to make sure everything works, please negotiate between 5-10% as security including a prolonged period for warranty. Some gives 1 month but try to get between 2-3 months or even more before final payment. Protect yourself !
Project Manager and Risk Management
A lot of homeowners suggest that we should not let the contractor to do wet works, electrical, plaster ceiling etc everything packaged. I believe that is true however how many of us are free to coordinate all these when we are working? It takes a lot of effort and time to manage it and for us we appoint the contractor to be our project manager. Negotiate with them that you will appoint your own electrician, pay the electrician on your own ~ however the contractor has to manage the electrician work. If things go wrong it is the contractor responsibility. The blame game goes to the contractor and he will have to answer to you. Same goes to Auto gate, alarm, plaster ceiling and etc. If the contractor is not willing as it is a risk to them, be prepared to give them minimal fees say MYR100 and they will want to earn that extra bucks from you.
Habit of Follow Up
Another reason why I chosed Mr. Tan is he does follow up and he goes the extra miles. Before I decide to award and finalise the scope and I am still changing minds but I did tell him I want front extension on the 1st floor, he took pictures view the site and ask the architect/draugthman to check with the MBPJ the next day if what I want can be done following the allowable building regulations. He even send me a 3D drawing as well. Thats impressive. He also continuously sms and do follow up, as he explained that if we are not interested at least he can have a ‘close the file’. Something like that and it proofs that he is really interested. We thought perhaps Mr. Tan has not job on hand, thats where we do some investigation and we choose to have faith and not have ill thoughts of a man who done nothing to us.
Finalise Scope of Work
At last, finalise your scope. Don’t make too much major changes to it after negotiation because it is likely the contractor will charge you high price for that. Walk through the site again and repeat what both of you and the contractor understand from the scope of work, material used get as detail as possible. Get all questions answered.
Ask for Discount
Tell them your comfortable price! Be frank with them. Its good to start from 15-20% discount and try to reach the middle ground where both you and the contractor comfortable with the price. You don’t want the contractor to loose money or give you low priority to the work, however the price you pay to them should be reasonable and the contractor can earn some too from his hard work. Contractors need to survive too.
Work as a Team
Communicate, and be open and respectful. Show respect to your contractor and trust them in their professionalism so your objective is achieve. Build a long term relationship, and let the contractor know that as well. Who knows you may upgrade to another home in near future, buying more properties and probably renovating the current home in several more phases? So talk to the contractor and be friendly, make friends and they will not let you take the hard path in renovating your dream homes.
[This post is what I learned and may not work for others, I hope it helps you in your contractor selection process and I may revise from time to time if theres a need ]
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