Can you compare contractors like apples to apples?

When we compare stock products, both of the products we’re comparing will have different features. But at least the industrious product researcher could make a chart of both products’ features for comparison. There will be various features that one product has and not the other and vice versa but at least you know you have all the information you need to make a comparison.

As you get into researching larger purchases such as buying a car, there are many more features. But the industrious researcher could make a list of features of each product and compare.

When a feature or component is not listed

Sometimes a feature or component of a particular product is not listed. For example, the Volvo specification sheet may say “safe”. But, just because the Honda specification sheet doesn’t say “safe”, does that mean the Honda isn’t safe? There are two challenges in this scenario. The first challenge is the fact that this is a soft feature. The meaning of “safe” is subjective and has different meaning depending on the prospective buyer’s experiences, perceptions and expectations.

The second challenge in evaluating the safety of the Honda vehicle is the reason why it’s omitted. Is it omitted because there were so many other benefits that they ran out of room? Is it omitted because Honda thinks their safety is a given? Or is it omitted because Honda doesn’t want to make any promises? Perhaps Honda is thinking of using a less expensive seat belt in coming years and they don’t want to have a promise in place that precludes them from being able to make substitutions.

Soft features

Custom home building is aplenty with “soft” features. These include things like safe, durable, long-lasting, low maintenance, and other features that can have subjective interpretations. Ask about these features. Reputable builders will be able to back up their claim by showing you the specific products they’re using, sharing the specific processes they use, and answering questions fully and very forthrightly. On the flip side, there are disreputable builders who sell these features leaving themselves the flexibility to use lesser expensive products or otherwise cut corners to improve their profitability.

Even though this increases the challenge of comparing products and features, your reputable contractor will back up everything they say in writing. Your reputable contractor will know the answers to your questions without having to research. And, they will ask you key questions to make the determinations about key components, key processes, key materials and more.

Apples to apples

A lot of contractors will take steps to make sure you don’t have all the specific information because if you have that information, it gives you more power to know what you’re buying. The challenge is how do you know what specifications should be in the quote when you don’t know what’s involved in the building process? Often consumers think they have all the specification but all too often they don’t.

How do you do better job of comparing apples to apples?

Watch out for vague statements that don’t really specify exactly what you’re getting.

Here are just a few things you should know when commissioning a contractor to build a back yard structure at your home.

  1. How is the support structure made? How well is it made? Does it bounce when you walk on it? Should it have a little bounce when you walk on it?
  2. How are boards fastened? Are they nailed or screwed? What kinds of boards, nails and screws are used?
  3. How is the railing made? How are the posts or balusters attached? What kind of cross connectors? Are all the components low maintenance or just some of them? If the components are low maintenance, to what degree are they low maintenance?
  4. Is the permit price included or excluded in the quote? A reputable contractor will include that in the quote.
  5. Will the contractor work continuously once they start the project or will they take breaks to work on other jobs?

Every little detail affects long term satisfaction and, of course, the price.

Questions, questions, questions

You will likely never know all of the questions you should ask one contractor to allow you to compare apples to apples with two proposals. So count on a contractor that does ask a lot of questions. This contractor is not only conscientious but is transparent. When you receive your quote, ask lots more questions. A good contractor will invite as many questions as you have. He/she will be patient and will do a good job answering your questions and explaining your options.

References and testimonials

Ask for references and testimonials. With an experienced contractor, you will be able to do a web search and quickly find an ample number of real customer testimonials. Check sites like Angie’s list or even their website for testimonials. Ask for references and make sure to call them all.

Gut feel

If you’ve asked lots of questions and checked references and testimonials, they key at this point is gut feel. This person and their team will be spending time in your back yard. Do you like them? Do you trust them?

Although it’s very difficult to compare custom building projects apples to apples, using the tools outlined here will help you make the right decision on the contractor to use for your next project.