Developing Trade Relationships

By: Janice Clements

Several weeks ago my family and I returned from a brief camping trip in the Grand Bend area having just missed the damaging tornado that touched down there.  I came back to find a tornado of problems at work.

On one job, a trade who had committed to do a major amount of work backed out of the project, leaving me high-and-dry without someone to complete a critical part of the renovation.  The last minute drop-out has nullified any pricing I had quoted the client and leaves me scrambling to find an appropriate person to do the job in order to keep the schedule and budget on track.

On another job site, issues arose involving a malfunctioning appliance I had ordered for the client and a cabinet installation that didn't turn out as expected.

I share these trials with you lest you get the false impression that just because I write this column and do this job for a living, things on my job sites always go swimmingly.  This simply is not the case.

Despite always using reputable, well-established trades and suppliers committed to doing quality work, things can and sometimes do go wrong during a renovation.  While I always recommend my best people, even the best efforts to plan ahead and make smart decisions can go haywire.

Recently a client said to me, "If things on our renovation don't go as planned, I would like to have the ability to financially penalize the trades.  But I think I should also provide them bonuses for getting work done on time." 

While I was unwilling to hire trades with these conditions, I thought that the concept was an interesting though complicated one, sort of a pay-for-performance compensation method.  Given these subjective parameters implicit in this type of work arrangement, I can't say that I would be able to get anyone to work for me ever again. 

When hiring someone to work inside or around your home, I feel strongly that there is a trust and mutual respect relationship to establish and maintain.  Expecting to "penalize" a trade creates an imbalanced playing field.  It implies you're not entering into a mutually beneficial relationship that I believe is critical in all client-trade dealings.

I have long been concerned about the nature of home improvement shows that pit homeowners against trades.  These shows create suspicion, arouse fear and set a precedent of distrust in the minds of homeowners and trades alike. 

Consider these suggestions on developing a good working relationship during your home renovation:

Assume positive intent.  Suspicion is never a good way to begin when having workers into your home.  My experience has been that in general, people typically want to do good work.

Let cooler heads prevail.  If you've had bad experience with trades in the past, communicate it to those you hire so they understand where you're coming from.  Before work begins, discuss with your trades what contingency plans they have for things going wrong.  It's always better to discuss these scenarios when things are going right.

Get it in writing.  Be a stickler on paying for work progress and make sure to have all the expectations around money set out on paper.  When discussing payments, one of my best contractors says, "Never too far ahead, never too far behind."  On smaller jobs, be prepared to pay upon work completion unless you have agreed to other terms.

Expect budget variances.  I don't think I've ever been on a job where the project scope did not change.  Know that trades do not and should not work for free. 

Be at one with inconvenience.  You may not like it, but renovations and having people work in your home is inconvenient and bothersome.

Know that in order to stay competitive, many trades do not factor in buffer money to allow for things going off the rails.  Try to reach a fair agreement as to how the unexpected is managed and ask yourself the question, when something goes wrong at my place of employment, is my salary deducted for the inconvenience factor or does the company still pay me despite my contribution to the problem?

Managing the people, personalities, schedules, code requirements and materials during a renovation are a messy business and can be a challenge on even the best of days.  Add in a site that's not running exactly as you need it to and you're face with exponential levels of stress.  Considering renovating your home?  Take a deep breath and dive in!




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