How to Deal With Subcontractors: Don’t!

“Roofers are a different breed, dude. You can’t imagine what I deal with.”   This is what a cousin of mine who works with building materials recently said.

When we were visiting a home that a good friend is building himself, we saw an empty beer can in the driveway and his comment was,  “Looks like the electrician was here earlier”.  It was 2:00 in the afternoon…

That’s certainly not fair to all roofers and electricians.  It is telling though.  The range of customer service skills that subcontractors care to have is unbelievably wide.  Many of the absolute best ones are skilled in a craft that the rest of us will never come remotely close to understanding.   These types are typically in high demand.  They do not work directly for homeowners because they don’t have the time to educate people who are amateur project managers.   Instead, they tend to work directly with a short list of contractors who they trust.

This is part of the reasoning behind a general contractor only being as good as his or her “subs”.  There is some truth to that.

In the case that you hire a great general contractor and, as a result, you do get the great subcontractor, it is advisable that you don’t talk to the subs much at all and you certainly don’t direct their work. That is what you are paying the general contractor to do.  One very good contractor we work with insists that the clients never talk to the subs.  His point is that there will be a miscommunication and there will be a mistake made that costs time and money as a result.   Therefore, the client must talk to him about their plumbing ideas or their electrical changes.  Then he or she manages that work.

As a DIY builder, you will have to manage the subs. Being a DIYer is a great idea if you have the time and interest to manage 10+ subcontractors over 6-12 months.   It can save you 15-25%.  Few people know what this entails, though, and you’ll be learning as you go. Mistakes will occur, and that drives price increases.    In this scenario you will be the one who talks to the roofers who are throwing shingles in the neighbors yard and you will be finding the beer can in the driveway and wondering how to handle that situation.

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