Building that team begins when you first walk into a property, so here are a few tips for keeping your fixer in the black.
Find Referral Sources
Especially if you’re new to an area, most of the companies that end up on your team will come to you through referrals, so your referral sources are critical. This can be complicated by the proliferation of lead-sharing networking groups, where professionals get together to share clients, since these groups can easily become self-serving. Professionals with robust professional referral networks are less reliant on client referrals; naturally, this makes them more protective of professional relationships and, potentially, less focused on meeting client needs.
Instead, try to cultivate referrals for your work team by talking with locally owned materials suppliers who have been in business for a couple of decades. In most cities, there are industrial sections where these companies have their offices. Walk that neighborhood, go into the suppliers’ offices, and ask for names. Companies that supply materials to the building industry know who does a good job and who is more likely to cut corners, and because they don’t sell primarily to the public, there’s less conflict of interest. Anybody they refer is going to have them bid materials on your job.
Another good source for building trades is an insurance brokerage. Agents who insure contractors have to delve into their operations, and they know whenever a claim is filed, so they’ll have a good feeling for which contractors do the best work. A quick google search will tell you which local offices specialize in insurance for contractors, and if you connect with a modestly sized brokerage (three or four commercial agents and a personal lines team) that specializes in builders you’ll not only get referrals, but you’ll also know that the insurance and bond certificates your subcontractors provide are actually legitimate.
Own Your Interviews
If you leave the initial meeting with any potential team member up to the provider, you’ll be sold on things that almost anybody can provide. The best example is a normal first meeting with a Realtor, in which he or she will probably ask you a few questions and then provide you with a printout of listings from the MLS. Any Realtor can provide you with that listing, and if that’s all you leave with you’re really no closer to finding a quality member of your team.
As the buyer, the first meeting with any provider belongs to you, and this is a time to talk about process rather than product. Don’t let the Realtor print that list; don’t let the insurance agent quote your policies; don’t let the builder estimate your cost per square foot. Don’t tell the provider how you like to do business, either. Make that first interview about how they conduct business, about what happens when a dispute arises, about what they will do for you beyond the finite scope of their work. Keep gathering referrals and interviewing potential providers until you find the people who, independently, want to conduct business the way you want it conducted. Then you can price shop among that group.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
Any significant home improvement job is going to involve setbacks and frustrations, and when you work with a team of professionals and builders those setbacks are likely to involve some conflict. Whose responsibility is it if there’s a crack in the concrete slab your concrete guy pours? What if there’s a material defect in construction five years down the road? What happens if a sole proprietor without workers’ compensation insurance injures himself on the job?
Keeping the job moving forward, not being left holding the bag for costs you aren’t responsible for, and not throwing blame at others when it isn’t warranted all contribute to building and maintaining a good team. To do that, you need to know (and protect) your rights, and you also need to know (and live up to) your responsibilities.
Give Rewards Personally
When work is underway at your place, you should spend as much time there as you can, getting to know the workers and their bosses, and behaving like part of the team. It’s important to remember that the guys who are working on your house also have other jobsites to work on and lives to live, and when you see an hourly guy doing good work, slip him a $10 bill. You’ll quickly be known as a client people want to work for. They’ll do better work and be more energetic at your job, not just because they want the chump change, but because you’ve established yourself as someone who recognizes and appreciates good work.