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Simple Rules for Working on My House

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If you live in an older house, you’re probably dreading those major renovation projects your home so desperately needs. But you bite the bullet and push forward, knowing you’ll enjoy it while you live there, or you’ll get some payback when you sell your home. Chances are you’re going to hire out the work. As one who has been there and done that many, many times, I know the pitfalls of working with contractors. Thus, I have established the following eight rules for anyone working on my house:

Rule # 1: You will be licensed and insured. This is really a no-brainer. A contractor who doesn’t have a license probably does not have insurance, and having neither could be bad for you. Why? Legal ramifications of using unlicensed contractors aside, if they are injured on your property, you could be liable; and if they’re not licensed, they probably don’t do whatever you hired them to do for a living, so the likelihood that they (or the people they use to do the job) could be injured increases significantly.

Rule #2: You will show up on the day the job is supposed to start. This may sound like another no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the number of times I have taken a day off from work to have work done at my home only to spend the entire day waiting for the contractor to show up or find out that they are not coming at all. The excuses I get typically sound like something a high-school student might say:

“I had car trouble.”

“I had to take my (insert kid, wife, dog) to the (insert doctor, hairdresser, veterinarian).”

“My mother got sick, and I had to take care of her.”

Okay, I’ll give them the one about their mother being sick. I wouldn’t think of questioning that. But my favorite excuse for not showing up on the appointment day is “I got another job, so I have to reschedule you.” Oh? I’m thinking. Don’t you mean to say you got another customer who is more important than I am or is paying you more? Business must be very good if you can afford to lose a customer.

Rule #3: You will bring everything you need to do the job. No, you cannot borrow my ladder, screwdriver, drop cloths, broom, or old towels, and my dining room table is not a workbench. If you don’t know what you need to get the job done and start asking me if you can borrow my stuff, I begin to wonder if I haven’t made a mistake in hiring you. So either you bring everything you need to do the job or go out and buy it or hire it—and that includes helpers. I’m not there to help you—unless, of course, you want me to deduct my hourly rate from what I am paying you. I won’t hold your ladder, hand you tools, or help you lift anything. That’s why I am paying you.

Rule #4: There will be no “gotchas.” This one goes hand in hand with Rule No. 3. So, you didn’t bid enough (insert the things you had to buy to do the job, like paint, caulk, or dropcloths) and now you have to go buy some. Unless this was a time-and-materials job (and please note, I never hire anyone to do T&M unless it’s something I absolutely, positively can’t do myself), it’s on your nickel. If you are a professional, you should know what and how much you need to do a job when you bid it.

Rule #5: My property is not an ashtray. I don’t care if you smoke. They’re your lungs, not mine. You just won’t smoke inside my house. I’ve seen what tobacco smoke can do to a paint job once it gets into an air-conditioning system, and it’s not a pretty sight. You can smoke outside, but you won’t leave your used cigarette or cigar butts all over my lawn, patio or driveway. The last thing I want to do is pluck yucky used cigarette filters out of my shrubs after you leave. If you need a butt can, ask for one.

Rule #6: You will clean up your work area at the end of the day. Like quality work at a fair price, how you leave my house is what gets you invited back to work for me again. I’ve actually had a contractor say to me, after refusing to clean the byproducts of his work from the floor, “This is as clean as it gets. This is how we leave a construction site.”

Well, duh, I’m thinking. This isn’t a construction site. It’s my home. I live here. Now I have to clean up your mess? What was my hourly rate again?

Rule #7: You won’t inflict your musical preferences upon the entire neighborhood. It’s okay to have music playing while you work—I don’t really care what kind—but please leave the 500-watt boom box at home. People reside near me. Some of them work at night and sleep during the day. And some, like me, are music lovers, not noise lovers. And one last thing—aren’t you in my house? Shouldn’t you ask if it’s okay to blast your music as loud as you want while I am paying you?

Rule #8: You won’t work at my house again unless you finish the job when you said you would. In contracting with the federal government, there’s a concept called “period of performance,” and vendors are evaluated based on their ability to complete jobs within the POP. If a vendor doesn’t, they might not get paid, and, they certainly will have a hard time obtaining new business. Time and again, I have contracted people to do work at my home, and they just drag it out and drag it out for what seems like months, ignoring the POP specified in the contract. They break Rule No. 2 repeatedly, leaving me with the choice of either waiting until they get around to me again, firing them and finding someone else, or finishing the job myself. This is very inconvenient, but it falls under the old adage: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Unlike the federal government, I don’t owe contractors any favors for political patronage. Break this rule, and you won’t be back—ever.

Despite these experiences, I still hire out most of the home improvements made on our house. The difference is, when I receive the vendor’s contract, I attach my eight rules to it and have him sign it.

Doing that falls under what is known as the Gold Rule: whoever has the gold, makes the rules.


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