The Art of Communicating to Contractors

Well, I am just returning from the Sidney Doren Memorial Regatta in sunny, warm Miami! We sailed against 58 other boats, many of which are Olympians. Just imagine, 58 sail boats all competing for the front of a line defined by two much larger boats on either side – and about 20 coach boats watching from the side lines. We were in 5th on Saturday (does it matter where we ranked on Sunday? I think not.) I also experienced my first ocean squall. All I can say about that is that I’m thankful that the gusting, tons of rain falling on our small vessel was extremely loud so that my team couldn’t hear me squealing like a pig. I’d have more pictures – it’s just that I was, y’know, sailing.

Despite my warm weekend, we are in the midst of bidding projects!

Here’s a charming single family home in Winnetka looking for a kitchen renovation and overhaul of 3 bathrooms:


And here is a charming farmhouse located on 10 acres showing views of the expansive countryside out in Harvard, IL needing a gut rehab:

I know it’s far – just imagine the potential! Maybe I’ll rent a cabin for the crews and buy them a firepit to play with at night…

Not to mention a 3rd floor addition and 1st floor renovation in Western Springs, a 2nd floor renovation in Lisle, and a 2-flat to single family home conversion in North Center (Chicago).

Remember 6 Things to Expect from the Bidding Process? All that riveting information is valid; however, I would now like to focus on the social aspect of the bidding process – talking to your potential General Contractor’s (GC).

So, without further ado, here are some tips on communicating with contractors:

1. Don’t hedge. Okay, you have your GC in your property and are walking through the project. Talk about EVERYTHING. I find that many potential clients say things like “So, here’s the dining room and it needs an update, but I’d be willing to forego that, if necessary.” Renovations cost money. We know money is an issue – even if you have the money, money is an issue. It needs to be worked out. Initial scoping is not the time to work it out. Just say it: “I’d like the dining room updated.” Talk about money later. Lay it all out there and let the GC tell you where the major costs are landing if you’re over budget.

2. Be comfortable with money. Look, contractors talk about money constantly. I’ll say this again: contractors talk about money constantly. It’s our job. Construction is synonymous with cash. Don’t be shy about the money talk. In fact, the more forward you are, the more likely you’re going to have an unsurprising bid. I know in every other social context, money is a taboo subject. Throw that to the wind for construction. Just say it, it’s like therapy – you’ll feel the wind in your hair afterwards (likely due to the exhale from your GC).

3. Give a budget.  Building on item 2, I know it seems counter intuitive to put all of your cards on the table. Contractors are notoriously shady – you’ll hear no contest from me on that. Construction can really be a dirty business (pun intended). It seems that if you give your budget, then, regardless of “real” cost, the GC is going to increase the bid to “meet” your budget. There’s an easy way to fix this: tell the GC you’re bidding the project to two other GCs. Nothing keeps everyone honest like good, old fashioned competition. Not giving a budget encourages the GC to either include absolutely everything and give you the highest possible cost or, conversely, to omit scope and give you a very low bid so they look the most appealing while not including everything you want (and then issuing change orders later). Either way, you then have to go through an onerous process of determining who is including what and for how much. Then, you have to have them revise their bids. By the time you’re done, you’re completely confused and exhausted and will most likely go with the GC who responds the fastest instead of the one who is responding in earnest. Don’t put yourself and your GC’s through this. Give a budget. Bid them out.

4. Bid them out. Keep it honest. Don’t let your honesty make you vulnerable. Communicate your needs for both scope and budget. Then, tell your GCs you’re bidding them out – and do it.

5. Be friendly. Okay folks, the toughest negotiator at the table does not win. The smartest one does. There is no need to be rude, there is no need to say “how it is”. If your GC’s are taking that approach, it’s an omen and it’s old fashioned in a bad way. Don’t hire them. You will get much more out of your GC if you are friendly. You’ll get even more if you are honest and vulnerable – somehow, I always end up feeling responsible for my clients. Often I find myself losing sleep over things that they are not. This is how you want your GC to feel.

Hopefully you’ll be seeing these projects in upcoming blogs!

Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!


1 Comment
  • Whitney Parchman
    Posted at 06:31h, 14 March Reply

    Great post, as usual! I knew our GC was the one when he said he was walking his dog and he was thinking about what to put on our parking pad during construction so it wouldn’t get too muddy. I took it as a good sign that he was going to obsess greater than or equal to me throughout the project. If I am completely honest, he has done such a good job that I get a little jealous when he mentions other projects in front of me. You mean our house isn’t the only one you’re working on?!

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