One of the biggest challenges custom builders face is finding and keeping the best trade contractors. Custom builders have a different agenda than production builders when it comes to choosing their trade partners. From the builder's perspective, quality, service and price are the three key components of the relationship, with service and quality trumping price when choosing trade contractors. There are several questions you need to answer when evaluating your current and prospective trade partners:
- Were they on time with their bid response? Did they deliver a complete and clear bid based on the plans and specs?
- Do they answer their phone and respond to messages and questions promptly?
- Can they go with the flow and understand that custom homes have changes to scope and schedule?
- Do they respect the work of other trades? Are they personable with clients?
- Do they present solutions rather than just point out the problem?
- Do they respond quickly to resolving issues with their work both during and after the project's completion?
- Do they monitor their field personnel closely?
- Do they do what they promise when they promise it?
- Do they provide an adequate number of people to do the job?
- Do they keep the job site clean and safe?
- Do they make every effort to provide a zero-defect job?
- Is their price fair and defensible?
- Is their price high enough to keep them interested in working for you yet low enough to keep them competitive and within budget?
- Are they fair about what they charge for change orders and upgrades?
- Will they work with you when times are tough or if a particular job is tight on budget?
- Do they submit invoices on time and clearly spell out options and changes?
How Custom Builders Can Get and Keep the Best Trades
Remember that while you're evaluating trades, they're also evaluating you. To get and keep the best trade contractors on your team, you need to:
- Provide complete and accurate plans and specifications.
- Provide a clear scope of work.
- Have a fair trade-contractor agreement.
- Give them adequate time to bid the job.
- Work with them to gain their input.
- Provide adequate lead time and a firm schedule to help them plan their work.
- Give them respect and appreciation.
- Make sure that the job is ready for them. If it isn't, tell them as soon as possible.
- Issue written (rather than verbal) change orders.
- Pay on time.
- Be available to answer questions and give direction.
- Properly manage and staff the project.
Some custom builders use the same trade contractors for years, but there comes a time when a replacement is necessary. If the relationship begins to sour, find out why. If you haven't been living up to your part of the bargain, try to improve the areas that aren't working well. If the trade contractor doesn't respond to your concerns about their performance or price, it's time to find another before it becomes critical to your ability to serve your customers.
Tom Stephani, MIRM, GMB, MCSP, and CAPS, is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer who specializes in custom homes; infill housing; light commercial projects; and developing commercial and residential land. You can reach him at email@example.com, custombuilding.com