Contractors: Finding the Right Fit

Whether you’re redeveloping a five-story, historic structure or remodeling your kitchen, the secret to any successful project is the same: Building the right team.

But how do you pick the right builder or contractor to help bring your dream to life?

For me, it’s a combination of doing a lot of homework and then listening to your gut.

Transforming this property would be impossible without a shared vision among a capable team

Transforming this property would be impossible without a shared vision among a capable team

Developers orchestrate.  We’re the jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. That’s why building the right team is critical: You need to surround yourself with people who understand your vision and have the expertise to see it through.

When it comes to construction:

1.     It can be good

2.     It can be fast

3.     It can be cheap

But you can only have two.

Since I always demand high-quality work, I need to sacrifice speed or cost to get a job done the way I want it. With a tight deadline, we know we’re going to have to pay more to get the work done on time. But if I have the luxury of time, then I economize where I can while still meeting my high standards.


That’s why a strong, cohesive team is especially crucial.

Long before I even sit down with potential contractors, I’m out there finding out everything I can about their companies.

Let’s say I’m considering redeveloping a historic commercial property into a residential building. I need to get a lot of answers before I commit to hiring my team: How many similar projects have they done and have they completed the job to the high standards I expect. Does the firm have experience meeting Secretary for the Interior standards for historic tax credits?

I talk to colleagues who’ve worked with them in the past to hear the real scoop. Were you satisfied with the work performed? Did they finish the job on schedule? Or did they take payment and never finish their punch list?

And then I go into stalker mode.

I visit completed projects and look them over to make sure the work meets my expectations. My favorite trick is peeking into behind-the-scenes nooks and crannies like back stairwells to assess the contractor’s attention to detail. Anyone can make the front entrance look shiny and new, right? But what about a building’s underbelly? Are those areas handled with the same level of dedication as the front foyer? Those kinds of details are telling, I believe.

Then I suggest you sit down with several contractors and show them your dream. For a commercial project, you’ll likely be showing them plans you’ve started with an architect. For a home or remodel, use visuals from magazines or Pinterest to illustrate what you love and why you love it. Have your visuals edited down to a theme and specific end product you can visualize cohesively.

A portion of the idea book where I'm collecting inspiration for my future downtown office space

A portion of the idea book where I'm collecting inspiration for my future downtown office space

Do they really listen to your ideas and make helpful suggestions for making your ideas a reality? Or do they steamroll right over you? Do you feel a rapport? A synergy? Are these people you can trust?

If you feel uncomfortable or concerned in any way, they’re not the right folks for you.

But if you find someone who syncs with you and eventually does a great job, be sure to spread the good news: There’s nothing more valuable than first-hand recommendations.

Building is not for everyone. There are plenty of people who have a new home built and swear they’ll never go through that process again.

Me? I love it. Having a clear vision and then building a team to execute it is thrilling and frustrating and challenging all at the same time.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.