How to Negotiate With a Contractor

plumberRemember the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” But what if you can’t do it yourself? I mean, can everyone be expected to re-plumb a sink, rewire a light fixture, diagnose a rare disease or negotiate a lease?

There are many times and situations where professionals can help. I know my limitations and I champion getting expert assistance when faced with such tasks. For example, one summer during college I worked for a plumber. I carried a lot of heavy tools and crawled under a lot of houses that summer. I also learned to respect those who had specific skills by watching my boss correct the disasters created by husbands who thought they could fix a leak or change out a faucet. He made a lot of money correcting the mistakes made by well-intended but certifiably incompetent weekend do-it-yourselfers.

I also caution that these hired experts need to be managed by you, the client. This, by the way, applies to any professional including but not limited to plumbers, electricians, contractors and laborers but also to doctors, lawyers, negotiators or anyone else hiring themselves out.

If you feel it necessary to seek professional help, propose a fee based on meeting your objectives. Your goals are what you want to achieve while your bottom line is what you need to achieve. As a example, let’s say you want to have your garage cabinets rebuilt. The want is to have the cabinets rebuilt to your new specifications on a timely basis for a reasonable price. Your needs may be that the project needs to be completed before the grandkids come to visit for the summer and you can’t spend more than $500.00 on the project. So you need to find a contractor willing to rebuild your garage cabinets for $500.00 or less and who will guarantee his completion date.
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Sounds good but we all know many contractors will say anything to get a job then look to find reasons for change orders to increase the project costs and justify delays. What to do?

Easy, if you and the contractor clearly define the project and agree that the fair cost is $450.00 and that the job can be easily completed by June 30th, then place in the contract a very clear scope of work with drawings, the price and the completion date.

OK. You are done, right? No, not quite.

Now you need to test the contractor’s veracity by adding penalties for his failure to perform. Add a penalty clause providing for a 5% reduction in the price for every day the job goes beyond June 30th. THAT clause will ensure the contractor focuses on your project and doesn’t take on another project in June that might distract him from yours.

In Seven Secrets to WINNING Without Losing a Friend, I discuss managing professionals and how to maintain control of the negotiating process when you enlist others to be your advocate.

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