• Duane C. Barney

Contractor Experience – It really matters

I have been on every side of this business but as with most businesses when I jumped in I thought I knew it all, 30 years later it has become more evident that experience does matter. This is not to say the new guys can’t do a good job, they can, and I believe I always did the best possible job for all my clients over the years.

Construction and remodeling have only one school and that is experience, O.J.T. I have a degree in building construction, yes it does exist; Go Gators! I learned much that I still use today, and the education is invaluable. This provided me with a great background but for those who did not have this opportunity, the learning curve is steeper. Additionally, what they can’t teach, there just is not enough time, are the intricacies of each trade, real-life business lessons, one on one sales, etc. These all come from experience. In remodeling, the challenges come from analyzing and fixing old “mistakes” whether it stems from the original builder, the age of the house, or the do-it-yourselfer repairs. Each home is unique, and the challenges are endless. New and spec. homes builders make mistakes, they get to correct their own and learn for the next one. Suffice it to say, it comes down to experience I have seen so much and still open walls every day to new challenges.

The other experience challenge is business management, most builders come up through the carpentry trades and segue into running their own business. This transition is usually very slow, at least getting good at it is a long process. Most start their business still swinging a hammer and eventually run out of time to work daily in the field as sales, accounting and business responsibilities take over the day. Unfortunately for many, this is unrewarding, building is what they love and are comfortable with. As a client you need to be aware, you are trusting your builder to manage large sums of your hard-earned money, their business skills are more critical than their skill with a hammer.

The third critical area is change and technology. Like every other industry, construction is changing, with increasing environmental concerns, energy costs, new codes, LEED requirements and new materials on the market. A good builder needs to stay on top of these changes, this is where experience can also be a death nail. Because so many builders learned from their lead carpenter, this is the only way they know “the way I was taught” or “the way it has always been done” it does not work anymore. One of the biggest challenges is chemical interactions, new technology is providing us with great products, but do they work together? How long will they last? The changes are coming fast and, in many cases, conflicting with the way we did it last year. An informed builder is constantly aware of these changes, new hurricane and energy codes are changing the way we build, and the upcoming labor shortage could change it even more.

“the way it has always been done” does not work anymore

Hire smart, know whom you are hiring, many projects go bad because the client hired the wrong builder, they may not be a bad builder but wrong for the project and the business skills required. Is your home going high tech, or utilizing huge open spaces utilizing new or commercial practices? Is your builder familiar and comfortable with this work? Find out before you hire, it will be a long project and hopefully, when it is done you have a new best friend and a builder for life.

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