The trouble with subcontractors

VandeyachtdoorsWhy is it so hard to get subcontractors to show up?

Here's what I've observed (and feel free to tear apart my arguments):

There are two factors in this situation: The E-myth and priorities.

The E-myth (based on a book of the same name) states that it's a myth to think a tradesperson will automatically make a good entrepreneur. So you have excellent plumbers, masons, electricians, carpenters, drywallers and flooring installers who may know everything in the world about their craft, but little about being in business or managing their time. I find many of these people are overly optimistic about what they can accomplish in a given day, so they over-schedule and then fall behind. Also, because so many construction workers who are in this country illegally accept a lower wage, legitimate and licensed subcontractors have to lower their fees to stay competitive. So, it's a mess out there.

As for priorities, subs (as’re called in the industry) will tend to service the clients with the best potential for profitable future work. And if you’re a homeowner acting as your own contractor, you will be on the bottom of that list. On the top of the list are contractors who pay quickly. Second on this list are contractors who pay slowly.

Plus, homeowner-run jobs are generally hectic and disorganized. The plumber shows up to install the faucet and finds that the tile setter didn’t finish, and the tile setter didn’t finish because the carpenter left something undone, and the carpenter left something undone because he wasn’t sure what the plans said, and the plans weren’t complete because the designer wasn’t getting enough money to put all that detail in there, and the designer wasn’t get paid much because he needed the work and promised to do the design cheaper than anyone else would. And so on.

When you hire a subcontractor, you have to be aware of the pressures they have and the likelihood these pressures will delay your project. You should expect subcontractor delays with the same certainty you expect traffic on the way into work Monday.

The alternatives are to do the work yourself, hire a fiscally sound contractor who is at the top of the subcontractor’s list of priorities, or hire a contractor who uses most of his or her own employees and who has a reputation for finishing jobs on time.

Do you agree or disagree with my theories?

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1 Comment on The trouble with subcontractors

  1. John Park

    That assessment sounds spot on to me. The optimism is incredible. Over the past fourteen months, I’ve seen our contractor frequently overestimate by a factor of two how much the subs will get done on a given day. It’s hard to know if they’re telling you what you want to hear, or if they really are that unable to correctly guess how long stuff will take.