Will You Choose the Cheap Contractor? Or the Artist?

A few months ago, my friend (who I’ll call Clare for the sake of this true story) was in the position to choose a contractor for the small, charming century-old house she gutted and is bringing back to life.

Clare got full bids from two contractors. Contractor Artisan’s bid was more expensive by 10s of thousands of dollars, but he has a reputation for being an artist and a perfectionist.

Contractor Cheapo’s bid, on the other hand, was 10s of thousands of dollars cheaper, and he has a reputation for being less than exacting in his work, and does work of lesser quality.

So, Clare had to decide: Do I pay extra for the craftsman, or save money and get less quality?

You may one day be in this situation and you may wonder how to make the decision.

I’m pretty sure you don’t want to do what Clare did, which is to hire the cheaper guy and then spend months complaining about the schlocky work he does. “Sins” so far include framing that looks like a 10-year-old did it (safe and legal but ugly), crooked trim work, and mistreatment of expensive fixtures.

So how do you decide what to do? Ask yourself a few questions:

1. Is saving money the most important thing in life without exception?

If yes, choose Contractor Cheapo
If no, keep asking questions

2. Is having a high-quality project the most important thing in life without exception?

If yes, choose Contractor Artisan
If no, keep asking questions

3. Is complaining about the faults of contractors a favorite pastime?

If yes, choose Contractor Cheapo
If no, keep asking questions

4. Is having a warm feeling from having the most considerate, thoughtful contractor important?

If yes, choose Contractor Artisan
If no, keep asking question

Bottom line: There is of course a great desire to have the best quality job for the cheapest price. Good luck with that. I guess it’s theoretically possible. But in reality, from my observations over several decades, you get what you pay for. That’s just the facts, folks.

As this house project goes on and Clare has more indignities to deal with each day from Contractor Cheapo, it’s all I can do to keep my mouth shut. What I really want to say, though it would not be helpful in the least, is this: “You consciously and knowingly chose Contractor Cheapo in order to save a few bucks. This is the result of that decision. Stop complaining.”

Of course, I won’t say that to Clare. I care about her and don’t want to add to her misery. But I’ll say it to you. If you choose to save money by hiring the guy with no experience, or the guy with no license, or the guy who’s moving around so fast from job to overbooked job, you deserve what you get. If you don’t want to put yourself in that position, make a different choice.

However, if saving money is the most important thing in your life without exception — and is more important than a high quality job, or peace of mind, or anything else — then by all means, hire the cheapest guy you can dig up.

But please don’t complain about the pain you are bringing into your life. At least not to me.

16 Comments on Will You Choose the Cheap Contractor? Or the Artist?

  1. Prestige Construction & Design

    Valuable information,Thanks lots for sharing them with us.

  2. Millers Residential

    People can search years for a good general contractor. You find all sorts of people when searching — those with licenses, those without, big companies, small one-man operations. The important thing is asking the right questions to see if they’re right for you.

  3. Christina Reed- currently working with Fantastic Handyman Fulham

    People should be careful when they choose a local contractor work home remodelling and improvements. There are all sorts of companies, so a few of the most important factors which will define a quality contractor are: #1.Find out who you’ll be asking to do your remodel, which basically means the make a little research about the company. #2 Carefully consider the budget you have for the renovation- it’s not necessary to pay a load of money or to book the ones offering the lowest price. These are just a few of the factors you need to consider.

  4. James Wright

    Assuming everyone understands how to interview a contractor for all of the legal items and protections you need to allow them to work on your home, then I think what you need to do is research their work from past jobs. Ask them for numbers of clients and talk to them. It depends on the project. If you want the contractor to make custom cabinets, then obviously you are going to be looking for more of an artist.

    Just remember to always protect yourself, they need to be bonded, insured, their workers need workers comp, written estimate, no extra work without written permission, etc.

  5. Opal Enterprises

    Thank you for covering this topic. There are so many contractors out there that you shouldn’t trust. Always look for 3rd party reviews or affiliations, and even ask for references. Most of the time the “cheapo contractor” will be a dead giveaway with their price, but reputation should be the biggest factor.

  6. Drew

    As a former contractor, I can say that that not enough people ask for references. If you’re planning a major renovation you might be looking at a $10,000 to $20,000 investment. Most good contractors are excited to show off their work, and you could possibly weed out the good ones just by how they respond to such a request. It is still standard practice to ask, so don’t cut corners, get those references.

  7. Hector

    Sadly, this happens to often. This just recently occurred to a friend of mine and now she has to spend more to get the it all fixed up again! I like how you have the questions that help people along, thanks for sharing!

  8. Remodeling in Raleigh, NC

    I agree with the points here and the comments made around checking out who you’re dealing with. Often time, home remodeling projects can go over in time and cost so you want to be sure to give yourself a little contingency so that you don’t break the bank. The best way to do this is upfront in choosing the best folks for the job. Doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive either. Considering the budget you have and work that needs done, be conservative in making decisions about little extra until the big items are out of the way. A little increase here and there can lead to thousands before you’re done:-)

  9. Home Remodeling Services

    Unfortunately this scenario is all too common. Be sensible people….check references, go see past projects with your own eyes, look for online reviews and call the Better Business Bureau. Spending more for quality work always saves money in the long run when it comes to home remodeling services!

  10. Tom Lee

    A contractor’s license is merely the insurance and bonding, to mitigate the risk of writing a contract. But if you are willing to hire them as a worker, and incur the risk of the project not completing… you are free to do it. I’ve done this many times, it always worked out well. “Licensing” has nothing to do with trade proficiency in regards to carpentry.

  11. Johnny B

    In my experience its always best to go with someone over experience over someone who has a “vision” for your home remodeling. An artist is great but you want someone who has knowhow in the subject too. I would just say don’t be suckered in with some flashy guy comes at you.

  12. Xtrm

    The cheapo is always a bad way to go but I would not prefer to get a renowned artist to remodel my home. Many of my clients have a pretty good imagination, they give me the idea and I construct their vision. I don’t charge an arm and a leg for quality work. Sometimes its better to hire a contractor with attention to detail rather than an expensive “artist”.

  13. David Wayne

    Thanks for your input. But I will love to choose a contractor who is cheap as well a reliable. Often the service provider may not offer durable and long-term solutions due to lack of adequate professional experience and expertise. So one must hire a contractor based on the word of mouth of his neighbors, coworkers or friends, and then negotiate for a better price.

  14. Janet

    Excellent article. We get the impression that because the economy is bad that some clients think they can demand all kinds of freebies and extra services. They don’t consider that no matter how bad the economy is, contractors have expenses and we can’t work for free — especially if they want quality work. Thanks for a great clarification of the issues!

  15. Leo Croes

    Always ask to see some kind of contractors licesence as well. With so many people claiming to be “workers” right now, it’s important now more than ever to have a contractors licesence.

  16. Andrew

    Great article. Unfortunately too many people end up settling for the bottom line without thinking of the potential risks involved not to mention the possibility of paying more down the road just to fix the mistakes of “contractor cheapo”. Another great point when deciding on a contractor is to consider which company delivers the best value. A company providing the best quality is always nice to have, but can potentially price you out of the market or give you more than what is needed for your families needs. Going cheap is never a good idea, but it’s not always the best to go with the most expensive either.

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