About ten years ago I completed an entire kitchen remodel of an original Eichler Home up in the East Bay Area for some clients who seemed to be very down to earth. They had the whole, low key hippie vibe thing going on, which made it natural for me to assume this project would be a pleasant experience from start to finish… “Wow” was I way off. I should have known early on when, within the first couple of days, the presumptuous, motor mouth mother-in-law came over, and upon seeing me said, “Oh, so you’re the contractor? None of you guys can be trusted!” Caught off guard, and offended by her slanderous remarks, I attempted to diffuse the situation with some humor by offering her a big hug, but she was having nothing to do with that, and instead continued to poison the waters even further with her self-righteous rant. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there must have also been a familial genetic component of neurosis at work in the rest of the family as well.
Jesus help me, my laid back hippies turned out to be life time members of the twilight zone, having drank too much tie-dye in their Koolaid. Sometimes, as an added punishment after what felt like a very short weekend, I would come back to work Monday mornings just to find construction materials, parts, fixtures, and product all moved into the kitchen area where I was working so that these items wouldn’t be in “Their” way, despite us having previously agreed on where would be an acceptable location to store them before installation. This made it necessary for me to spend the first half hour or so moving material back out of the kitchen so that I could continue improving the “Nut House.” In retrospect, I should have built them tinfoil hats instead; at least this way I could have protected any aliens who may have had the misfortune of abducting them? OK, yes, I may still be a little indignant over the mental anguish I suffered, but it’s nothing three dozen chocolate chip cookies, a keg of beer, and ten-thousand dollars worth of therapy couldn’t fix. So, why did this happen? Granted, they knew very little about me, but all the reports from mutual acquaintances regarding my character and abilities had been positive. Yet, from the beginning, there was an air of mistrust that permeated the project. Let me provide further clarity, and a better sense of what I mean by recounting another bizarre occurrence that transpired in the land, “Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.”
Before the project was even contracted, I had explain to the couple, of “Day Trippers,” that I would expect permit costs to be around $1,500 to $2,000 dollars, possibly more since they did not have a formal set of plans. As a gesture of good will and kindness I offered to see if it would be possible for me to get a simple set of dimensional hand drawings passed over the counter, and perhaps save them the additional expense, since they were allegedly on a tight budget. After some tactful negotiation with the already overwhelmed and frustrated plan check department supervisor, I was able to get everything pushed through for right around $1,200. Very pleased with myself and harboring no ill will for all the additional uncompensated time spent, I joyfully reported the “Good news” about the financial savings. Their responds to the successful achievement I had tactfully accomplished was that of dissatisfaction. “Why,” I asked? “Don’t you remember me telling you that I expected the low end cost to be around $1,500? “Yes,” they recalled. “Then why are you upset? That’s $300 less than originally expected,” I endeavored with bewilderment. “When you told us those figures, we thought you were lying,” they chided with impunity. “What? If you thought I was not being truthful, then why would you hire someone you thought to be a liar?” No response.
In the spirit of Forest Gump, and being well mannered enough not to use the word stupid, let’s just say that sometimes, “Crazy is as crazy does!” I guess that includes me, since having threatened to quit this particular project on several occasions, and despite attempting a number of hopeful, albeit pointless conversations, I chose to honor my agreement with them… to the bitter end! Perhaps the only positive result from my journey through kaleidoscope eyes was the impetus to begin writing the book “But I Thought… ?” on the contractor/client dynamic, (due out in 2017) which started out as a cathartic release for my personal grievance over the negative perception of contractors in general and the ignorant misconceptions of the complicated processes inherent to the building industry as a whole.
Let me conclude this blog by making a simple but salient point. The contractor / client dynamic is a RELATIONSHIP under contract, and in the best of relationships or contracts “Both” parties must win… both parties should enjoy the fulfillment of a successful union. Infighting or jockeying for positions of greater power has never promoted more harmony or a better outcome. Contractors are NOT blessed with some innate ability to read minds, or perceive the pre-existing bias that clients may harbor. We naturally assumed to be wanted for our expertise, after all, we’re the ones being approached and asked to analyse the propose project being considered… often without remuneration for our professional consultation skills and contract drafting services. Clients can no more control either the actions or business practices of their contractor any better than they can effectively manipulate the scalpel in the hands of their surgeon while lying unconscious on an operating table. If you feel the need to do so then, 1) You should first find better coping skills to deal with the anxiety of your insecurities, or 2) Hire a different contractor you can trust, and then keep out of his way to run his crew and company in the manor his knowledge and years of experience see fit to do.
Hundreds of unforeseen design problems, unexpected building challenges and overlapping scheduling conflict are being resolved every week within a highly compressed timeline. Adding pressure to an already stressful situation does not promote greater control. More friction will only lead to additional heat between parties, which increases the likelihood for the spark of a inflamed tongue to ignite an explosive reaction whose fire will quickly burn up any good will or hope for a successful project. Keep egos in check. More often than not the fearful story we tell ourselves going into a discussion, (Not debate), is far from the truth that the details of reality are actually founded in. Assume that you’ll need to fight to achieve resolution, and you’ll probably find the fight you expected without the results you wanted. Sometime wining come at a great price… especially when the cost is hidden beyond your level of insight or perception.