Below is a snippet from my upcoming Off-The-Grid book, which I hope to release in the near future. I have received a ton of questions regarding my off-the-grid project, especially about my difficulties dealing with general contractors. Anyone who has built a house or done some major remodeling knows dealing with contractors can be a serious pain in the you-know-what. There is a lot more to this chapter that I have not included, such as my advice on how to deal with bad contractors, and how to find a good one. To see the entire chapter you will just have to be patient and wait for the book to come out 🙂
One thing I will say, is I think this could possibly be the most important chapter in the entire book, so I hope you enjoy Gary’s unfiltered honesty snippet.
My Experiences and Brutal Honesty
Urban legends about dealing with bad contractors are notoriously plentiful, and most do not have a happy ending. In fact, the hiring and management of a general contractor can be so risky and time-consuming that I’ve devoted this entire chapter to the topic. I hope this advice will spare you the all-too-common headaches associated with builders.
Let’s face it: There are numerous websites, and even TV shows portraying the horror-story-of-the-day concerning home improvement and new house construction. Many marriages have ended, properties have been foreclosed on, and financial ruin has been caused by dishonest general contractors.
I have been dealing with general contractors for almost 20 years, ever since I bought my very first property: a condo in San Diego, California. Over the years I have owned: said condo, three houses (all built from scratch), rental houses, investment properties, and even a couple four-plex apartment buildings. So I have had a wide variety of dealings and experiences with construction workers over the years.
Now this may sound a little negative, but there is no other way to put it: Dealing with contractors is the most difficult part of the building process for would-be off-gridders… period!
Okay, I’m sure I just offended a lot of people who are in the trade, but there are probably a great deal more saying that I’m dead on with my viewpoint.
This world-wary advice comes not only from my experiences, but the stories of others as well. I also have many friends in the business, so I have an outside and inside perspective to the industry. Yet even with my vast experience dealing with contractors, and with my background in law enforcement, I’m still not immune to being duped by a dishonest builder.
Here’s the tricky part: There is no perfect system to pick a contractor, they can be very unreliable, and can turn on you in a split second. It’s truly buyer beware.
In fact, if you have to use contractors to help you build your off-the-grid property, it will be the hardest part of the project. But I think by understanding this, you will be more mentally prepared to deal with the issues of construction as they arise.
Now, even if you have the best contractor on the planet, when it comes to building a house, things are going to go wrong. That is just the way it is. The good news is in almost all cases these issues and problems can be corrected. And even though most contractors act like your project is the equivalent of designing and building the space shuttle, it is really nothing more than a box structure created mostly of wood, steel and concrete.
Most of us will need to at least have a couple contractors involved in our project. I have done a lot of home improvement and construction on my own over the years, but there are times when it is better to use a professional. So, here is my hard-won advice about doing the best you can in what is often a difficult situation.
The Bad Builder’s Mindset and Where They Come From: Hello, Joe Six-Pack!
Okay, I’m about to ruffle some feathers, but those who know me know I say it like it is. We are talking about one of the biggest decisions and financial investments you will make in your lifetime, so I think it is important to understand the mindset of the average “bad” general contractor, as seen by Gary.
After having growing up with individuals, working with, and employing numerous construction so-called-professionals, I have developed a good sense of the general profile of the bad ones. This is not meant to be degrading, or some hit piece on all general contractors, because there are a lot of good ones. It is just a fact that the construction industry is filled with many, many people who looking to take advantage of us, John and Jane Q. Public. This is no secret, as I said previously, it is well publicized in numerous media outlets.
By giving you a general profile of the average bad general contractor I think it will help you understand the process and what to expect.
I like to call the average general or crappy sub-contractor Joe Six-Pack. This is the guy who occasionally attended high school, and when he did, it was usually to hangout in the back of class and catch up on sleep. They loved to go to all the parties, but never had any beer… that is, until they found yours! They always showed up at festive occasions, but always seemed to forget their wallet when the bill came. Some may have actually graduated from high school… barely. Almost none have stepped foot on any institution of higher learning or read a book from cover to cover. Combine that with zero work ethic and getting fired from every low-end job, and you have the future bad general contractor in the making.
After getting kicked out of the house and running out of friend’s couches to sleep on, there is one thing left to do… become a laborer in the construction industry (this is the first step to bad general contractor-ville). Let’s face it, you really don’t need a resume to become a laborer in construction, and you can get fired repeatedly without it hurting your chances of future employment in the industry. If you have two arms and two legs, you can and will get hired in the construction industry as a laborer. I did a lot of menial labor as a teenager (pretty much zero knowledge in much of anything) and young adult, so not only have I done the work, I worked right next to future or current Joe Six-Pack. As a matter of fact I have had laborers show up on projects who literally had zero skills, and had been working in the industry for years.
Another characteristic of the average bad general contractor, or construction laborer is past, current, or ongoing drug and/or alcohol problems. I have no idea why, but the industry seems to be a magnet for people with substance abuse and alcohol issues. On several of my projects I have found empty booze bottles and drug paraphernalia on the job site. To say I was a very unhappy camper with these incidents would be an understatement
What to Expect From Joe Six-Pack (Now a Self-Proclaimed Construction Expert)
- No work ethic
- Will tell you anything to get the job
- Substance abuse problems
- Zero organizational skills
- Inability to follow any type of schedule
- Is always available, no one waiting in line for his crappy services
- Is the master of cutting corners and doing sub-par work
- Lacks proper tools to do the job and likes using yours without your permission
- Will purposefully do things wrong, in order to create more work and charge you for it
Wow, perhaps you are thinking that Gary is one bitter dude!
Well no, I’m actually pretty easy going in general. But trust me on this one, anyone who has had to deal with contractors on a regular basis is laughing their ass off as they read that list, because they know what I say is true. The above may sound like some over-exaggerated exercise in creative writing to most, but I’m actually being nice to Joe Six-Pack. I could write an entire book, with numerous “colorful, but true” stories about dealing with awful contractors. It would be therapeutic for me, but you probably wouldn’t get much out of it but some painful, and cringe worthy laughs.
Make sure to stay tuned for updates on my off-the-grid project and be on the lookout for the accompanying book on how you can do it too.
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