How to talk so your contractor will listenPublished on April 14, 2009

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  • The architectural detailing found the side entry reflects a well thought out space. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • The completed Griffiths' kitchen. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • Lyndsay Nicols discusses the renovation with Willa Griffiths. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • A charcoal, Queen Anne inspired, cabinet makes a stunning vanity for the main floor powder room. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • There is plenty of room for all the necessities and luxuries in this sleekly designed ensuite. The stained glass window doubles as a work of art. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • The family room showcases the eclectic furnishings that combine European elements with North American comforts. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • An elegant side door entrance was part if the renovation. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • The mud room provides ample storage space for this busy family of four. Photo by Mark Holleron and Gordon King

  • Bold punches of red found in the laundry room add sex appeal to a very functional space.

The great-great-grandson of M.L.Z. Mallette, who helped build Parliament Hill's Langevin Block in the late 1800s, he's also the son and nephew of two of Ottawa's most influential builders - the founders of R.J. Nicol Construction and Tartan Homes. As someone who's literally grown up in the construction business, Lindsay knows first hand that whether it's a small renovation, substantial addition or custom-built home, the better the relationship between the contractor and clients, the more smoothly the job will proceed.

"I've learned this business literally from the ground up," explains the genial owner of Crossford Construction. "One of the biggest lessons I took from my early years was the importance of forging a bond of trust and open communication with clients. Success comes from being direct, accessible and transparent."

Lindsay admits that renovating and building homes makes for some intense interpersonal experiences. "I've turned down a few jobs because of bad vibes and, yes, I've had to broker peace between couples a few times," he confesses with a laugh.

Ever wondered what contractors wish you'd ask them? Lindsay has a wealth of advice for those of us looking to have a better renovation experience:

1. Ask for a full list of references, and ask the contractor to show you several completed projects. This illustrates the quality to expect and gives you a chance to talk as you drive to the sites.

2. Ask the contractor to identify their greatest strengths.

3. Find out how many of the job's crew will be staff versus subcontractors. The more staff members on the team, the greater the control over quality and scheduling.

4. Ask if you will receive a written contract. It should be transparent, with a detailed breakdown of all costs so there are no surprises.

5. Ask to meet the people who will be doing the actual work - they'll be in your home on a daily basis so you need to be comfortable with them.

6. Find out if the contractor will secure all needed permits, what kind of warranty they offer and if the contractor holds workers' compensation and liability insurance.

7. Inquire about the work schedule and the project's duration, as well as logistical details like keeping the job site clean.

It's a two-way street, notes Lindsay, so there are vital pieces of information that you as a client need to tell the contractor:

1. Explain what you are trying to achieve. Tell them your full wish list; a good contractor can assess whether it's feasible within your budget, and help you pare down the list if needed.

2. Be honest about your budget. A reliable contractor will not take advantage of this information.

3. Share any planning you've done in advance. Show the contractor any drawings and let them help you finish the planning work.

4. Explain anything about your family that a contractor would need to know, including environmental allergies to paint or other materials.

Prospective clients also need to understand that they are being sized up as well, explains Lindsay. "This is really a people business and a good contractor learns to read the signs. If the client's wishes are not feasible, the scheduling is not realistic, or they are too adversarial, these are warning signs."

He adds that, above all else, both sides need to trust their instincts. "If someone is evasive or uncertain, that's a sign that they may not be as open and honest as needed for success in what is ultimately a very intimate experience. But if you get a good feeling about someone, chances are you will be able to work effectively with them. Chemistry is huge in this business and most of my clients are smart, intuitive people who appreciate honesty and directness."

A Case In Point

Crossford Construction recently completed a substantial renovation project at the Rockcliffe home of Willa and Peter Griffiths. Willa confirms that having a relationship of mutual trust was essential to the project's success. "We could tell Lindsay is a pretty easy-going person and we sensed that he would be a good guy to work with. It just felt right, so we also trusted his recommendation when it came to selecting Cole & Associates as our architect and Irene Langlois Interiors to help with design and decorating." The Griffiths' project involved an overhaul of the interior of their 1930s era home which was once an ambassador's residence. "We wanted to update the house and make it more suited to our lifestyle," says Willa. "That involved taking down a number of walls, adding more windows, and redoing several bathrooms." Willa notes that, perhaps thanks to their European heritage, they didn't want to change their home's character as it was being upgraded. "We once lived in a farmhouse in England with parts that dated from the 1500s. We wanted to preserve some of the older elements of this home rather than replace them with something contemporary." This vision was shared and skilfully executed by Lindsay and everyone on the renovation team, adds Willa. "We are very pleased with how everything turned out; they did a very good job and everyone who sees it is most impressed. Of course it took longer and cost more than we expected, but they were true craftsmen and did high quality work." When the project hit the inevitable bump or two, Willa says that Lindsay explained very thoroughly where the extra time and money were being invested. "Our comfort with him was there all the way through the project; we never second-guessed our decisions nor felt like we were being cheated." Willa believes that to have a renovation project proceed smoothly and successfully, you need a contractor that you can trust with a talented team that can be left to do what they do best. Written by Paula Roy




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