What *really* makes a good contractor (and how they become great)

With so many matchmaking services out there introducing homeowners to contractors, it's worth asking the question - why do so many homeowners, architects and contractors still bemoan the process of renovating together?

Working side-by-side with Bolster Contractors like Aaron Borenstein of Home Evolutions for several months has revealed what separates the good contractors from the great.

Working side-by-side with Bolster Contractors like Aaron Borenstein of Home Evolutions for several months has revealed what separates the good contractors from the great.

Not a day passes at Bolster HQ where we don't hear tales of recent renovation nightmares. But aren't all these issues a thing of the past now that matchmaking websites are ubiquitous?

The fact is, matchmaking offers a valuable service, that's for sure, but when it is misconstrued or misrepresented as an indicator of how successful a renovation project will be, it is going to fall short of expectations. And that's because the information that homeowners and matchmakers can [easily] find and quantify about a contractor (e.g. licensed, bonded, photos, reviews etc.) is telling only a fraction of the story.

The hidden truth

After months spent shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of Bolster Contractors, we've come to realize that, much like how white light is made up of many different colors of light added together, so too is a contractor's true quality made up of several mostly hidden, inter-dependent and constantly moving variables. 

On the left - visible "qualities" of a contractor  On the right - hidden factors that actually shape a contractor's quality.

Quality clients - The quality of a contractor's clients (how reasonable, realistic and coachable they are) will literally make or break a contractor. No business can remain at the top of any rating system after a succession of projects for unreasonable clients (who perhaps innocently and unwittingly self-inflicted a poor renovation experience upon themselves and take to the inter web to vent their disappointment).

Skilled communications - Renovation is a complex and technical process that very few homeowners do frequently enough to become familiar with. Throw in huge sums of money, a primary asset and an atmosphere of horror stories and it's clear that skilled communications - and the ability to confidently take command of the project - is essential to a contractor's success.

Profitable bids - Contractors are not commodities, rather they're providers of a technical and complex service. All have their own unique way of approaching each and every renovation project and yet, that essential value is often overlooked in favor of the lowest bid. And so, in order to remain competitive, contractors will often lower their prices, sometimes dangerously so (especially if their marketing efforts aren't working well) resulting in a project that has failed before it's even begun. 

Successful planning & execution - It goes without saying that the contractor's ability to marshall and manage skilled workers, problem solve and plan and execute the client’s project successfully is a big factor in determining a contractor's quality. What's not so obvious however, is how all the other hidden variables need to be in place before this is possible.

Data collection & analysis - Each renovation project is swimming in financial and performance-related data. When gathered and interpreted correctly, this data can be used to help the contractor make better business decisions - such as knowing what projects to undertake or how much overhead and profit to really charge.

From good to great

When the contractor takes advantage of these hidden fundamentals of the renovation process, they produce a flywheel effect with each successive variable reinforcing the next:

The right client coupled with the contractor's ability to communicate their value proposition has a huge impact on the production of an accurate, fairly-priced bid. The final agreed-upon bid in turn determines the contractor's ability to plan and execute the client’s project successfully. The project itself then throws off data that can be used to better achieve their marketing, sales and financial goals.

When a contractor discovers and takes advantage of the hidden variables that shape the destiny of their renovation company, a virtuous circle emerges that benefits everyone involved in the renovation process. 

By understanding these hidden fundamentals, and fine tuning them on each successive project, the contractor can ultimately reach their renovation utopia - spending every day doing what they love while producing an amazing user experience for great clients and getting fairly paid.

About Bolster

Bolster is a group of entrepreneurs, contractors and architects on a mission to create the most exceptional home renovation experience possible for all parties. We match qualified homeowners and architects with the best contractors in New York City and work alongside them to guarantee the project is managed beautifully, completed on schedule and never goes over budget.

Bolster is the first Discovery Partner of the American Institute of Architects.