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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Why you will likely try *not* to hire me for your brick repointing project at first — and why you may end up changing your mind

From 2001 to 2007, potential customers would pretty much make a decision on the spot, or fairly close to it, for the most part.
I remember doing my sales calls on Saturdays in the spring of 2007 and coming back home with $40,000-$50,000 of sales every week. I can recall that by April 29 of that year, I was already booked until early November, which is typically when the season ends for me on any given year.
Since then, we’ve had the global financial crisis in 2008, the $10,000 home renovation tax credit cancellation in 2010, and immediately following that, the retail sales tax went from 7% GST to 13% HST.
As a direct result, homeowners now have less disposable income to direct towards home renovations, and they have to be substantially more thoughtful about their choices in this regard than they’ve had to in the past.
Furthermore, WSIB’s Bill 119 was the last straw to cause home renovation prices to collapse — even as the price of homes continues to rise — as it places contractors in the uncomfortable position to largely have operate in the black market in order to remain viable.
And don’t forget that there is what I call “the Homestars effect” which has greatly contributed to further commoditize the market.
The upshot of it all is that potential customers now take longer to make their decision. They no longer thank me for simply showing up to give them a quotation, as they now have 9 or 10 other estimates from contractors who are hungry to get the job.
So prices crashing is a good thing, right?
That depends.
Not if common sense fails to prevail.
If you’re not fussy about getting the repointing done to a high standard and making sure that the new mortar matches with the original on the house, then you will feel well-served as this is a buyer’s market.
But if you are seeking highly professional workmanship, you may find the process more frustrating that it needs to be.
Recent and thorough market intelligence tells me that a few estimates will be as low as 4 times cheaper than the highest quote, while the bulk of the proposals will fall pretty evenly between being priced at a 40 to 75% discount to what the top of the range is at.
You will pretty much be met with someone who will nonchalantly walk around your property with you asking you what you want done, as if they weren’t sure themselves about how to proceed.
Some of these contractors will make assessments of the situation or impose conditions that will make you feel as though they are “winging it” and are “making it up” as they go. You will be left feeling like no one has a process. For example, some shall insist that all the mortar needs to be 100 % replaced while others won’t. Some will tell you that a particular item needs attention while others will tell you the exact opposite.
Several of the estimates you will be getting will be from a masonry contractor or a salesperson who hires others to do the work while they aim to make a markup in the range of 35% of the contract amount. This will all-too-often mean that your masonry restoration project will be performed by a crew of two people paid approximately $18 an hour. You know what they say, “If you pay with peanuts, you will get monkeys”. So don’t be all that surprised if you come home from work one day and engage one of these crew members and they act like apes.
Most importantly, no one will stick their neck out and say they can accurately match the existing mortar when you press them on the issue (even though they might initially pay it lip service until you demand some assurance). They will usually say that they can “only do their best” — which means absolutely nothing, let’s be clear on that).
Now, circling back to the title of this post, let me hit you once again with this perhaps startling statement:
You may very well be the type of prospective client who will try not to hire me when I first provide you with an estimate.
You’ve read correctly.
What do I mean?
When you get a quotation from me, I will most likely be the highest. It’s not that I’m gouging the customers; it’s that I’m doing the work to a whole different level.
In the “golden years” that I have referred to above, I would close jobs easily because 1) customers had more disposal income, 2) it was quite hard to even get quotes from contractors; and 3) the spread between my price and that of others was smaller.
What happens now is that a segment of potential clients take longer to make a decision as they have to justify to themselves paying what appears to be a premium to have me do their work.
But in fact, many times, I’m not more expensive at all: I’m simply pricing the job so the result is what I consider a professional outcome, whereas much of my competition might charge 1/2 the price for half-time spent to produce what constitutes, in my opinion, an abortion. (There’s no need for me to chew my words, is there?)
So a fair percentage of them charge the same per week, or slightly less, but the outcome suffers greatly.
My biggest challenge is to remain believable when I make my claim to you that, upon conclusion of the project, your house will look as though “time has only kissed it” — meaning that the brickwork will be harmonious to a degree such that it will appear as though it aged gracefully and never required restoration.
That is why I’m saying that, in the current market reality we find ourselves in at the time of writing in 2016, you most likely will try not to hire me when going through the process of getting pointing estimates and are getting a wide range of prices to repoint your house from several (or many!) contractors who are hungry and more than eager to shove a quote in your hands.
But if you are a stickler for having brick mortar replacement work that truly matches the original (and is in fact art in its own right), and if you do your due diligence, you then very well may find yourself in that cohort who ultimately realize that I’m indeed their best option.
For the sake of your house — which clearly can’t speak for itself — I urge you to truly do your homework and make sure you’re making the best choice all around.
And if, for some reason, I think I’m not the right contractor for you, I’ll be the first one to let you know.
Happy hunting.

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