The hardest task in the world
As you may know, we’re currently in the middle of a really big remodel. I am trying to do as much of it as I can myself, but some parts are just too much for me to handle. Specifically, I need someone to help me out with some of the carpentry.
I am convinced that finding good, skilled trade workers is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. Here are a list of items that I’d have an easier time with:
- figuring out nuclear fusion
- bringing peace to the Middle East
- getting Mrs. 1500 to pump gas*
- having a fight free car trip with our daughters
- licking your elbow (try it, I dare you!) WARNING: If you’re at work right now, your co-workers may think you’ve lost your mind
- getting my youngest child to be quiet for longer than 5 minutes**
I spent a month looking for someone. First, I contacted some folks I knew in the area. They knew carpenters, but none of them had any interest in the job. I contacted the village hall, got their approved list of builders and made a bunch of calls. I signed up for Angie’s List. In all, I called about 50 people. Out of those 50, 2 came over to look at the job. Neither of those 2 called me back after that.
Desperate times call for desperate measures
I love Craigslist. I use it almost weekly to either sell stuff I no longer need or acquire used items. However Craigslist is a horrible place to find skilled workers. I’ve completed many, many projects and I’ve tried many times to find help on Craigslist. So far, I’m about 1/20 or a success rate of 5%. My thought is that if you’re good at what you do, you’re getting all the work you need through word of mouth or more conventional means.
Anyway, I told myself that I wouldn’t try to find workers on Craigslist again. However, after a month of fruitless searching, I was desperate. It was on Craigslist that I met Mr. Buttcrack Builder (MBB). His pants were perpetually falling down, treating us to unwanted views of his posterior.
MBB is DOA… Almost
At the very start, things went OK. MBB would show up and work 8 hours a day. However, he quickly and randomly would be a no-show. I told MBB that I’m patient and I don’t care if he needed a day off, but just to let me know. The message didn’t get through.
An inconsistent schedule was the least of the problems though. MBB was incredibly inconsistent with his work too. He could do good work. I saw it. He could also do very, very bad work. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of that as well. The quality of his work seemed to depend on what time of the day it was and what kind of mood he was in. I noticed he got sloppy towards the end of the day. I could also tell when he didn’t like doing a certain task. When he didn’t, the quality of his work went right down the toilet.
After a while, I could no longer tolerate MBB’s sloppiness. We sent him on his way with no one lined up to complete the work. Miraculously, we eventually did find someone decent, but that is a story for another day.
Today, I’d like to give you some advice on finding workers and how to know when you’ve hired the wrong person.
How to find decent workers and when you know when you’ve hired the wrong guy
Talk to neighbors: The best person you can find is one that your neighbors sing the praises of. There was one such guy in our ‘hood, but he was booked up for the next 8 months.
Craigslist: Craigslist is great for all kinds of stuff, but not for finding skilled workers.
Gratuitous displays of butt-crack: I have no idea if this one has any correlation to quality work. MBB was constantly showing his though. Avoid it if you can.
Be wary of desperate people: MBB was in a money crunch. I could tell from the little comments he made: “I hit a bunch of rough patches lately.” I later learned those rough patches went back at least a decade. I like to hire good, responsible people. I find that people who do good work also keep their financial house in order and live within their means.
Checking references isn’t useful: References are almost completely useless. If the builder has any smarts, they aren’t going to give you references who will trash their name. In lieu of references, I ask about the last 5 projects they’ve worked on including any current ones. I then ask if it’s OK if I go take a look at those projects and talk to the owners.***
Permits: Permits can be a pain, but any guy who warns you against getting a permit should throw up all kinds of warning signs.
Licensed: MBB first told me he was licensed. One day when the building inspector showed up, he freaked out: “I can’t let the inspector see me!” After the inspector left, he explained that he actually wasn’t licensed. Seemed like he and the inspector had a bad history. Plus, he had lied to me.
I Heart Tools: Tools are the lifeblood of a builder. I noticed MBB had crummy tools and treated them poorly. He would throw his framing nailer on the ground and then wonder why it didn’t work consistently. (When it misfired, he would bash it some more.)
Waste: MBB wasn’t careful with choosing which lumber to cut. I noticed that he wasted lots and lots of wood. This is not how I operate and I didn’t appreciate him wasting my money.
The most important tip of all: Do it yourself!
No one in the world cares more about your house than you. Most home improvements aren’t that hard. Sure, it can be intimidating, but you’ll get over it.
Take a look at this big pile of stuff in the picture to the right. My plumbing experience is very minimal. Right now, my experience is limited to swapping out toilets and hooking up a couple vanities. Over the next 2 weekends, I will plumb two new bathrooms. Am I nervous? Sure, a little. However, the key to my future success is right there in the picture too. Books!
I hauled my butt (no exposed buttcrack, much too cold) down to the local library and checked out every plumbing book that looked halfway decent. I supplemented my learning with YouTube videos. I am now confident that I can do a good job, but the best part is the money I’ll save. All of my plumbing parts including fancy PEX tools will run me about $500. For the sake of comparison, I did get a quote from a local company and they came in at $3,000. In 2 weekends, I’ll have a new set of skills and $2,500 in my back pocket.
Just do it
Next time the sink is leaking or you want to replace the nasty tile (looking at myself here), I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Take your time and be calm. I promise, you can do it. If you’re in Colorado, hit me up. Maybe we can work together one weekend.
Whatever you do though, do not hire Mr. Buttcrack Builder.
*Actual conversation just now:
- Mrs. 1500: The Element is on E
- Me: No it’s not, I filled it up this afternoon.
- Mrs. 1500: Filled it up? What does that mean?
**Our 4 year old is never quiet. Ever. Recently, we were all in the car and there was a miraculous and beautiful 30 seconds of quiet. It was at this time that the 4 year old piped up:
- 4 yo: Why is no one talking?
- Mrs. 1500: Well, we don’t have to talk all of the time.
- 4 yo <with a confused look>: Oh. why not?
***Mrs. 1500 note: I actually had a builder give me a reference for someone who was not pleased with his work. When I called them up, they said “I don’t know why he gave you my name, I am very unhappy with his work, I cannot get him to return my call, and I have a lawsuit pending against him.” Made for a fun phone call, and we knew immediately not to hire him. But don’t count on this to happen…
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