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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    64

    Default Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Name your top 4 frustrations with working with subcontractors.
    What needs improving?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Portland, ME
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    6,302

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    1) Getting them to look at jobs to bid
    2) Making sure they are being realistic about bids - including everything that they as specialists should foresee and that I as an idiot will miss
    3) Not returning phone calls
    4) Lousy scheduling skills

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Beacon,NY
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    100

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    As a trim sub I had to respond. How about subs frustrations? I got a job setup for Monday go there no material, or the best is when you tell the builder you need nine feet of material he comes back with a eight footer, thinking you can stretch it. Builder says everything is ready to trim. You get on site and the floor guy is there along with the painter,plumber ,electrian, and every other trade you can think of is on site Great! a party. A schedule what's that? Nine times out of ten a builder blows my schedule out of the water everytime. Its not a job its an adventure! I can go on and on but gotta go. See what's in store for me today. Thanks for letting me vent. Hey,the heating guy must have been here too.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Houston & Washington Texas
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    12,069

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    90% of the problems I have with subs are my fault, when there is a breakdown in my systems or lack thereof.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Kansas City, Mo
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    447

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    As Allan said, 90% are my fault, I would imagine that is probably true for all builders. However, since the thread implies that your looking for common areas of inefficiencies among subcontractors....

    1. Lack of onsite supervision. It's pretty common for a subcontractor to send a crew or even just a tech to a jobsite and never check the quality of the work by management. It's not so bad with my current subcontractor base, but over the years it has certainly been a problem.

    2. Lack of internal quality control by the subcontractor. If trade contractors promptly QC their work and make corrections, then schedules would be more accurate.

    3. Subcontrators who show up a day or so early or late and then complain when they have to work around the other trades who are on time.

    4. Labor only subcontractors who miscut materials and then get an attitude about the material takeoff. It's bad enough that their personel wasted my materials and my money and my time to get more materials there, but I really shouldn't have to listen to them complain, much less hear it from their employees.

    I've been a sub myself, early in my career, so I can relate to the frustrations that subs go through. I remember the disorganized builders were the ones that caused me my most grief, every thing was an emergency, nothing was in writing, and they planed their schedule daily. Those are the builders that have mastered the "squeeky wheel" method of management. The builders that try to hold their subs to a higher professional standard than the hold themselves to. Unfortunately, subs tend to get caught up in that and inadvertantly neglect their more organized builders, creating chaos for yet another builder, perpetual motion. The bad attitude that stems from the disorganized builder's jobsite is brought with the sub to the next builders job, he came from a jobsite full of problems so he shows up looking for a jobsite full of problems. Of course, the subs that can't shake off the last job and come into mine with a positive attitude, are usually short lived.

    Rick

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Northern Colorado
    Posts
    409

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Ditto Allen's comment!! I find very few contractors whom have the background to successfully manage even a small contracting business. Many come up thru the trades and think to themselves "now that I am a successful subcontractor, I have proper background to be a successful contractor", Baloney! Only on rare occassion can this be pulled off. I blame most of my probems on poor planning, and that poor planning starts with the contractor.

    Plan, Plan, Plan!
    Plan twice and execute once! (my knockoff of the framing mantra "measure twice and cut once"). That said I still have a whole lot of subcontractors, who have a hard time managing just themselves on the job site. I'd be happy if some of them can get thru just one day without doing something stupid, that translates into more costs for me. When I stoop to having to babysit my subs, I sent them packing. If contractors can't find the skills to professionally manage their jobs and build a quality dwelling, I just as soon they find a truck driving job.

    Jim Neufeld

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    64

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Allen, whats the other 10%?

  8. #8
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    Jun 2004
    Location
    Houston & Washington Texas
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    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Peter, I think Rick explained most builders frustrations with subs in a very clear manner, I can’t do any better. In their defense, they are usually juggling several jobs, problems with their own people, all the things we all fight daily. I do find somewhat of a parallel between what you pay and what you get, although it’s not 100% correlation. My biggest complaint is they don’t follow my Work Orders, specifications, they repeat the same mistakes over and over. But that’s really for just a few, most do a pretty good job. Like I said, when problems arise I can trace most of it to poor communication or scheduling on my part

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Kansas City, Mo
    Posts
    447

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Oh man, I hope I didn't come off as being unsympathetic to the plights of subcontrator in my last post. I fully understand, been there. Subcontractors have it twice as challenging as builders, if not 10 times. As a builder, I have the choice of building specs or build jobs, but trade contractors MUST presell every job.

    Quote Originally Posted by Allan Edwards
    I do find somewhat of a parallel between what you pay and what you get, although it’s not 100% correlation.
    I think it's more like 50/50. It's all about their management ability, I honestly get better pricing from more profesionally managed trades. It really comes down to size, a small one or two man show generally has great quality work, a great attitude and pretty competetive pricing, once you get them to the jobsite. Scheduling seems to be their biggest problem.

    Medium size subs are, two to five crews, are the worst. The owner is spead way to thin, typically under capitolized and over staffed with unqualified people. He's bidding and selling work just to cover overhead and to keep his crews busy, leaving him no time to manage field operations. Call backs and warantee get out of control. For me, it's just way too stressful.

    Larger subs have enough volumne to cover management costs and can be more competetive. Scheduleing isn't as much of a problem, but quality can be a concern.

    Rick

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Va.
    Posts
    3,675

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    I have almost always experienced the fair price is the best work. Higher sub prices have generally been from inadequate or inexperienced subs. You can always tell when its something as easy as a 2 day paint job or roof a straight A garage and the guy has to call you back. Got a price from a painter the other day and when I said no he offered to cut his price in half on 4500.00. I just told him I was concerned and left it at that. I like to see new subs who are gun ho but lately they seem to have entered the trade business to go for home runs, in other words work for a builder one time and nail em.I suppose that's one way but most contractors are looking for subs that can be a part of a team. I'm not seeing that with a lot of newer subs.

  11. #11
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    Jun 2004
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    Houston & Washington Texas
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    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    I see three types of subcontractors in my market:

    (A) Real company, one or more owners, they have facilities, building, trucks, equipment, probably stocks material, has a staff, employees, all insurance, takes good care of warranty. Of course owners do no physical work.

    (B) A one or two man operation, runs 1-3 crews each with 2-6 men, no facilities, works out of house, possibly does a little work themselves, but not much, carries basic insurance, no staff. Pays people as employees or subcontract.

    (C) A one person operation, with 1-3 people, works on the jobs themselves, no facilities, works out of house, carries basic insurance.

    Typically A will charge more than B, who charges more than C. Usually A will be the most professional, require less hand holding. Quality can be just as high for C as B or A, but typically not a s reliable.

    This is just a generalization, there are of course exceptions.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Posts
    64

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    My reason for starting this thread:
    As a specialty contractor who works a lot with GCs, I want to make sure that I give great service to great GCs for reasons of pride, professionalism and profit by weeding out slack habits that I might be guilty of. I realise it's more to the point to ask my current crop of GCs, which I do and will do more of, but I know there are common problems on all job-sites and your answers here are very informative and appreciated.
    I know some SCs who won't work with GCs. But it's been my experience that when you get to work with a general who's got his act together - scheduling, quick pay, job ready - theres nothing better. Well, almost...

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Martinez, California
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    14,827

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Peter:

    I have found that I have solved most of my frustrations with subcontractors by moving them to a T&M basis, I get much better service, they love to work for me now, and all of the arguments have stopped. Some subs want to go fixed price to make more money, but most prefer the guaranteed income of a T&M basis. I got the idea on these forums from Sonny by the way, his "team approach".
    “It is not an endlessly expanding list of rights —the “right” to an education; the “right” to health care; the “right” to food and housing. That is not freedom. That is dependency. Those are not rights. Those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
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    664

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Dick:

    How would you track all this. Seems like a real management headache to me. Do these guys keep time cards? Who checks on the accuracy of their reporting (i.e babysitter).

    Have you bid projects "lump sum" recently? If so, how do you handle the liability (your's) of T&M.

    With "cost plus", I can see this arrangement but with sealed bid or lump sum...you are really taking on a significant exposure. Do you use the same subs all the time?

    This sounds insane to me.

    Henry

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Martinez, California
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    14,827

    Default Re: Whats your frustrations about subcontracters?

    Henry:

    Times have changed, prior to 1978 subcontractors seemed to be very honest and reliable, but in '78 I saw a drastic difference which seemed to occur overnight (we had just had an explosion of demand and prices at that time). It seemed that most every subcontractor changed his attitude, and every job became a fight, fighting them to get them on the job on time, and fighting over extras once they did arrive. Buildings have become more complex, and at the same time architect's plans and specifications seem to have become more incomplete (CAD drawings?). Bids have only been a way of getting the subcontractor's foot in the door, and at times the extras have become more than the original contract amount. You can't control the extras if the work necessitated is not *all* shown on the plans or in the specifications, and the conflicts between the plans and specifications have become a nightmare as well. On top of this owners, architects, and I always want to make changes as the project evolves, and changes render the original bids mute, and the subcontractors can charge whatever they want for extras, you can't realistically bring in other subcontractors to do the extra work.

    On top of all of this, the insurance companies are drastically limiting the generals' abilities to subcontract work, I am now down to 25%, so I am using the fact that I only employ subcontractors on a T&M basis as a bargaining chip in my insurance negotiations (I am up for renewal in April so I am about to initiate that process this week, again). My argument with the underwriters is that by placing all subcontractors on a T&M basis I remove all incentive to rush the job and do faulty work which can lead to lawsuits. Last year I was not able to get the 25% increased (it actually went down from 40% the year before), but I did get a verbal that as long as all carpenters were on payroll that I could subcontract the rest. That makes me very uncomfortable, because if there ever was a claim, they could deny the claim on the basis that I subcontracted over the mandated maximum and deny that their agent ever made the verbal agreement.

    Since most contractors that I compete with do not carry insurance anymore because of the cost and the insurance limitations, I am pretty much able to write my own ticket with those customers who want an insured contractor, or must have an insured contractor, I don't compete at all with the uninsured contractors. I do some work cost plus and other work at fixed price, but my estimating system is simple now, since I figure 4 times the total of my subcontract work, there is plenty of cushion for paying whatever it takes to do the jobs right and make whatever changes necessary.

    I have developed a group of the same subcontractors that I rotate through the jobs, using only a small core of small insured, artisan contractors, like Allan's 'C" group in his tripartite breakdown. I have many subs that like it so much that they have told me that I am the only contractor they work for anymore, working mostly for homeowners, because the other generals screw them so much.

    As I said, times have changed, even on large commercial and industrial projects generals have become more construction managers and not contractors, they usually bid just their fees and run the rest at cost. In the '60s the Daily Pacific Builder and the Builders Exchange were full of schools, government buildings and other projects a general could bid, now they are full of just subcontract work to generals, generals who have negotiated the projects in advance and are taking bids. Building has become much more complex, with minority employment requirements and environmental regulations, the law has also evolved to the point that it's impossible to hold anyone to a contract price anyway, a subcontractor is always able to obtain the reasonable value of his services, no matter what he bids under the legal doctrine of "Quantum Meruit".

    Doing business this way has removed the adversarial aspect from it, and made life much more pleasant. We are now professionals, and other professionals don't just sit back, take bids, select the low bids, gamble, and try to make a living (or a lot of money as the case may be). Lawyers don't do it, doctors don't do it, architects don't do it, and the time has come that legitimate contractors don't do it.
    “It is not an endlessly expanding list of rights —the “right” to an education; the “right” to health care; the “right” to food and housing. That is not freedom. That is dependency. Those are not rights. Those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

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