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When you ask a contractor or tradesman a question you would expect a truthful and sincere answer. So why does it feel homeowners have to bring out the 500 watt light bulb and use interrogation tactics to get to the details and scope of work?

By Murray Wennerlund published 4-21-2014 updated 3-10-2023
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Over the last 6 years I have been trying different methods of screening construction trades that are needed to build a home. 

The state says simply to look for a licensed contractor and ask them for an estimate. That's not as easy as it sounds and when you start trying to filter through thousands of licensed contractors that actually aren't residential home builders but any variety of contractor you get the impress your state doesn't know how to do the simple task of matching a contractor with a task and then with a customer. 

In 3 years after filtering 465 companies out of over 4,000 the question remained, "Are you a contractor with experience in the field your license covers?"

Every licensed contractor answered "Yes". But after a little more research and study I found that most labor only contractors were actually labor brokers who collected workers to do jobs and didn't have the skillset to determine if the laborer's were actually knowledgeable. 

For example, a concrete contractor "A" was awarded the job. The concrete contractor awarded the job called several other concrete companies to find who might be available. Company "A" then hired company "B" who ended up on the job site and started the work. The following day, company "B" was replaced by company "C" because Company "A" only could hire company "B" for one day. After the 3rd day Company "A" was sending 1 and 2 different workers every day. Finally the job was completed and you noticed that it was 3 different groups of people but no one from Company "A" actually did the work. This is called a labor broker arrangement and often deals with other unskilled labor and always caused inconsistent quality results of the job.  

People have tried to keep up with the different workers arriving daily. Taking pictures of the different trucks, licenses, faces, etc. It's impossible to manage a project when you have different groups of people different days. 

Classical "Labor Broker" is similar to a temporary employment agency. The labor broker would hire workers then sell their services as employees to other employers that need the particular skillset. 

Typical "Labor Broker" in construction is setup the same way as the classical labor broker but with some minor changes. The labor broker doesn't hire the workers as employees but rather hires them as a contractor group or independent contractors not requesting business licenses, trade licenses, tax information or proof of insurance. They are simply a group of laborer's that have worked together doing specific tasks and are known privately within select labor broker communities.   

Because the main contractor that hires sub-contractors that are groups of labor workers no actually formed into a business entity it's easy for the main contractor to say it was the sub-contractors work not the main contractors work you are going to bring into question. The issue because a civil law suite fast when you work with labor brokers. The independent contractors will be nearly impossible to trace if something is wrong with your construction and the main contractor will simply say it was another sub-contractor and they were not responsible for checking licenses, skills, insurance, etc. 

Do you see how easy it is for labor brokers to take jobs and money from the homeowner builders and deliver a random product mostly of low quality? You'll hear them talk about how fast the crews are and you'll find like so many others that speed often sacrifices quality. 

If you are building your own home don't fall victim to the low standards and unskilled labor. 

The only way you can protect yourself is to pay for the jobs labor as you progress and after a couple of inspections for quality. Never let your labor broker purchase materials for you. Most times their construction discount isn't worth them having the right to order material that you can not physically account for.

So here's the plan, hire inspectors, hire a person to monitor the workers and determine their skill levels as they work. You'll be surprised how many carpenters they say they send you and how many don't own hammers. Or the concrete workers that can't mix grout. The only way to spot unskilled labor is to have someone watching and providing oversight on your behalf. 

I have recommended video cameras for many reasons and I use them to watch my blind sides of the build. When I notice a worker not providing the skills for the task they have been assigned I snap a picture and send it to the owners. Then the owners can ask the main contractor to replace the person and if needed have the task reworked so it's correct. You will find many unskilled workers will have someone attempt to cover over the mistakes.

At the end of each week you should have a list of items to address. Each item will be from mistakes or failure to follow design plans. This is the time you tell your contractor to make the corrections before proceeding. Some will tell you their rework carpenter will take care of it, but I can assure you, if you don't pay them until the mistakes are corrected the rework carpenter will be on-site the next day. 

It's time to start communicating and publishing your projects and the progress so you can find others willing to assist you. Looking over YouTube for professionals is a great learning experience but it doesn't end their. You need people that know code, can spot from a single picture mistakes and are willing to visit your construction site to give their opinion about the quality of the build. 

Your project can be your design or a purchased design and idea from someone else. The most important factor in building your new home or completing a project is to make sure it is safe, strong, functional and built as designed. 


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