This week I received two, count them TWO, stories of tile malpractice. Both stories pertaining to how they thought they were hiring the right person, only to find the work low quality, esthetically and mechanically, when it was completed. I hate to say that both callers were victims because they did not perform due diligence in the recruiting process, but it’s the truth.
I have so much sympathy for these people because we’ve all felt the pain involved in being ripped off. The worst part is that the person doing the ripping is usually protected and the consumers will never see their money again. Small claims, crying, hitting the wall…It’s over once the money hits the contractor’s bank account.
When you are searching for a tile contractor, all the hassle, the pain of losing and not being happy is avoidable if you follow these simple steps. Be aware of these few key components while hiring a contractor:
1. Never make the decision based on price alone.
This is a hard one because prices in the tile industry vary, but a good rule of thumb is, if one bid is double the other bids, wouldn’t it be smart to ask, why? Tile is ultimately a luxury and not everyone can afford to have it. Many companies will cut corners to get their pricing to a point where people who shouldn’t have tile can afford it. That is the company you do not want to hire. With tile there are MANY corners that can be cut to reduce the overall cost… but cutting those corners will also decrease the overall QUALITY. Continue to save your money and pay to have it done correctly. There’s no honor in buying a tile floor or shower that will fail in 5 years because it wasn’t installed correctly. My favorite saying is, ‘if you think we’re expensive, try paying twice.’ You are sitting there reading this and thinking, “Gosh, this guy is just trying to scare me, that never happens.” In Atlanta, GA I get multiple calls a month from people seeking to fix shoddy work. There is no repairing horrible tile work, I always tell them, it must be completely redone. Again, high-end tile work is expensive, there is no way around it. Another favorite line of mine, by John Ruskin the prominent English social thinker and philanthropist:
"There's hardly anything in this world that a man can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper & the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey"
2. Not performing due diligence in researching the potential hire.
This is the number one reason people get had. It is very common for people to hire a contractor based on recommendations alone. This has been a traditional method and often it’s a great way to find someone to do work in your home. But people, IT’S 2017! If the contractor you’re hiring doesn’t have an extensive UP TO DATE portfolio of his work, multiple great reviews, if he doesn’t provide references…you’re taking a risk going from anecdotal evidence from one friend. Look at my site…I have videos, blog posts, pictures, descriptions, I offer do it yourself content and reviews. If the person you’re hiring doesn’t have that, keep it moving! Not to mention, is the person a certified tile installer? Are they a member of the NTCA? Their local chamber of commerce? We are, and that is all to instill confidence in our customers. How many jobs have I booked where the homeowner never asks for my Insurance or workman’s comp information? My licensing? If you don’t cover those bases, you’re in trouble!
3. Hiring a “handyman” a general contractor or a non-specialist.
Oh, this is a great one! Jason recently went to see a steam shower that was hacked so badly and of course it was beyond repair. When asking where the man found his tile guy, he told Jason that it was his plumber who did the tile work! O yeah, the plumber said he could handle tiling a steam shower, maybe the most technical application in the tile business. This is where the old saying, “Jack of all trades-Master of none” comes into play. I have never met a person who was GREAT at everything, especially a highly specialized trade like tile. We do this trade day in and day out and we’re STILL learning! If you’re hiring a non- specialist to install a shower or a technical tile project…you are in for a rude awakening.
4. Putting your trust in a general contractor.
Ok, time to beat up on the “builder guy” who can handle every aspect of building a house and knows someone who can competently perform every trade…YEAH, RIGHT! Those people are out there, I’d say one out of every 25 builders are great. That’s low. The guy you’re talking to right now probably talks a big talk, but once he books your job he’ll be calling around asking me, without meeting me, if I’ll come to your house and tile your bathroom on a weeks’ notice. You think I’m messing with you? No, not at all. Builders regularly call me to complete tile work on short notice. You think they’ve had time to vet me? On top of that, builders are always trying to increase their profit, so they’ll charge you $10 dollars a square foot for the tile work, and give the tile guy $2 and make him provide the thin set. What kind of quality do you think said tile guy is going to produce? He doesn’t know you, He doesn’t care…He’s pushing for volume. How many jobs can I pound out in a week to feed my family? You can have volume or quality, you can’t have both! So you potentially found a good general contractor…. ask to meet his crews (the guys who will be doing the work) and see their credentials… …don’t just take his word for it. How long has he been working with his crews? Ask the contractor how much time he will spend on your job site making sure things turn out the way they should…the “brief case builder” type is RAMPANT in this business. BEWARE!
5. Hiring based on “cult of personality” instead of credentials and certifications.
Another no-no. You call up your list of tile guys and you meet with 4 of them and end up hiring the one with the quarter back good looks, the bright smile, the lifted truck. He says all the right things and gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. He hunts, he loves the same football team as you, he goes to your church…and you trust him based on emotions. I get it, it’s easy to work with someone you like personally…but the big question is, does this person know ANYTHING about tile!? I call this mistake hiring based on ‘cult of personality’ I think I originated the term…I see it all the time and it’s a mistake. You should hire based on credentials, certifications, portfolios and if you like the guy, all the better. With that being said, some of the best builders I’ve known are curmudgeons, yeah they’re a bit salty at times, but that is because they spent their time mastering their trade instead of developing a ‘golden tongue’ with no substance to back it up.
6. The assumption that all trades are the same and tile installation is simply ‘labor’.
The tile guy is king. Tile is an extremely specialized trade and the amount of knowledge and experience involved is palpable. It’s not a trade that anyone with shoulders and feet can perform. You must be an artist and a worker combined to produce high end work. It’s not like digging a ditch or cleaning a stall, you must know what you are doing. The more credentials you can see from your potential tile installer, the better. If you can go on his Instagram account or Twitter and see that he is constantly training and learning, even better. If the person takes pictures of his work, that means he takes pride in what he does. Limit your assumptions. Great, your dad was an electrician…you have a basic knowledge of construction, awesome. That doesn’t mean you know the first thing about setting tile. Your house will be bought or sold based upon the tile work…So look at the person you’re thinking of hiring and ask yourself, “Will this person go the extra mile for me?”
Lot of tough love in this post, but it pays to be cautious about who you hire to come into your home and perform the work that amounts to a major investment. These six items are a warning seen through the eyes of this tile installer…I’m sure there’s more, but these are the common ones that run through my head when I field the call from a frustrated homeowner. I hope they’re helpful and don’t forget…Tile is permanent!