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Ask the Builder: Before you sign a contract, pause and get advice

Tim Carter, Tribune Content Agency on

This is a milestone column for me. It’s my 1,500th weekly column.

For weeks leading up to this day, I’ve wanted to produce a column that will save you vast sums of money and prevent confrontations, sleepless nights and arguments. My goal is to empower you with all you need to know so that you have the same friendly relationship with your contractor for many years as I had with almost all of my clients.

Based on my five decades of work experience, I know you’re in one camp or the other. What are those camps or tribes? Ponder these true stories and decide for yourself.

Twenty years ago my future son-in-law came into my office as I was doing some HTML coding on my website. He asked about it and also wanted to know exactly what my Ask the Builder business was all about. One thing led to another and we started looking at my incoming email messages from homeowners like you.

This was the moment in time I discovered he was a brilliant young man. After looking at six emails in a row, he said: “Mr. Carter, you may not realize this, but you’re in the life-preserver business. Each one of those homeowners is yelling at the top of their lungs for you to throw them a life preserver. You’re not in the how-to-swim business as you just told me.”

He was referring to the fact that all my previous columns had been focused on sharing how to do this or that so that work is done the right way. Apparently, 95 percent of the people I was getting emails from weren’t paying attention to that messaging. They were drowning in DIY nightmares or jobs gone wrong with contractors. I’ve never forgotten that day, and I should have hung a life preserver on my office wall as a stark reminder.


To prove this point, just two weeks ago I received this dreadful email from one of my newsletter subscribers. Roy has read each of my weekly newsletters for over 10 years. He wrote:

“Thanks for sharing the story about Angel, who built a dormer with your advice. What an inspiration!

"I wish I had called you before letting a con man steal my money by not finishing my basement. The worst thing is the relationship and mental/psychological stress, not the money. Being taken advantage of when you 'should have known better’ and ‘how did you not ask for advice’ has taken a huge toll on me.

"The money is a factor, obviously, but it can be replaced. The others may take years, if ever, to overcome. Finding out from our local permits department that this happens EVERY DAY to people was of no relief. It especially hurt me knowing that I am a subscriber of yours and could have asked for guidance, but I fell into his trap and got tunnel vision.”


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