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Ask The Doc A Question!

Question:

Hi Doc,

I'm interested in the learning how to build my business as a hardwood floor contractor. Thanks Doc!

Brent

Answer:



Dear Brent

The key to writing a good job contact is to keep it simple. But you do have to have the essential information. Make sure you have your full company name, address and phone number at the top. And date every quotation, and describe the name and address of the owner of the building. Find out right off it this is the owner that you are giving the quote to. If it is a rental unit, you should suggest to the tenant that they ought to get the owner's written permission to do work on the floor.

And at this point if you do find out that you will be contracting for a tenant or worse yet a contractor, you should beware. If you go ahead and do this job and the non-owning contractee doesn't want to pay, you may have some difficulty with enforcing the contract. The mechanics lien act in your province will protect you to some degree, but without the owner of the building involved, you may have some difficulty collecting your contract.

This document should be called a quotation. It doesn't become a contact in any case until the owner of the property has agreed have you do the job. Don't be presumptuous.

Describe the scope of the job like this: To sand and finish all main floor hardwood floors with 3 coats of polyurethane.

If you know that you are up against stiff competition for this job, describe the job with much more detail like: To sand hardwood floor with coarse, medium and fine grits sandpaper, on drum sander, and edge three times, with final edging done with a vibrator to eliminate edger marks. Then finish the floor with 3 separate coats of oil based polyurethane scuffing and cleaning between coats to eliminate bubbles and nibs. Specify a satin or gloss finish. Specify the stain (if any) brand that you will use.

The point is that this detailed approach is for the very wary buyer, who want to know why he should hire you and not just any floor sander in the phone book. You may have a specific and unique way of sanding and finishing a floor, and you should put this into the quotation. Just be sure to do what you say.

With a new floor installation, you must see the subfloor before you can say that the type of floor your potential client wants is suitable. You are the expert, so there is no defense in any court that will stand when you installed a floor incorrectly, no matter what the reason. If you see an inadequate or bumpy subfloor, you should walk away from such jobs, if the client doesn't want to pay for some remedial work on the surface before the installation begins. You will be blamed for a squeaky, bumpy floor, if you do not. And it does no good at all to put riders in the quote absolving yourself from responsibility. These never hold up in court, trust me on this. I've seen it happen. Same goes for installing a new floor when you know that it is too early in the construction schedule. Don't get bullied by home owners and contractors to install a nice kiln dried floor in a damp unheated construction site. When this floor shrinks and gaps in the next heating season, guess who they will call to fix it? And guess who is liable? You beccha you are. Don't do jobs with materials and methods you know are not sound, the most profitless job is the one you have to do twice. So after you have described the job, quote the price including all taxes. Even if you are quoting for repairs, some provincial laws now state that the final bill has to with 10% of the quote price. So even shimming, leveling or repairing a subfloor has to have a price. You might state that the carpet has to be removed before you can quote on any subfloor work. But any repairs to an existing floor, be sure to describe each and every area that they want repaired. This does two things: you will not end up doing extra work you hadn't counted on for nothing, the quote would have laid out the exact scope of the repair work. And also when you do get to the job, sometime weeks later, the quote will make sure that you have repaired everything that you said you would. I sometimes state that the floor needs repairing in six areas, with a brief description of each area, and how the repair is to be done. Staggered in or not.

When you are describing a new floor be sure to name the species, grade and size. And which direction the wood is to be laid. I usually put it like this : Supply and install 3 1/4" select and better red oak strip floor in living and dining room. Sand and finish same floor with 3 coats of polyurethane. Supply and install oak quarter round and any need transition strips finished the same as the floor.

What you don't want in any quotation is any exemption of liability. You don't want to say that any damage to paint or wallpaper will not be your responsibility. Because I assure you, it will be, no matter what you say in your quotation.

As far as warranties, never give a warranty over one year. And this would apply only to new floors. The reason is simple. The floor will experience all seasons. And as long as you have installed the floor over a good sound subfloor, and finished it well, everything will be fine as long as your clients know how to take care of the wood and the finish. You could direct them to my floor maintenance article, and they should know that for a wood floor boards to remain tight they will need to control the humidity range in their house. Now don't tell them this after they have paid you, as they may see this as you building some limitations to the warranty. Instead state this right up front in a discussion, as to what they expect from a wood floor, and the hygroscopic nature of wood. Try to say wood floor, not hardwood floors. This terminology gives people the correct idea about what they are about to buy. It is not some indestructible factory produced floor. It is a wood floor. They will treat if better knowing this, and you will never have a call back, if you took the time to educate them first.

Oh, and prefinished floor warranties should STAY with the company that made this floor. Be sure to show your client the written factory warranty when you do the quote. Don't show it to them as you are installing it, they may be somewhat miffed when they see all the exceptions, and feel misled by you when they thought you would be standing behind the warranty. Who knows if these companies will be in business 25 years from now, look what has happened to Armstrong. You can and should warranty any defects in your installation of a prefinished floor for a year, and this is standard.

Lastly state in the quote just how long this price is good for, and sign your name to it. Do not pressure anyone into deciding that instant to choose you. Consumer laws in most provinces have a cooling off period in any case, so it's best to let them decide in their own. On the back you should have a list of your many references. And you might want to ask for a 10% deposit for a guaranteed start date. You will have to start then, or return the deposit if you fail to start on this date.

Once they have decided on you, give then an accurate and honest idea of how long the job will take, before they can use the floor again. Curing times of the finish should be mentioned, rugs replaced on the wood, and things like that. Keep to the schedule, knock yourself out to stay on schedule. If you start an oil poly job in the middle of a hot and humid summer without AC, you should warn of possible delays. And if you have damaged any paint or walls, tell your clients the day it happened, and what you can do to fix it. Tell them up front if they should expect any minor paint damage and exactly where and why, like at the bottom of quarter round moulding. But like I said tell then this up front in person, don't write it into the contract. Trust people to be honest, and they will never let your down. But be honest with them at all times. The contract is secondary to this.

You may also find these articles helpful:

1. For Contractors Only: How To Get Those Better Jobs, At The Prices You Want

2. Plank Floor: What Special Considerations This Type Of Floor Raises

3. Plank And Strip Flooring

4. How To Sand Wood Floors Without Leaving Machine Marks

5. How To Take Care Of Your Health And Safety when Installing, Finishing, Repairing or Cleaning your wood floors