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When it comes to remodels/renovations, wherein the entire home is being completely gutted and everything is being redone, is this ever the type of project that contractors will turn down despite it being a stable and high-paying job? If contractors will turn down such a project, why is that? Does the homeowner having already picked out/purchased everything that they want for the project (flooring, cabinets, etc.) impact a contractors decision on whether or not to take the job? What can a homeowner do to find contractor who will take the job?

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Contractor here. My opinion only.

Contractors turn down jobs for a million reasons. Maybe they don't agree that your job is 'stable and high paying'. (Parenthetically, you can't know anything about their cost of doing business, so 'high paying' is an exceptionally variable metric.) Maybe they're busy. Maybe you ring alarm bells.

Speaking of alarm bells, the client buying everything sets off alarm bells for some contractors. I'm not saying any of the following applies to you, but here are some beliefs that some contractors hold:

  • materials are purchased by the client because the client is cheap. Or they want too big a project. Or they think they're being cheated by the contractor.
  • clients buy crappy materials at a big box store that are inconsistent and cause nothing but trouble during install. Install trouble costs time, which might or might not be paid for.
  • when the materials are a failure, the contractor shoulders the blame. (Even when it's clearly outlined otherwise in the contract.) The majority of contractors are in business to provide good service, have happy repeat customers, and get paid. Getting blamed for crappy materials gets in the way of all of that.
  • smart contractors buy materials to be on site at the right time. Neither too late (which causes schedule havoc) nor too early (which can cause materials to be in the way and/or get damaged). Some clients aren't responsive to those needs.
  • when too little of something has been purchased, the contractor has to urgently find more (sometimes paid, sometimes not paid), which again causes schedule havoc.
  • when the absolute wrong thing has arrived, a client has less leverage with a supplier to make it right, right away. Schedule havoc.
  • complications from materials cost money. Either it comes out of the contractor's pocket (bad for the contractor), or they have fraught conversations with the client where they ask for more money because 'x took double the anticipated time to install' (also bad for the contractor). Some contractors will price these complications in at the outset, which makes them seem markedly more expensive than their competing peers (also bad for the contractor).

I suspect that buying your own materials slices off the top tier of good contractors. They are busy and don't need the headache of a client that rings any alarm bells. You might be opening yourself up to the middle tier of slightly more desperate and slightly less experienced contractors that haven't experienced the trouble described above.

Rant over.

This might not apply to you if you've already purchased materials, but perhaps others will consider this. A good contractor will sit you down to talk about a project. They'll understand your budget and desires. If you are looking for something durable, the contractor will suggest quality materials that they've used in the past and are willing to stand behind. They probably have a relationship with the supplier, so hiccups in the supply chain can get fixed relatively effortlessly. If the project outstrips budget, the good contractor will try to change the scope of the project, rather than throw cheap crap at it to bring the price down. Yes, the contractor will mark up the materials -- that covers discussions with the client, ordering, delivery, checking for defects and dealing with any issues. Plus there will be some profit added. (Don't be scandalized! There's profit built into everything a contractor does. Profit is used to invest in the business, to reward risk, to ensure longterm viability, etc. It's a rare construction business that doesn't try to generate profit.)

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    The idea of "profit" - those same clients will happily charge their customers to make a profit, but become less understanding when a contractor they are employing wants to make a profit... But a good answer, nicely put. – Solar Mike May 3 at 6:17
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    Good answer buying materials is a signal that the customer is suspicious of contractors. Very few auto mechanic shops will install parts you purchase for your car and if they do there is no warranty. – Kris May 3 at 13:54
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    I agree. Being a general contractor means attempting to manage and accommodate hundreds of moving parts, including people, materials, jobsite conditions, and weather. Gross profit margins seem high to some, until all the various risks and unexpected costs are considered. The homeowner providing materials increases complexity and decreases markup. It's another liability for the contractor, which decreases the desirability of the project. – isherwood May 3 at 15:12
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    @Kris Absolutely true. Though I did have one fix (a broken side mirror) where I looked it up, found an after-market part that the repair shop didn't know was available and gave my guy the information. He ordered it and installed it and I saved a lot over the OEM cost. – manassehkatz-Reinstate Monica May 3 at 15:22
  • Started a well pump replacement project that I couldn't complete in time for happy family. Pump was around $550, the guy I hired wanted charge $1100 for the pump - the extra $550 being insurance to replace it for free - so I was told. – pathfinder May 3 at 18:27
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Generally construction contractors like to supply the goods from wholesale sources because they take a mark-up on it instead of the retailer getting the mark-up. That's because ultimately if something goes wrong, people tend to not want to pay the contractor even though it wasn't supplied by them and then the retailer argues that the contractor installed it wrong, so the contractor doesn't get paid for his work even though it may not be his problem. So because of this, many contractors will either refuse jobs where the owner buys the materials, or they take it and charge extra for the labor, plus everything gets paid for by the minute. Allowing a contractor to supply the materials gives you "one throat to choke". As a gross general rule, a contractor marks up the wholesale cost from 30-50% to help offset contingencies. A retailer mark up starts at 100% (retail = 2x wholesale), then if they "discount it" for you, they knock off 25-40% to make you feel good, but they still get more than the contractor would have and have less risk.

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    Most contractors like to purchase from X wholesale supplier because they know that if parts are missing they will be supplied, if parts are damaged they will be replaced, because the parts fit together correctly, not always or only due to the mark-up. – Solar Mike May 3 at 6:15
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    Much the same as I (computer consultant) will work with whatever my customers supply within reason. If they want me to buy the stuff (and mark it up), I'm fine with that. Or they can get it themselves but I tell them where to get it. Only one local computer retailer that I'll recommend (and it's initials are not BB) because I know they stand behind everything they sell and will replace broken & missing parts, etc. – manassehkatz-Reinstate Monica May 3 at 14:41
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You may be able to hire a consultant/advisor to guide you in preparing a scope and hiring your own subs. The problem with this is keeping all the subs on schedule, all you need is one to not show and then every sub needs to be rescheduled. If you're not in a rush this might be an option. What the others didn't mention is they have a lot of leverage over their subs to "force" them to be on time. Their subs get work from them and know that if they screw up they won't get any more work from them.

  • True. Part of my family's business before the Great Recession was a be-your-own-contractor consultancy. They aren't common, but they're around. – isherwood May 3 at 15:08

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