Sunday, August 5, 2012

Taking ‘Con’ Out Of Contractor

I found this article on It's only tangentially related to Mike Holmes, but I thought I'd post it anyway, even though I have plenty of other stuff I could have posted. The reason why? When I read this article, it kind of made me think, "Hmmm... what would Mike think about that?" and it made me want to pick it apart and critique it bit by bit. The article is about a contractor from Hamilton, Ontario. His hero is Mike Holmes, and like many of the good guys out there, he wants to emulate the values and ethics that Mike represents. Read on and I'll give my two cents at the end...

Taking ‘con’ out of contractor

Bob Assadourian in his home shop where he films a contracting show for Cable 14.
Contractor Bob Assadourian in his home shop where he films a contracting show for Cable 14.
Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator
Bob Assadourian is hammering away at becoming Hamilton’s answer to Mike Holmes.
He shares the HGTV star’s mission to change the reputation of contractors who, as a group, suffer from the actions of the worst of the bunch.
“Everything from the Acropolis in Greece to this countertop we’ve built. But we need to clean up this industry,” says Assadourian, who owns Triple R Inc. and hosts a half-hour do-it-yourself show called Just Ask Bob on Cable 14.
His mantra is that homeowners can do a lot of repairs and renovations themselves with just a little bit of know-how. “Get off the couch,” he often cajoles his viewers before taking them through plumbing, carpentry, tiling and drywall tasks.
He talks in rapid fire and doesn’t mince words.
“Cut the contractor out of the equation. The overcharging and most times crooked contractor,” he told his viewers during season one.
Like Holmes, who built his TV career around fixing the shoddy work of contractors, Assadourian says he frequently gets calls from homeowners who have already paid for a poor job.
Some of them have rejected a quote from him in favour of someone offering to do it cheaper. The phonies can be very slick and persuasive, he says. Vulnerable homeowners, including seniors, are often sucked in.
“All my worst competitors are illegal. You don’t get that with doctors or lawyers or realtors. I have to pay tax and pay for my insurance and compete with the guy who isn’t … The criminals have a huge head start and then people seek them out.”
The worst he’s seen is a blind man who paid for exterior work and painting to his house with two separate contractors. Assadourian says not a bit of work was completed.
“You don’t get worse than that. I hope I never see worse than that.”
The answer is requiring a provincial licence for general contractors, he says.
Hamilton designates contractors with a master building licence or master contractor licence, but many other municipalities do not and many homeowners don’t know that licence exists.
It requires contractors to pass a police clearance, pay a fee, provide proof of liability and workplace insurance coverage and pass a two-hour exam on the Ontario Building Code.
Assadourian sits on the advisory board that grades those exams.
The city hires students in the summer who look up ads for contractors in online and newspaper classifieds and runs those names in the licence database. It’s a $5,000 fine for those caught working without a licence but contractors are often offered a chance to write the exam.
“If there are 30 writing the test, about 20 of them were caught,” says Assadourian. He urges anyone hiring a contractor for anything to call the city and find out if they are licensed. He also says that simply taking the lowest quote doesn’t ensure quality and fair work. Work with a contractor you feel comfortable with and who willingly offers up a written contract and copies of references.
Google the company name and research what your type of job entails, he says. Don’t treat your reno like a premade salad you dump on a plate, he advises. Get informed and get involved.
And if you are willing to work with a contractor taking cash and not charging tax, Assadourian says you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
“People are happy if I just show up on time. And then people are shocked by getting a quote. The bar is set really low.”
There is likely no way to ever know, but Assadourian estimates that 85 per cent of contractors working in the city don’t have a licence. They don’t advertise their work with lawn signs or truck decals. Once the money is exchanged, they can’t be found.
Assadourian grew up in a Greek immigrant family at Cannon and Victoria in Hamilton. There wasn’t much money to go around and a young Assadourian watched his father struggle to make repairs around the house.
“We had to fix things to make them last,” he says.
Assadourian didn’t study trades during his high school years at Sir John A. Macdonald. But it was clear he was born with the gift of chat and salesmanship. He got sales jobs after graduating but gravitated to trades.
Before launching his own firm in 2003, he worked for roofers, plumbers, electricians and landscapers. While he learned the skills, he also learned that he didn’t like how most contractors interacted with customers.
“I felt they didn’t talk to homeowners enough … They hated talking to homeowners, especially to women. I kept getting told to stop talking to the homeowners.”
The 41-year-old father of two young boys says his work has taken a toll on his body. He’s broken an arm and faces a second knee surgery. So he’s now focused on teaching, writing and broadcasting. He writes for the senior magazine Silver & Gold and writes and produces his Cable 14 show, which is filmed out of his Stoney Creek garage. It heads into its second season this fall.
He also co-authored a book with Trevor Bouchard called A Contractor You Can Bring Home to Mom, which aims to prepare a homeowner for dealing with a contractor. All proceeds go to the March of Dimes.
None of his side gigs, which pay him nothing, has come easily. He’s begged, pushed and cajoled, applying his considerable charm and passion. Now he is answering casting calls, hoping to land a specialty channel show.
His hero? That’s easy: Mike Holmes.
Contractors who trash talk him don’t want him revealing their shady secrets, says Assadourian, who doesn’t expect to win any popularity awards among some of his colleagues, either.

Mostly good, mostly good, but just a couple things. First, certainly one of the sharpest criticism Mike Holmes has received over the years is that he showcases the worst of the worst, and perhaps unwittingly implies that all contractors are bad, unless they're Mike. Now, I don't think that's anything close to what Mike actually believes, but if you're flipping through the channels and happen to land on one of Mike's shows for the first time, that might be the impression you walk away with, initially. When I read through this article, I kind of got that "me against everyone else/trust no one but me" vibe, almost a caricature of what Mike stands for, and it just didn't sit right with me.

Secondly, Assadourian says his hero is Mike Holmes, but has a do-it-yourself show, in which he, according to this article, takes his viewers through rather advanced tasks.

"His mantra is that homeowners can do a lot of repairs and renovations themselves with just a little bit of know-how. 'Get off the couch,' he often cajoles his viewers before taking them through plumbing, carpentry, tiling and drywall tasks."

This is something Mike would NEVER do. Mike, as a rule, is against do-it-yourself. He always encourages people to hire the right pros, and emphasizes constantly that most homeowners don't have enough knowledge to tackle major projects themselves. In fact, his entire show is a homage to havoc that amateur/dabbling electricians, carpenters, and plumbers can reek. If this guy really wants to be like Mike, he probably shouldn't be encouraging the average guy or gal off the street to try their hand at putting up drywall. After all, there's a reason why it's called a "skilled trade," because you actually have to learn the skills before you can do it.

“Cut the contractor out of the equation. The overcharging and most times crooked contractor,” he told his viewers during season one.
What??? Of course you shouldn't overpay, and any contractor who overcharges for his work probably deserves to be run out of town on a rail, but this statement is so broad, it kind of makes it sound like all contractors are crooked, so who really needs 'em? Mike certainly wouldn't agree with that sentiment. Finding the right contractor is essential, so essential in fact, that picking the wrong one could pretty much ruin your life. It's a process that takes time (rushing through this process is one of Mike's biggest renovation no-no's). But cutting the contractor out of the equation? I don't think so. And something tells me that this guy, being a contractor himself, would agree with Mike on this point as well. Perhaps he's being misquoted or taken out of context? It's possible.

The rest of the article goes on to point out how Assadourian cares about the homeowners who contract with him, and how he desires to show them respect and educate them. He laments the shoddy work of unskilled fly-by-night contractors who dupe unsuspecting homeowners and run off with their money. He also wants to raise the bar for the licencing of existing contractors in Canada, requiring exams, background checks, and steep fines for those who don't comply. Sounds good, although I can't really speak from a place of knowledge being that I am neither a contractor, nor Canadian. Much like Mike, Assadourian is philanthropically oriented, donating the proceeds from his book to charity. Perhaps because this article was rather poorly written, both grammatically and structurally, it kind of makes Assadourian sound like he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to the issue of contractors. For much of the article, he seems rather adamant that people hire the best contractor for the job, not just the one who's going to do it the cheapest.

This is all just my two cents. I don't speak for Mike in any way, I'm just comparing what I've learned from watching him on television to what someone who is proclaiming to emulate him has said. All in all, it sounds to me that Bob Assadourian is a pretty decent guy, and probably a good contractor worth his salt, and I wish him lots of luck in all his future endeavours.

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