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Creating a San Diego High Rise Paradise – Finding the Right Contractor

Every time you renovate, or even when you start with a clean slate as I did at Pacific Gate here in downtown San Diego, you will be faced with the challenge of finding the right contractor to make the changes that one might desire. At first glance this doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming prospect, however after years of experience I have found that contractors are in a league of their own. Frankly stated, I have never used the same contractor twice, having to start from scratch on each renovation I’ve done. The problem has come down to one thing – communication. They have done things I haven’t requested, then ignored items initially agreed upon after having accepted the bid. They say they are coming on Wednesday then don’t show up until the following Monday. Also, as has happened on almost every project I’ve done, after the initial enthusiasm of starting the job wanes (usually after the first month), their presence becomes less and less, then act as if they are doing you a favor by actually showing up.

It can be exasperating, but not impossible and in the end, successful. To help you avoid any and all of the above, here are a few tips that may guide you in finding just the right contractor for your job.

Building Referrals

In high-rises and multi-family complexes, the building manager usually keeps a list of contractors who have worked in the building. This is a great place to start as there will be a track record of their work, they know the building well, are familiar with the rules and regulations and know the staff. Additionally, if you’re on friendly terms with your neighbors, you can take a look at their work before you hire and hear first hand from a client the good, bad and potential ugly. A definite plus.

Bids, Bids and more Bids

The general rule of thumb is to interview 3 contractors thus, 3 bids. In a perfect world this would be the case, but unfortunately it’s not so simple. Out of the initial three contractors I contacted for my job here in San Diego, only one came back with a bid, and was met with dead silence from the other two. The fourth I interviewed came back with a bid nearly four times what the first contractor gave me, and two more sent me a bid but never called me back after when I attempted to call them to discuss the numbers.

Finally, I met with contractor number 7, Bob, who had done a home in Electra here in downtown San Diego, but was told there were too many moving parts to the deal he didn’t know how to bid it without overbidding it. He instead sent me a price list of what different trades cost per hour, which broke it up nicely to where each aspect of the project from the electrician to demo made sense. We went back and forth over the course of a week discussing the various moving parts including labor and materials rates until I had something of a quote.

Bob is the one I picked, mainly because I was able to see the quality of his work in a nearby high-rise, as well as his quote which, broken down, made sense.

In a nutshell, here’s a quick guideline as to how to choose the best contractor for your high-rise home:

1. Ask your building as well as the management in nearby buildings.
2. One out of three will give you a quote, so plan on calling 6-10 general contractors.
3. Be warned – do not call three and wait for responses. Call as many as you can right off the bat.
4. Make sure you tell each contractor you meet the exact same thing. Map out the scope of work on paper and/or have blueprints ready, and
always tell each contractor the same thing.
5. Sometimes they will make suggestions or notice things that won’t work or work better another way. As professionals, take their advice,
or work with them to find a happy medium.
6. Tour past jobs to see their work product.

I hope this helps give you a starting (and hopefully ending) point when starting a renovation or new construction project. In this good market where construction is booming, know that questionable or lack of communication happens to everyone, but in the end it’s worth it to make your high-rise your home.

Max Mervis is one of San Diego’s premiere condominium and town-home authorities, specializing in the Downtown neighborhoods. As the exclusive agent for, Max has affiliated himself with top caliber agents, nationwide, who are focused on and committed to the condominium market.