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0128 Hiring Contractors

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 128: Hiring Contractors

You’re listening to English as a Second Language Podcast episode 128. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

The script for today’s podcast and production is, as always, by Dr. Lucy Tse, and we thank her for help.

Today’s podcast is going to be about hiring a contractor – someone who comes and works on your house or your office to change it or to fix it. Let’s get started!

[start of story]

My company decided that it was time to remodel our offices and I was put in charge of getting bids from contractors. The trouble was, I had heard horror stories from friends who did remodeling and I was worried about finding a company that would get the job done on time and under budget.

No doubt there are many honest contractors, but some of the people I talked to had experiences with shady companies. Some of them weren't on the level about being able to meet deadlines and some tried to get away with murder when they billed for a job. It was important that I found a company that was on the up and up.

I got bids from six companies and checked all of their references. In the end, I picked a company that had done work for one of the biggest companies in the city. They seemed to be the best and our company hired them. I have my fingers crossed that everything will go smoothly.

[end of story]

Today we are talking about hiring a contractor. And the word “contractor” (contractors) is, comes from rather, the word contract, which is an agreement, of course, between two people. We would say an agreement between two “parties” (parties). It’s the same word as “parties” when you celebrate, but when we say there’s a “contract between two parties,” we mean either between two individuals or between two companies or groups of individuals. Well, a “contractor” – with an “or” at the end – is the name of the person who does the contract. And usually, when we talk about a “contractor,” we’re usually talking about someone who works independently. In fact, we use the term “independent contractor.” This is a person who works for him or herself, not for another company and you can hire this person just to do a specific job. And when they’re done with that job, you pay them, and that’s it. They go on to another job.

Well, in this story for this podcast, the person in the story says that “It was time to remodel our offices.” “To remodel” (remodel) means to fix, to change, to improve, to make better. And usually, we use this verb when we are talking about a house or a building where we are going to, for example, remodel our bathroom. That means we’re going to fix it, put in some new cabinets, put in a new bathtub – that would be remodeling. Well, in the story, this person is remodeling their office and he was put in charge of getting bids from contractors. “To be put in charge of” – that expression means that they were responsible for. So, if I say, “I’m putting you in charge of finding a new gardener for our garden,” – a “gardener” – someone who works in a garden – that means that you are responsible for that. It’s your job to do it. You must be the leader, the boss, for that particular task, that particular job.

A “bid” (bid) is when a company or an independent contractor says, “We can do that job for a thousand dollars.” In other words, a “bid” is an offer to do a particular job. And you get many different bids and then you find the bid that you like best. Well, he was supposed to get bids from contractors. The trouble was he had heard “horror stories” from friends who did remodeling. “Horror stories” (horror) – two words – “horror stories” – a “horror story” is normally a scary story like, for example, “Count Dracula the Vampire” is a horror story. In this case, however, when someone says, “I heard a horror story” they mean I heard a horrible experience. A person who had a very bad – it’s a very bad story of something that went wrong. And usually this is, for example, you’re talking about a vacation you took. And it was a really bad hotel. And you tell your friends that it’s a horrible hotel. They might say, “Oh, I heard horror stories about that hotel. I heard bad stories about it.”

Well, the person in our story here, which is not a horror story, was worried about finding a company that would “get the job done on time.” “The job” (job) here just means the specific task. A “task” (task) is the same as a small job. Well, “to get the job done on time,” means to get it done when it is scheduled to be done. So, if you promise to finish it by Friday, you must complete it by Friday to be “on time.” The other thing that he wanted is that the company would come in “under budget.” “Under budget” – “budget” (budget) – is how much money you are going to spend. So, when someone says they’re “under budget” – we often use the expression “to come in under budget” – means that it will cost less than they had planned. So, if the contract bid is for a thousand dollars, but it only cost $750, that contract came in under budget.

The story continues, “No doubt there are many honest contractors.” When someone uses the expression “no doubt,” they mean “of course.” “Of course, there are many honest contractors,” or “I believe that there are many honest contractors.” But some of the people he talked too had experiences with “shady companies.” “Shady” (shady) would be a company that isn’t honest. A dishonest company would be “shady.” They try to steal your money or they don’t finish what they say they are going to finish – that would be a “shady company.” In Britain, they would probably use a term like “dodgy” (dodgy). “Dodgy” – as the Brits – someone from Britain might say it – is the same as “shady” in American English. Well, some of these contractors, according to our story, weren’t “on the level” about being able to meet deadlines. “To be on the level” (level) – that means again, to be honest. So, if someone says, “I’m on the level with you,” they mean I am telling you the truth. I am being honest with you.

The companies, some of the companies, “try to get away with murder” when they bill for a job. The expression “To get away with murder” (murder) – literally, “murder” means when someone kills someone else. But the expression “To get away with murder” means that you did a terrible thing, a very bad thing but you get away, meaning you are able to do it without being punished or perhaps, without anyone knowing. So, “To get away with murder” is to do a very bad thing but you do not have to – you are not punished for it.

Well, “To bill for a job” (bill) means that you ask for money. So, “I’m going to bill you for something” means I’m going to send you a bill and tell you how much money you have to pay me. The company that the person in our story is looking for, he wants it to be “on the up and up.” The expression “on the up and up” – and “up” (up) – just like “up and down” – to be “on the up and up” means once again, the same as to be on the level. It means it’s an honest company, a company that tells the truth.

Well, the person here gets bids from six companies and checks all of their references. “To check” is the same as to investigate. And a “references” (references) – “references” are when the names of people or companies that you have done work for. So, if I am a contractor, and I worked for Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith, I would say, “Well, here are my references.” And I would give them the name and the telephone number of these people and you can call them and say, “Well did this person do a good job?” You have references for contract bids. You also have references for a job, of course, people that you have worked for.

Well, in the end, he decided to pick a company that had done work for one of the biggest companies in the city, or had worked for. And the person in our story says that he has his “fingers crossed” that everything would go smoothly. “To have your fingers crossed” (crossed) means that you are hoping, you are praying, you’re not sure and we use that expression when you don’t have any more control over what will happen. So, “I have my fingers crossed that it won’t rain today.” I can’t control that, but I am hoping I am lucky. And to cross your fingers, you take the first two fingers, of course, and you put the middle finger – the second finger, not counting your thumb – the second finger behind the first finger. And that is “crossing your fingers.” Well, for things to go “smoothly” means that they will go without problems – that the contractor won’t give the company any problem.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue or the story, rather, this time at a native rate of speech.

[start of story]

My company decided that it was time to remodel our offices and I was put in charge of getting bids from contractors. The trouble was, I had heard horror stories from friends who did remodeling and I was worried about finding a company that would get the job done on time and under budget.

No doubt there are many honest contractors, but some of the people I talked to had experiences with shady companies. Some of them weren't on the level about being able to meet deadlines and some tried to get away with murder when they billed for a job. It was important that I found a company that was on the up and up.

I got bids from six companies and checked all of their references. In the end, I picked a company that had done work for one of the biggest companies in the city. They seemed to be the best and our company hired them. I have my fingers crossed that everything will go smoothly.

[end of story]

Today’s script was written by Dr. Lucy Tse of the Center for Educational Development. Remember to visit our website to see a copy of the script. You can read along with the script by going to www.eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. This podcast is copyright 2006.

Glossary
to remodel – to change how a room or building looks; to change the structure or form of a building or part of a building

* The library remodeled the children’s book section to create a larger space that could fit more books.


to be put in charge of – to be given control of; to be given the work of planning or organizing something by someone else

* Diego’s father put him in charge of feeding and walking the dog while his father was away.


bid – the amount of money a person or company says it will charge to do work that the person or company wants to have done; an estimate of charges for work done

* The first company made a bid of $500, but the second company said that it could do the same work for $450.


horror story – a story about something very scary or very bad; a story, real or fake, that one tells someone else to warn them about a danger, threat, or something bad that could happen

* Tyesha’s friends had told her horror stories about how much having a bad tooth pulled would hurt, so she was afraid to go to the dentist.


on time – not late; completed by the day or time that something must be done by

* Gilbert did not give his homework to the teacher on time and received a poor grade.


under budget – for work to be completed at or below the expected amount of money

* The company had $8,000 to make repairs, but they were under budget and only used $7,500.


no doubt – without doubt, question, or disbelief; a statement one uses to say that one knows the truth about something

* When Olivia started coughing, her parents had no doubt that Olivia was sick.


shady – not able to be trusted; false, fake, or likely to make false statements or promises

* The shady man selling cars tried to sell a car that did not work well for more money than the car was worth.


on the level – honest about the things one says or promises; true and able to be trusted

* Luigi was on the level and told his manager the truth about when he could finish the project.


to get away with murder – to do something bad without getting punished; to do bad things without getting any negative results

* Sheri was a spoiled child who could scream in public, tell lies, and get away with murder.


to bill – to charge money for a product or service; to formally demand money for an item or for work done

* The repairman billed Emmett and Lydia after he finished fixing the washing machine.


on the up and up – honest about the things one says or does; able to be trusted

* The company did good work and was always on the up and up, so its customers were usually very happy.


to check – to take action to learn if something is true; to do something to find out if a person or company is good and honest

* The police checked the suspect’s story by asking for witnesses.


reference – someone who one talks to when learning if another person or company is good and honest

* Alden asked his professor to be one of his job references, since he had always done good work in the professor’s class.


fingers crossed – with hope that something has a good result; hoping for good luck

* Kina had her fingers crossed that she’ll pass her exam.


smoothly – well or good; without any problems

* The speech went smoothly, and the speaker said what needed to be said without forgetting anything or making any mistakes.

Culture Note
The Value of the White House

When the “economy” (how much money and things of value a country has) is poor, people “lament” (feel very sad about) the “drop” (decrease) in home prices. When the economy “falters” (loses its strength), the “housing market” (buying and selling of homes) is one of the main areas that “take a hit” (is affected in a negative way).

Although the “value” (what something is worth) of your home may have dropped during the poor economic times in the mid to late 2000’s, did it drop by $253 million?

In the years 2009 to 2012, the value of the “White House,” where the President of the United States and his or her family lives, dropped over 23% in value. Of course no one plans to put the White House “on the market” (offered for sale) at that time, but it was a sign of the decline in the “real estate” (buying of land, buildings, and homes) market that “plagued” (cause trouble for) the “recession” (period of economic problems) during this period.

The White House is a 132-room “mansion” (large, fancy house), with 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms on 18 “acres” (units of land) in the middle of the country’s “capital” (most important governmental city). It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. and it was built between 1792 and 1800. It has been the home of every U.S. president since John Adams, the second president from 1797 to 1801.