Q&A: Avi Zikry, the contractor's contractor, on renovations
Avi Zikry, 27, is co-founder and CEO of ClickandImprove.com, a year-old Long Island City -based website that allows home and apartment owners to way to purchase guaranteed home improvement and repair services over the internet. He lives in the West Village with brother, Eli, and his baby Rottweiler, Marly.
Q What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A I'd like to see NYC's permit process for renovations streamlined and modernized and available to people online. If you’re an electrician, you can quickly get a permit on line, but if you’re a home owner and want to do an alteration or renovation, you have to have a registered architect or professional engineer. They have to go to the Buildings Department to show their plans, then go to the cashier - it can take days. Why can’t the plans of the architect or engineer be reviewed on line and why can’t they be allowed to pay on line? It would make everyone’s life easier, save a ton of money, and give the economy a much-needed boost because work would proceed much more efficiently.
Q Is it tough starting a new business in NYC?
A Not really. Getting a Department of Consumer Affairs License is very straightforward. In Nassau County, they want to know who your grandfather is. NYC is pretty quick compared to Westchester and Suffolk.
Q Contractors generate so many complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs. What advice can you give to homeowners for avoiding heartache?
A A lot of professionals want a deposit, then they leave the job before it’s completed to look for a second job. At the very least, you want to check out their licenses and Better Business Bureau licenses. You want to check out their references. Look at how long someone has been in business, and look at the jobs they’ve competed. Look at how they do the little things, like installing tile: That tells you how they do the big things. There’s no guarantee of a good outcome, but if you do that, you’ve mitigated the odds. Checking someone out before you hire them is so important. It’s why we started. It’s human nature to want to save money, but if you have a whole bunch of quotes for $15,000 to $20,000 and someone else gives you a bid for $2,000 - well, that’s suspicious. If you meet the person and they yes you to death, you should look out. Something always comes up on a job, but it’s how they handle what comes up that makes the difference. We work with 120 contractors and we’re meticulous in our vetting. We ask for their Social Security numbers and if they hesitate, we don’t take them, because we use them to do personal credit reports. We don’t want people with bankruptcies or a history of not paying people. Good credit is important in home improvement because if a contractor buys cabinets in the customer’s name and doesn't pay for them, the cabinet maker can put a mechanics lien on the customer’s apartment.
Q People really delude themselves when they’re desperate to save money or time.
A Desperate is the word for it. Desperation clouds everything! I learned the hard way about checking references. I have a building in the South Bronx and had a drug dealer I had to evict. I wanted get someone into that apartment really quickly and didn’t check them out. After a year and a half in court, I got one month’s rent. Now, I’d rather keep an apartment vacant for a year until I find someone with good references.
Q You have every weekend booked taking clickandimprove.com to street fairs all over the city to up your firm’s visibility. Don’t you hate those things?
A I hate them as a resident, but I love their food! Sausage and peppers! I always get it - and I’m Jewish. It’s just so good. I’ll be honest: San Gennaro is my favorite. I really like the flea markets, too. I bought a piece of art at the street fair off Hudson and Bleecker and two years ago and I still have it. They wanted $400 for it; I got it for $200.
Q Who inspires you in New York?
A Tamir Sapir - the billionaire cabdriver! He was a cabdriver in New York (who started an electronics store and invested in real estate) and just bought that mansion across from The Met. He’s from Russia, I think. I like him because he did everything necessary to get where he was - he didn’t have anything handed to him. And he’s such a New York success story - you don’t hear about people like him anywhere else.
Q Do you think the success of businesses like yours heralds the end of bricks and mortar stores?
A I order my food from Fresh Direct and Seamless. I order my clothes and even my furniture on line. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and they all have money back guarantees. I’m in the office from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and don’t have time to shop. The reason my partners and I started our business is because we figured it would be cool if you could create construction to order in a relatable way. For the contractors, it weeds out the interested people from those who waste everyone’s time. But people will always want those (in person shopping) experiences they’re fond of. (The difficulties of brick and mortar stores) is a shame, but also an opportunity: New York is a revolving door. We’re creating a portal for the new people who only want to use their computer (and wouldn’t otherwise undertake a renovation).
Q You can’t be on line 24/7. What are your favorite hang outs?
A The Jane Hotel. It has a unique feel, and it’s close to my house. Right now I’m just going to home shows and street fairs. I loved The Body Exhibition at South Street Seaport.
Q You have a spare hour: What do you do with it?
A I’d love to play soccer – get a pick up game on Chelsea Pier.
Q What do you know about NYC that no one else does?
A My brother and I have a truck and a car and we don’t have a problem with parking. In the West Village, we have alternate side parking from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I will rotate for an hour because I refuse to pay $50 for parking. I just refuse. I wait for people to move. What else am I going to do - watch TV? I catch up on my calls while I’m waiting. The nightmare is the weekends, though.
I also know to stay away from 34th St. and Times Square as a driver. I don’t drive any where near them. To get to Queens, I take First Ave but the hospital always has traffic, so I take a left on Third Ave. at 14th St., then a right on 38th. Why 38th? Because on 36th, you still get Queens Tunnel Traffic. Then I make a left on First Ave. and take the 59th St. Bridge in the outer lane to avoid all the trucks.