How to Make Sure Contractors Will Love You

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed what constitutes “model behavior” for contractors.   See, “Contractor Etiquette“; “Giving Good Invoice.”

So, it only seems fair to spell out the equivalent standards for being a good client.

Do the following (or most of them), and I promise you’ll get terrific service ever after.

One.  Be flexible about scheduling — especially if you have a small project.  

Obviously, if you have a plumbing leak, three weeks out isn’t an option. 

However, most work isn’t an emergency, and clients have some discretion about scheduling it.

Two.  Clearly describe the work to be performed. 

If the scope of the job is undefined — the contractor needs to do “exploratory surgery” to find a problem — be available for consultation (see also, Fifth Commandment).

Three.   Agree on how much the job will cost.

The two usual choices are by bid/quote, and time and materials.

The former is typically higher, but provides the client with more certainty (and the ability to shop around). 

Time and materials is more appropriate for a more open-ended project and/or after you know the contractor.

Four.  Provide easy access to your home, and a clean, clear work area.

The reciprocal to expecting contractors to be meticulous about clean-up is starting out that way.

That means a minimum of kids’ toys, off-leash pets, and general debris in the effected part of the house — plus a clear shot at your driveway and garage entry if the contractor is delivering lots of materials.

Contractor Access

It also means leaving out a lockbox with a key in it to access your home. 

Yeah, that’s a risk, but for a bigger project spanning more than a few days, what other option is there if one or both owners work?

If you don’t trust the contractor enough to do that — don’t use them.  

Five.  Check-in. 

Especially at the outset of the job, be available for any questions the contractor(s) may have, and to discuss any mid-course corrections, if needed.

Six.  Respect their time.

Presumably, you’re not around when most of the work is being done (per Commandment #4). 

When you are, some social chitchat is perfectly appropriate, but long-winded discourses about sports, politics, etc. aren’t.

Since you’re the boss, some contractors won’t necessarily tell you that you need to stop talking so they can get back to work.

So, don’t put them in that position.

Of course, if they’re on the clock, they may be perfectly happy to shoot the breeze!

Corollary to Commandment #6:  getting 3 bids for a big job is fine (and prudent). 

Getting 5, 6, or more is wasting people’s time (ditto for interviewing Realtors).

Seven.  Provide feedback. 

Obviously, most contractors would rather receive positive than negative feedback.

However, negative feedback is much preferred to none at all.

The contractor can’t respond to a problem if they don’t know about it.

Eight.  Thank them.

Good contractors are busy, and can decide who they want to work for.

If you appreciate their efforts, they’ll want to work for you.

Nine.  Pay them punctually.

Compliments don’t go very far if you pay the contractor’s invoice three months late.

Contractors hate doing bookkeeping and having to be bill collectors — so don’t make them.

Paying punctually in a tough economy, when it takes longer to collect on things generally, is especially appreciated.

Ten.  Tell other people about them. 

That means not just referring them, but “liking” them online, writing a positive review on Angie’s List, Yelp!, etc.

Doesn’t that increase the risk they’ll get too busy to take care of you?

Probably not.

For one thing, good contractors keep track of where their business is coming from, and take especially good care of clients who frequently refer them.

For another, exactly how much of your contractor’s time do you need, anyway?

I refer a lot of home inspection business, but to make a living, the home inspectors I know need a lot more clients than just me.

So, I’m more than happy to share.

Just don’t ask me for the name of our favorite babysitter.

P.S.:  What does it say about someone when all their contractor relationships seem to be short-lived?

A certain Realtor in my office has been in real estate 15 years . . . yet never seems to have the name of a good inspector, handyman, plumber, etc.

Hmmm . .  .

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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