A Woman’s Perspective on Choosing a Contractor

May 10, 2010 | by Kim (email) |

Fred and I are ramping up for a summer of major renovations on the main floor of our house, and step one involves opening up a load-bearing wall between our family and dining rooms.

While we were happy to remove all of the other walls we disliked on that floor ourselves, we decided to spring for a pro with this one.  Because IF our kids’ bedrooms should happen to fall downstairs, we want some insurance behind that “whoops.”  So I’ve spent the last week and a half bringing in contractors to survey the job and submit bids.

Standard Considerations

Of course I’m looking at pricing, timeliness of service, and good references as would any savvy homeowner.  But it occurred to me part way through the bid-gathering process that I have a few extra measures I take as a woman asking for contract services.  So here they are:

Additional Considerations:

  • Respectfulness – I used to find my contractors.  So when they received my request online, they could see my name with everything else.  And “Kim” tends to be a female name.  There was plenty of time — before calling me — for someone to work through his ideas about woman homeowners and get his game-voice on anyway before dialing my number.  So when I got a phone call from one of the contractors, and he proceeded to talk to me like I was in pre-school, I knew right away I wasn’t going to be hiring him.  Did I still have him come out and do the bidding?  Yes, I did.  Because I wanted to have multiple bid-prices to compare.  But knowing that I was going to be the one working with whoever got the job, I wasn’t about to hire someone who was condescending to me in my own home.
  • Personal Safety – I’m sure I don’t always catch it, but when I can tell a potential service provider is looking at me inappropriately, that sends up huge red flags.  I don’t know what storyline he may be playing in his head, but I really do just want the wall removed.  Then I’ll pay you, and you leave.  If you give me the creeps with your wandering eyes, you won’t get the job.  Period.
  • Punchlists and Follow Up – This one’s not unique to me; Fred listens for it, too.  How does a contractor describe the follow-up process?  If we find something wrong a few days after the work is completed and all money has exchanged hands, how easy will it be to get that item corrected?  How long will it take to get someone back out?  I want to work with someone who has the long-term vision to implement real customer satisfaction skills.  If I like you, I will refer others to you and I will hire you again.  So even if it’s a bummer that you have to come out after you crossed my job off your “To Do” list, I do expect you to come back.  It’ll be worth it in all the other business I’ll then send your way.  I don’t expect perfection, I’m not upset by a mistake (within reason), and I will be completely satisfied with reasonable efforts to make everything right, even if it takes a second try.
  • Employee Treatment – This one’s not always possible to catch during the bidding process, but I do listen to how a GC describes his employees and sub-contractors.  Is he respectful of them?  My kids and I are home during the day, and we don’t want to hear someone getting chewed out, insulted or abused.  And I don’t want to give our money to someone who treats people that way.
  • Clean (Work Space … and Mouth) – And about those kids … I worked with contractors and construction workers for 6 years before staying home with the kids.  I know the level to which conversation can sink at times and just how physically dirty a work site can get.  However, I do appreciate a solid attemp at daily cleanup while someone is working in our house, because I do want our kids to be safe in their own home, and I do NOT want them repeating awful things at their friends’ houses.  Or Sunday School.  Please.
  • Friendliness – I wouldn’t have put this on this list except that knowing me, I don’t think I could actually bring myself to hire someone who wasn’t friendly.  Something about having someone moving around the house in total silence bothers me.  I don’t want to slow down your work, and I am way too busy to sit and chat your ears off while you work, I promise.  But a smile and a “good morning” and any incidental conversation that comes up in the process of doing the job makes having a stranger in my house for days seem a little less strange.   Can’t think of anything else to say?  Tell me my kids are funny/smart/active.  I like them hearing nice things about themselves, and it will set a great tone for the day.

Well that’s my list, off the cuff.  What do you think?  Are there any traits I’ve missed that are deal-makers/breakers for you, when you’re looking to hire a contractor?

5 Responses
  1. Nicole says:

    Thank you for the great post. My husband has his own home improvement company in the Baltimore area, and he’s always looking for input on what potential customers look for in a contractor. I’ll be sure to forward this on to him!

  2. Marjorie says:

    Great post. I am in a virtually identical situation as we are trying to find a contractor to widen an opening in a load bearing wall between our kitchen and dining room and take out a non load bearing wall as well. I had someone come out a week ago Friday to look at the wall and give me some possible kitchen configurations and I have not heard back. It is very frustrating as it is not a big job and many contractors aren’t interested in that type of work. Good luck!

  3. Beth says:

    Hey Kim,
    We used recently and I was pleasantly surprised at how fast the contractors responded to our requests for bids. Maybe it’s the current economic environment?
    I also had an experience similar to Marjorie when a contractor came out for an estimate, spent about an hour with us discussing everything, but never sent us a bid. I’m wondering if there’s a point in the estimate when they decide they don’t want to work with YOU. That would be an interesting article… 🙂

  4. Kim says:

    Now we just need to get Nicole’s husband to write Beth’s article idea.

  5. Joanne says:

    Thanks for this post. It gives me real guidelines to think about and evaluate. Not just a rehash of the standard get multiple estimates, references, etc,etc!

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