Landlording & Rental Properties

Communicating with Contractors: How to Start the Relationship Off Right

Expertise: Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate News & Commentary, Real Estate Marketing, Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
106 Articles Written

Like most property management companies in our area, we don’t have a stable of permanent contractors that work for us. What we do is deal with a relatively short list of contractors with whom we’ve established relatively mutual trust. Over time, we’ve learned the hard way that nothing is ever 100 percent in the property management game—we’ve had our share of relationships with contractors that ended badly and one that is being closely monitored in recovery mode at the moment.

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The point is, we’ve communicated with contractors more over the past year than 99.9 percent of the greater population and would like to think we’ve got some experiences you can benefit from.

Getting a Response

The first big hurdle you have to clear when talking to a contractor is getting a response from them in the first place. If you're talking to a genuine professional organization, the kind with an office and staff, they may not communicate as fast as you'd like, but they do communicate. You will pay for this kind of professionalism, though, with higher prices. If you're a DIY landlord or your property just isn't worth dozens of thousands of dollars, you probably aren't looking to indirectly pay this type of contractor's office and advertising expenses.

So, if you prefer to get pricing by working with smaller contractors, the likelihood of them calling you back quickly is dependent on factors like:

  • How many jobs are they currently juggling?
  • How much do they trust you to be worth their time?
  • How easy (or “easy-per-dollar”!) does your scope of work sound?
  • How much work are they likely to lose out on the future if they ignore you?

Related: How to Work With Contractors and Manage a Job Site as a Flipping Newbie

It's easy to think, "Well, I can't control whether or not the contractor calls me back," but if you look carefully at that list, there's only one item that is entirely out of your control—or two if you don't have a standing relationship with the contractor. The presentation of the job and the presentation of yourself are entirely within your control.


Selling the Scope of Work Itself

Of course, there’s a delicate balance to be struck, because if you go overboard on selling the job as easy (/per dollar), you’ll end up ruining their trust in you when it turns out to be a pain in the backside. You have to be honest about the details of the job—what you don’t have to do is include any amount of non-factual commentary on how negative you feel about the job. Just present them with the basics honestly, and if there are any positive side-comments you can make, feel free.

Related: 4 Reasons You’ll Never Find a Good Contractor (Insight From an Investor/Contractor)

A Professional First Impression

If you want to present yourself as trustworthy to a contractor you don't have a standing relationship with, the best way to do that is to present yourself as a long-standing professional:

  • Introduce yourself as a landlord/property manager with x units/years of experience,
  • Present the scope of work on business letterhead (or in an email with a professional signature, with the attachment formatted in a professional manner),
  • Speak confidently and knowledgeably about the work required, about the contracting industry in general, and about the property/unit in question,
  • Have a website and a phone number the contractor can investigate on their own to establish your level of professional commitment to your properties,
  • And effectively present all of the same kinds of background details that you would look for in a potential business partner to figure out whether or not they were professionals.

By presenting yourself professionally and putting an honest-but-positive spin on the scope of work, you can dramatically improve your chances of getting a call back from a contractor—even one you've never contracted with before.

So we've covered everything up to the first "touch back" from the contractor—but of course that's literally just the beginning. Check our next post for quite a bit more.

How do you start off relationships with contractors?

Weigh in below!

While in the mortgage business, Drew rose to a VP position at the first broker he worked for and then started his own company. In the pursuit of excellence, he obtained several mortgage designations and joined mortgage & several affiliate association Boards. He also did WebX presentations and public speaking. It was during this time he started personally investing in single-family rentals, leading him to also start Royal Rose Property Management with two partners. He also joined the Board of a local real estate investors association, eventually becoming its President. The real estate crash led to an offer from the banking industry to manage a Michigan bank’s failed bank assets they acquired from the FDIC. The bank acquired four failed banks from the FDIC, increasing from $100M in assets to over $2B while he was there. After that, he took over as President of Royal Rose Property Management. Today, he speaks at national property management conventions and does WebX presentations.

    Isaac Agbolosoo Rental Property Investor from Grosse ile
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Nice post..I have been searching for contractors on Angie’s list and hardly do they respond.
    Chris Ayers Rental Property Investor from Warrenton, VA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    That means the people you are contacting are good. The good contractors are busy and have a ton of work. This might sound weird, but I’m always skeptical if a contractor is too quick with availability and such. If you can start a project tomorrow then something’s got to give. The exception to this is if it’s winter when most guys struggle to get work.
    Matt NA Investor
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Chris, It’s been my experience that that isn’t always the case. I found the most skilled, efficient, reasonably priced window and glass repair guy who responded immediately through HomeAdvisor. Another builder I found was immediately available due to another client/job falling through. He’s been a reliable source for major projects going on 20 yrs now. Sometimes you get lucky. Smart contractors know not to blow people off no matter how busy. It’s just bad business.
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    We’ll try to contact a contractor 3 times. If they don’t respond, they’re either too busy to be any use to us or they are too disorganized and will be a waste of time for us.
    Zachary Hendricks Rental Property Investor from Conway, AR
    Replied over 1 year ago
    One thing to add, don’t tell them that you “aren’t trying to spend an arm and a leg”. You can work those details out later when you get a quote. Contractors already think investors are cheap, so they know that by working with you you will be watching ever dollar. By mentioning that you are trying to save money, that tells them that you are even cheaper than most and that they should move along. Also, don’t say, “I’m getting several bids from other contractors”. Good Contractors are busy, they don’t want to feel like they are wasting their time by giving you a bid. Good post!
    Isaac Agbolosoo Rental Property Investor from Grosse ile
    Replied over 1 year ago
    and is important not to let contractors now – “You are just starting out”
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @ISAAC A: we agree as nothing good will come of it. Thanks for adding!
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @ZACHARY HENDRICKS: those are great adds, thanks!
    Maritza E Mcnulty
    Replied over 1 year ago
    How to get a contractor, must have a license and a contract is filled, how they are paid.
    Stu Basham from Jersey City, NJ
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Great article. I’m going to use these tips and the great ones in the comments section moving forward. Thanks guys!
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @STU BASHAM: Glad you found this useful:)
    Michael DeYoung from Holland, MI
    Replied over 1 year ago
    This is a great and accurate article. As I contractor I’m definitely screening customers based on the first call. My biggest turn-off is when a customer has no idea about a realistic timeline. If you tell me that you have a “couple days of work” when you ask me to totally gut the bathroom, it tells me you are not ready for this project. If you don’t have an accurate idea of timeline, then I know you don’t know about accurate costs, amount of work, disruption to your home, anything. If you’re totally new to home renovations, that’s great, say that up front. I’ve helped plenty of first time homeowners through their first big project, because they showed they were ready to learn, were engaged in the process, and allowed me to do my job.
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @MICHAEL DEYOUNG: wish you were on this side of our state! Thanks for your input:)
    Mike Hoherchak
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I’m a little confused. The author says to sell yourself as you would with any other business partner and give proper background details. Yet in the comments you’re not supposed to tell contractors you’re new. I would think they would figure out your “newness” pretty quickly and would lend to a lack of trust at a certain level. Of course you’d want to sell yourself and proper verbiage in saying you’re new would be important. But I would think an omission of truth is similar to lying, in a sense. Ultimately, we’re a team and need to work together for best results and having proper and truthful information is important to lasting results. Or am I being naive?
    Drew Sygit from Birmingham, Michigan
    Replied over 1 year ago
    @MIKE HOHERCHAK: It’s a bit of both. Leaving a vm for a contractor that you’re inexperienced will often either result in your not getting a call back or setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. At some point, once you’ve perhaps met them at the jobsite, you should disclose your inexperience as they’ll know anyways. Better yet, bring a friend to meet contractors who has more experience in property maintenance than you!