What's with Contractors that will not answer their phone or return calls?

53 Replies

So I am looking for a new general contractor and/or subs to make sure I have a back-up and a back-up to the back-up if need be for my projects that need rehab.

I vet the ones that seem like a good fit from as many resources as I can find before I give them a call. I even look up the ones that have a Corp or LLC at the Secretary of State to see if they are legit, in good standing and how long they have been in existence (amazing that some are not in good standing but still doing business as usual but that is neither here no there).

Next, I give them a call. Some are small operations, others are moderately big. Some have been in business for decades with second generation owners, some are newer with only a few years in the business.

Without fail, the vast majority of my calls (70% plus) go straight to a voice message/voice mail system. I go ahead and leave a clear detailed message with my phone number, twice, in most cases and request a call back. I explain in my message that I have current projects and that I am looking for somebody to build a long term relationship with as a contractor for my future acquisitions.

Without fail, NONE of the ones that I leave messages for return the call......for over two weeks.

From the beginning of my search, I started a spreadsheet and a log to track who I called, when I called and what the result was.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I called the first batch again (the 70% non responders that did not return my first call) over two weeks later with a new project that I need bids on. This time, only 40% of actually picked up their phone on my second try.....over two weeks later. Again the vast majority of my calls go straight to a voice message/voice mail system where I leave another detailed message with my phone number and request a call back. Again, without fail, NONE of the ones that I leave messages for return the call......for over 6 days and counting.

I also called some new ones the same day I called back the first batch and I am now tracking those but.......the trend is the same for the new ones as well.

Of course, this exercise helps me eliminate those that I would never work with. I will not keep trying to contact them. 

It made me wonder though, is this kind of response/ non response typical with Contractors (small, medium or large operations) in other areas or am I alone in my experience?

Hi @Anthony M.  

Are you looking to actually use these contractors for any projects or are you looking to just get some bids that you can pass to your investors? If it's the latter, that might be a reason why your calls aren't getting returned.

Some of the contractors will come out and give bids to wholesalers, but unless they get some business out of those bids, they will not be interested in giving bids.

One thing I would do is send them text messages also. I am not a GC but I respond to texts and emails better than calls, so you might want to give that a try.

Also if you are using these GCs for just getting bids, try offering some money for their time.

Good luck!

Hi @Sharad M.  

Thanks for your response.

No, I am not looking for bids to just make an offer and pass the deal along where the bidders have little to no chance of ever getting the job. 

I am looking for bids on actual buy and hold projects and/or rehabs where a contractor or sub I select based on their proposal and other factors will win the bid and get the job.

@Anthony M.  it may be your message. Saying something vague like "I have some projects and then possibly other future projects" sounds like a lot of time wasted for the contractor.

This is what the contractor wants to hear. "hi my name is bob, I have a house on 123 main street that needs a new bathroom, please call me at 555-555-5555"

@James Wise  

True. 

The first time I called, I had a project that I had just completed and a second one that was in progress. 

I did not have a project that needed work right then but my current contractor was having issues so I began the search. I left a general message of what I was looking for the first time I called hence the reference to future projects.

When I called the second time, two weeks later, I had a specific project and what work I needed done. I left a message with all that information and since some contractors will not bid on a project unless you own it, I mentioned that it was in escrow and closing in about a week. The only thing I did not specifically give out in the message was the exact address of the property.

Even then with some specifics there are still those that do not respond.

@Anthony M.  

I run into this same problem with subs that I haven't used before.  It's very frustrating when you are trying to get work done and no one will return your calls. 

Personally I blame it on a lack of organization. I think a lot of contractors get distracted with what they have going on currently and forget about getting future work.  It truly amazes me that contractors who don't return calls are able to stay in business. 

 If a contractor doesn't call me back after I have tried contacting them twice then I cross them off the list. If you can't communicate with me then I do not want to do business with you. Eventually you should be able to weed out the ones that won't call back and be able to find responsible contractors that return calls/emails in a reasonable time. 

Best of luck, keep trying different contractors 

Steve 

@Stephen Talaber  

Yep. It amazes me too how inefficient some contractors are.

I was beginning to think, it was just me or maybe I was saying/doing something wrong.

I do not invest in flips etc. but I do know with home markets up there is a bunch of larger projects and also retail jobs for contractors.

Larger means more steady work for them and retail means more money.

People who buy houses to rehab and hold or flip always want something done on the cheap. It's the nature of the beast. Many contractors would work on small jobs 4 to 5 years ago desperate for business. These days business is booming. It's simply a function of supply and demand. 

"I did not have a project that needed work right then but my current contractor was having issues so I began the search."

Probably did a few jobs at a cheap price and then moved on.

Are your rehab jobs smaller or larger in scope?? The price and timeline you want completed on a smaller job might not be realistic in the current market versus demand.

@Joel Owens  

Thanks for a different perspective.

The extent of my jobs vary depending on the exit strategy and the condition of what I walk into.

Holds are usually interior updates with basic finishes throughout - paint, floors, fixtures and new mechanicals if needed, otherwise I just have the mechanicals inspected and tuned up. Exterior updates as needed - vinyl replacement windows, new roof and exterior paint. I usually will not gut kitchens, baths or anything else on holds but I will update what is necessary.

Flips depending on the condition they are in will usually be gut rehabs, new everything on the interior including mechanicals. Exterior updates - as needed.

I understand the supply and demand factor and that retail prices will be more money for the contractor.

What I do not understand is the fact that many will not even acknowledge a phone call. 

At least they should answer the phone and/or call back to say they are not interested or they are busy but would otherwise like the business at a later date on another project etc.

That, I just do not get.

I have seen this as well (for a LARGE job that I was ready to start work on NOW).

They may be good construction guys but they are bad business guys.

I see only 2 possibilities:

1) They have more work they can handle and expect that to last forever.

2) They don't understand how they get paid.

I have a neighbor that is a very successful General Contractor.  One day I asked him what he credited his success too.  He said, "I answer my phone and show up on time for my appointments.  This differentiates me from 80% of my competition."

My experience is that a lot of contractors are not good at organizing or running the "business" aspect of their business.  They often get a job and ignore calls and appointments.  When that job ends, they start looking for the next one and start answering their phone again.

Hi,

Most contractors that you call actually do the work themselves with their team, and if they have a lot of business going for them they may have their hands dirty during the time that you call.  A lot of these guys can only handle a couple to a few jobs at a time.  Still no excuse that they had not returned your calls, they are a service business.

When I got my rehabs started, I used referrals from other investor friends and it worked out great.  I had the same issues with the no answer on other specific contractors, mainly foundation companies.  

When they do not return/ answer my phone calls that is a big issue for me.  They do not want my business, and how can I trust that they will answer the phone after I make the first payment to them if they can't even answer the phone to get me a bid. There are tons of contractors out there, just keep trying.

Good luck!

Leon  

@Tyler Clark  

Ha, ha ha! 

Sad but that is probably exactly what happens.

I tracked this and the non-responses were 70% plus.

Your General Contractor neighbor is on to something.

@Leon O.  

I agree with you that when they do not/will not answer or return calls it is indicative of potential trouble down the road if you ever gave them any business.

I did give them the benefit of the doubt by calling twice just in case they had their hands dirty at the time my call came through.

However, I think it is reasonable to expect that they should return or acknowledge the call  the same day or within say three business days max if they are really swamped. 

Sad but true -- I've called contractors and not gotten a response.  I've had a male call the contractor and get a call back.  For some reason because I'm female I'm not worth their time ...

@Anthony M.   most contractors are good at contracting, not at business. So while some could probably renovate your houses, they're terrible at managing a business. Doesn't make it right that they don't call back, but there's probably a few in there that know what they're doing, but are just terrible at managing a business. The reality is that most of the GC's you're calling probably worked for someone else and one day said "hey, I can do what my boss does!" 

This can work to your advantage depending on what you want to accomplish. You might be able to set your own price with some of these guys. Think about it.. the guy who answers the phone, calls you back, and can set appointments probably has a ton of overhead. The guy not answering his phone probably has work for that week or 2 weeks out, and then he's looking for work again. If you say hey, I have this job, it's 4 weeks of work, he goes and takes a look at it and you can set a price on the spot. So you might have thought it would cost $20,000, you can stand there and say I'll give you this work for $5,000 and materials are separate, that guy knows he'll be busy for 3-4 weeks at a set rate. You might have just saved $10,000 because the guy doesn't know how to pick up a phone and doesn't have fancy trucks. Unless you're doing high-end renos (doesn't sound like you are) then you don't need a guy in a fancy truck. You need a guy who shows up and has tools. Just my 2 cents. 

@Mark Gallagher  

That is a great way to look at this issue with a new twist...... thanks.....as long as the guy who shows up with tools  but poor business management skills can execute the actual rehab work well with good quality and workmanship.

High quality lemonade made out of lemons....that were bought at a steep discount.

As far as materials, would you suggest that the contractor purchase them show receipts and get reimbursed or would you just purchase them yourself?

I would also try texting. I also have issues with contractors who come see the property and then never get around to sending me a bid. Some of them are just not hungry enough right now because they are fairly busy. I haven't found one yet that likes doing the paperwork to actually give you a bid. They like working for the GC's who don't require a written quote, as in NO paperwork. I share your frustration.

@Anthony M.  yeah basically what I'm saying is these guys will never admit they're bad at managing a business. But if you can keep them busy, they'll be invaluable to you. They won't have to pick up a phone, worry about where their next pay is coming from. Most of them already have all the tools. They thought they could do it on their own but they don't understand how much work you have to do besides the actual "work"! 

They probably don't have the money to actually go and purchase supplies (goes hand in hand with poor business skills). So I would go and purchase the materials with them. You have to be careful the materials don't go missing. So hopefully you can get at least a reference or two, check the tax records to see where they live (if they own a home) etc. As long as you dangle the pay in front of them and don't give it to them, your materials should stay put unless they're a total loser. You want to find the guy/girl who's in the middle. Not a drunk/druggie, just good at contracting but bad at running a business. Make sure they're not stealing/over buying supplies, and pay them at the end of the week and you'll likely be saving 50% for a little extra legwork on your part.

If you call the guy with the biggest ads in the yellow pages, you're going to pay 3x as much. But you'll have to do no leg work and no babysitting. 

@Barton Wallace  

Yeah,  I forgot that part....the written bid/estimate.

Finally, somebody picks up the phone, they look at the property with me and give me a verbal ballpark. 

Next, go find my jogging suit and running shoes to start chasing them for the written bid.

At least half the battle to just start the work is won and I am getting some exercise.

I am looking for a new contractor now for a property that's coming up. I have not had good luck giving the same contractor more than one job at once (they say they can handle it, but the same crew gets spread out over 2 projects and the whole thing goes slower.) Keep at it. It took me a while to get the present crew of contractors, but it is proving worth the effort.

@Anthony M.  I think it helps when you know the price you want/should pay. Then you take all the actual work out of it. Yes, you'll be essentially the GC. But you're going to make more money and hopefully get the job done. Once you do one or two with the contractor, they'll know what you're looking for in a job.

So show up to 123 Main Street.. you need it painted/new bath/new tile -- you're paying $2500 for the labor. They'll either agree, or negotiate with you. Doubtful they'll just say no thanks. Once they accept your number, you'll buy materials with them. But you've just taken every bit of the contracting business out of it, and let them just be a contractor. Again, just my 2 cents, but there's a lot of acceptable contractors out there, they just have no clue how to run a business. Run it for them, and make more money, albeit in a roundabout way. 

Originally posted by @Mark Gallagher:

@Anthony M. I think it helps when you know the price you want/should pay. Then you take all the actual work out of it. Yes, you'll be essentially the GC. But you're going to make more money and hopefully get the job done. Once you do one or two with the contractor, they'll know what you're looking for in a job.

So show up to 123 Main Street.. you need it painted/new bath/new tile -- you're paying $2500 for the labor. They'll either agree, or negotiate with you. Doubtful they'll just say no thanks. Once they accept your number, you'll buy materials with them. But you've just taken every bit of the contracting business out of it, and let them just be a contractor. Again, just my 2 cents, but there's a lot of acceptable contractors out there, they just have no clue how to run a business. Run it for them, and make more money, albeit in a roundabout way. 

@Mark Gallagher      

Thanks. I really appreciate your tips. It helps to see things from somebody else's perspective that knows what they are talking about.

Avoid picking names out of a hat whenever possible.  Ask your neighbors and friends if they can recommend someone. Otherwise, maybe try HomeAdvisor.com that rates contractors in your specific area.  They claim to be better than AngiesList and they are free.  Contractors can be the worst.  I've been through several.  I find that the more well established ones that do not "sub-contract" are much more reliable, albeit somewhat more expensive.  IMHO, when it comes to contract work, you get what you pay for more than any other service.  

There's two types of contractors, those that are "working contractors" that go out on the jobs and do the work themselves, and those that have a contracting business where they may go bid the jobs, etc., but sub out most of the work, and they manage the job. 

Most contractors that are working a construction business have someone that answers their calls, and is able to give out general information, etc. Most working contractors are scrambling between jobs, and make calls when they catch a break. One is not better than the other as far as skill level, but as many have mentioned, all contractors are not businessmen. 

However; expecting contractors to give you their time if there's not an actual job, when it's a hot market won't happen. If you have a specific job, leave the details. 

Even we contractors have a hard time getting subs to call back sometimes, and it is frustrating, but it's the nature of the beast. 

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