What do these projects have in common?
- Replacing zone valves (not just the heads) for forced hot water heating
- Installing a 220-volt outlet for an oven
- Installing a hot water heater
The common bond between these projects is that I won’t do ‘em. It’s not that I don’t have handyman skills – I do. But these are all projects that if I do, and do badly, can cost me a fortune (think a fire or flood). I won’t have an unlicensed handyman take on tasks like this either – I’ve seen a lot of handymen who were no more handy than I am. No, for projects like this, I want a professional licensed home improvement contractor.
I want to have a really good professional relationship with my electricians, plumbers, and HVAC guys. I want to be one of their best customers, somebody they respect and want to please. I want to be the guy they help first on a busy night when they have a dozen people calling for assistance.
At the same time, I don’t want them to take advantage of me, thinking I’ll overlook unprofessional behavior because I’m such a friendly guy. I’m not looking for friendship, but for mutual respect. I show my respect for my contractors in three ways – by recognizing their financial needs, the value of their time, and their professional abilities.
Recognizing The Financial Needs of a Contractor
I have a friend who buys bulk quantities of computer components for resale. He knows what his suppliers must charge in order to make a profit, and never asks them to charge less. He also pays promptly for every shipment.
On the other hand, I’ve heard many stories of landlords who make a game of trying to shaft their contractors, squeezing every penny and delaying payment as far as possible.
Your home improvement contractor is a small businessperson, who depends on his earnings to run his business and feed his family. Recognizing financial needs means settling on a fair price for the work to be done, and making prompt payment when the work is finished. I hear so many appalling stories about landlords who delay payments to their contractors, or try to avoid payment altogether. These people congratulate themselves on their smart business sense, but are destroying vital business relationships for the sake of a couple of dollars. Not only that, they may get an unofficial blackball from their contractors – making it difficult to find anyone willing to do work for them. We pass the word about bad tenants – don’t you think these guys pass the word about bad customers?
Your contractor sets a value on his time pretty simply. Officially or otherwise, he bills for each hour he works for a customer. Four hours at $60 per, that’s $240. Simple as that. How do you recognize the value of his time? By helping reduce the amount of time he wastes. There are many ways to do this, but one big one is by combining jobs.
Let’s suppose you have three jobs that will each take an hour. It takes your contractor 20 unpaid minutes to travel from his shop to your property. If he can do the three projects together, his ratio of paid to unpaid time is 4.5 to 1 (180 minutes work, 40 minutes travel). If he has to do them separately, his ratio is 1.5 to 1.
Your contractor will also appreciate it if you show up on time and don’t cancel appointments. If you can, try to use the same contractor for all of your jobs that fit his skills. You’re increasing his business, reducing the time he must spend on marketing, and making him more dependent on keeping you satisfied.
Recognizing their Professional Abilities
It’s not easy to become a master electrician! Here in New Hampshire, it takes five years of work experience, an associate’s degree in Electricity, and the passing of two exams. This means my electrician knows a heck of a lot more about his trade than I can.
Therefore, I’m not going to nitpick every decision he makes or denigrate his abilities. I’m going to work on the assumption that he knows what he is doing and treat him as a professional.
Don’t Let Your Home Improvement Contractor Walk All Over You, Though!
All this talk of respect does not mean I’ll roll over for bad work. Certainly there are bad contractors! We know them by the work they do and the way they do it. If my contractor does shoddy work, misses appointments, is consistently late, or overcharges, he doesn’t deserve my respect. I have two very effective ways of dealing with these situations.
Perhaps the problem is not with the contractor (the master plumber, electrician or whatever who owns the company) but with one or two employees. In that case, the boss needs to know about these bad guys. “Joe, Pete and Aaron really didn’t do good work for me, and you need to talk to them.”
On the other hand, perhaps the problem is with the contractor. In that case, don’t use him again, and let him know why.
Photo: Tony alter