Next to lawyers and car salesmen, no other profession has a worse public image than the home repair contractor. Just ask around and you'll hear plenty of tragic tales of appointments missed, invoices inflated, and budgets overshot.
But consider for a moment the hundreds of thousands of capable professionals who work everyday — fixing our toilets, repairing our AC units, ridding our homes of pests — without any drama whatsoever.
Sure, catastrophe makes for jucier headlines and better stories. But most contractors really want to deliver top quality service. They just need their clients to understand some of the the unwritten rules of the business.
So here for your enlightenment are the 3 Key Truths that your home improvement contractor needs you to understand:
"To get the results you want, tell me exactly what you want!"
Miscommunication is at the core of most disagreements, and contractor disputes are no exception. If you want your home repair project to have even a chance at success, start with a written statement of work. Don't worry about making it look fancy or official: Just take a minute or two to jot down what you want your finished project to look like. Be as specific as you can. "Clean my deck" is an OK start, but "Pressure-wash and then reseal my rear deck using exterior stain" is way better for everyone involved. As you interview contractors, you can always go back and refine your statement. Then, once you do select a contractor, get them to incorporate your statement into their agreement.
"Pin me down on a completion date."
While you are negotiating price, be sure to speak with your contractor about estimated project completion times. Every client wants the best in pricing, quality, and speed: The problem is you'll rarely get more than two of these from any single contractor. It's all a big tradeoff. The cheapest ones often deliver lower quality work, or take longer to finish; The more highly skilled ones are almost always pricey.
Be as clear as you can about how long the project should take to complete. Set a realistic date and have them put it in writing. Just knowing there's a firm deadline will make most contractors move heaven and earth to meet it. And, since most of their other clients won't set a completion date, contractors will prioritize their schedule according to the commitments they have made.
"I hate saying 'No' to you."
Skillful and reliable handymen are a rare find. When you do come across one, you might be tempted to ask them to do all manner of repairs just because you know and trust them. But be careful: No contractor wants to tell you that they aren't particularly talented in a certain area. They fear that disclosing such a weakness will cause you to look for someone else promising more. Rather than lose the job, they'll take on projects they don't really enjoy just to avoid losing your business. Then, once the job is done and you discover that they are not the world's best at laying tile or hanging cabinets or whatever, you'll both be unhappy.
Avoid this trap by being crystal clear with your contractor about exactly where their expertise starts (and ends) before assigning any work. Encourage them to refer other great contractors for jobs outside their specialty. That way, you can reassure them that they have your trust as well as your business.
Heed these unspoken truths and you too can avoid playing a role in yet another home repair horror show.