Spaces for Life

The ReTouch Home Improvement blog



Spaces for Life: Three reasons people don’t trust contractors

By Lance McCarthy

A recent Gallup poll showed that only 1 out of 4 people thought building contractors had “high or very high” ethical standards. We were only a few positions above members of congress. Wow.

The worst thing about this news is how unshocking it is. It seems most of the people I encounter have a harrowing story of an experience with a contractor. It just ain’t right. But why is it so? These are the top three reasons why we (contractors) earned this ignominious reputation:

Reason #3: Some of us actually lie.

As in every occupation (or family, or even church), there are people who lie or hide the truth. This is unfortunate, but true. There will always be bad seeds. Just don’t become one of the “lucky” customers of one of these sheisters.

Foolproof lie detector? Ask their subcontractors for an opinion. Subs know the straight dope, and are more than happy to elucidate. Also watch for lack of evidence on the web. If they have changed company names a lot, they won’t show up as many places online.

Reason #2: Some of us mean well, but just can’t cut it

It is pretty easy to become a contractor. Doctors and lawyers need degrees, contractors just need a hammer, a truck, and a business card. No training required to say, “yeah, we can do that”, the trouble comes when we actually try to “do that”.

Construction is going through a mind-blowing revolution, similar to the invention of the assembly line or the internet. It involves highly technical products, complicated physics, and dangerous tools. Many contractors are just not experienced or capable enough to do the job, and the consequences are usually expensive.

Foolproof quality check? See a physical copy of their current license. Call the insurance company to make sure they have worker’s compensation insurance. Ask them what is so important about IRC 2012. If they fail any of those tests, politely say “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”

Reason #1: Most of us are just really bad at underselling and overcommunicating

We need work…That makes us want to sell jobs…That makes us do things that will sell jobs…That makes you expect things that won’t actually happen. And there’s the rub. Somewhere along the way, our industry got stuck in the ridiculous and dangerous myth that competitive bids are the best way for a lay person to choose a contractor. Nothing could be further from the truth, and here’s why: We visit with a client for an hour or so, spend a few hours writing a proposal, then deliver it. It mentions faucets and outlets and has numbers with decimal points. It looks accurate. It isn’t. It is an educated guess. Regardless of the number of line items or decimal points. We simply can’t know enough yet to bid accurately.

We don’t do a good job communicating how unreliable that bid is, or talk about how many decisions will be needed to create a real proposal. The customer then takes that guess, compares it to two or three other guesses, and makes a decision that is slightly more accurate than betting on ol’ number 3 at the dog track.

We should tell them that even if we are “low bid”, it probably isn’t true. We should tell them we don’t know them well enough to be right. But we don’t. We just give them a bid, and hope we win. Shame on us.

Members of congress earned their ranking through hard work with lobbyists and private jets. We got there through ignorance, and don’t even get a new truck out of the deal.

Want a better way to make the decision? I’ll tell you on the next post.

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