How to Attract a Contractor

I just saw a TV commercial for what must be some kind of insurance company. As a homeowner, you pay a monthly fee — and then, when some inevitable repair crops up, they cover the cost in full. Or at least that’s what they claimed in the ad.

My guess is that there is some fine print someplace that lets them off the hook if, let’s say, your house has bathrooms. Or you use the stove more than once a month. Or you’re right-handed.

Whether it’s legit or not, I think the whole concept is based on a flawed premise. Whether you pay or someone else does, it implies that home contractors are an easily-had commodity. Has anybody tried to hire a contractor lately? Finding one that will actually show up is the new lottery.


I needed some chimney work done recently. Naively, I employed what I call The 6-3-1 Rule: call six (6) people, expecting three (3) to call back and show up. Those three will then give you a quote for the job, where you can choose the one (1) that you feel best about.

This time, my rule netted only one callback from a masonry company. To their credit, they actually came out to take a look.

While I was with the mason to show him the damage, he did some math out loud for his estimate. The number six came up a lot, as he walked around the house. So, I’m picturing a figure of $600. It didn’t sound too bad. Except it wasn’t hundreds he was talking about: it was thousands. And even that didn’t cover the actual work; it was just for the scaffolding.

At this point, I was incredulous. $6,000 for an adult Erector set of steel pipes and wooden planks to go up my chimney? And that’s before the actual job costs kicked in?

Back to the phone I went.

Throwing out my 6-3-1 rule, I cast about for recommendations from neighbors, friends, etc. and I called as many masonry companies as I could find. If it isn’t too late to make a long story short, I eventually found a few that didn’t require a retirement-nest-egg confiscation fee. Some could even do the work before the next millenium.

Ultimately, the chimney was repaired. It looks good.

But the point is that it’s ridiculously hard to nail down a contractor these days. And whatever you do, don’t be haughty with them. You need them more than they need you.

Here’s my suggestion: If you’re lucky enough to get a contractor out to your house, be nice.

If a plumber bends down to check out that leak under the kitchen sink, compliment him on his butt crack. If an electrician needs to replace an inset light in your ceiling and reeks of cigarette smoke, ask him his favorite brand. If a septic guy is stinking up the place while pumping out your system, thank him for the waste-nourished lush grass above the tank.

Remember, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Practicing that principle and the new rule of 18-9-3 should serve you well in your home-ownership misadventures.


The End


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