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How to Get Contractors to Look at Your Job

Carol J Alexander

Published on April 11, 2023

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How to Get Contractors to Look at Your Job

Learn to speak to building contractors and tradespeople so they don’t weed you out over the phone before ever looking at your job.

To provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we consult a number of sources when producing each article, including licensed contractors and industry experts.

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You’ve probably read countless articles advising that to find a reputable contractor, you should look online, read Google reviews, call the Better Business Bureau, and choose three people to come to your home and give you estimates. When they are there, you’re supposed to drill them with a million questions about:

  • Their procedures,
  • Whether they carry liability insurance,
  • How they set up payment schedules,
  • Whether they carry worker’s compensation,
  • If they warranty their work,
  • Whether they have a contractor’s license,
  • And more!

All to see if they’re the right contractor for your home improvement project.

You’ve applied this instruction and are frustrated by the lack of response you’ve gotten. Whether you want someone to replace your gutters or build a room addition, the fact is, no one calls you back. Or, if you do get a tradesperson on the phone, they’re unwilling to come to your home to see what you want done. If contractors aren’t responding to your inquiries, you may need to change your approach.

In this article…

Building professionals reveal their top tips that encourage trades workers to respond to your calls. We also include a winning script with contractor-suggested replies to common questions. Follow this script on that initial call, and the contractor will want to work with you.

Find a building professional near you

Building professionals are not waiting on your call

According to Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), “the construction industry will need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor.” In other words, the skilled labor your contractor needs to remodel your home is in short supply. They aren’t avoiding your calls because they’re lazy, disorganized, or don’t care. They’re avoiding your calls because they don’t have the workforce to do the job.

“We’re literally throwing leads in the trash,” says Jimmy Dollman, principal and owner of Dollman Construction in Roanoke, Virginia. “It has nothing to do with the number of calls. It has nothing to do with the number of projects. We are only restricted by our limited labor pool.” 

Therefore, all contractors are more selective of the jobs they look at. Consequently, contractors enter that first conversation with their own list of questions – and homeowners need to be ready with the right answers.

Five tips from contractors to position you for success

Before you make the first call, there are a few things you need to know about the home remodeling business. We’ve asked several building professionals for their best tips for homeowners looking for contractors, and these are the things they want you to know.

Know who you’re approaching

A luxury home builder probably won’t build your room addition. For that, you need to call a home remodeling company. Likewise, the home remodeler isn’t going to install your window. For one window, call a handyperson. Before calling anyone, look at their website to determine the type of work they do.

“The advice I would try to give first,” says Mikki Paradis, president of PDI Drywall, Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina, “is first determine if you need a general contractor or a tradesperson.” Then, she says to determine from their website and portfolio of work if they do the type of work you want to be done. For example, Paradis provides a service for contractors building new multi-dwelling units – and her website states that. Yet, she regularly receives calls from homeowners wanting some type of drywall repair.

Begin early

Because of the labor shortage, most contractors have a backlog of work with lead times from six months to a year. This fact alone begs the homeowner to plan early.

“Large projects by their very nature have at least a year lead time,” says Dollman. “The design phase, working up the construction proposal, the permitting process, and having all the materials selected can take months to complete.”

Disclose your budget

For various reasons, homeowners are often hesitant to disclose their budgets. But, knowing your budget tells a contractor critical information that helps them serve you better. When you reveal your budget, you let them know the following:

  • Whether you can afford the work in question. Many homeowners have no idea how much home improvement projects cost. “If you’re using pricing you got off the TV, you’re more than likely not even close to the amount it’s going to cost,” says Paradis. “You need to let contractors know right away what your expectations are,” she says. “Let them know your budget so they can tell you if you’re in the ballpark or need to go back to the drawing board and adjust your needs and wants list.” 
  • Whether you fit their minimum project range. Some remodeling companies have minimum projects they’ll take on because they know that’s where they begin to make a profit. If your budget falls below that, they’ll recommend other contractors who are better suited for your price range.
  • What level of materials you can afford. You cannot have a caviar kitchen on a hot dog budget. But, if you meet the above criteria, knowing your budget helps the contractor suggest materials within that budget, saving you both time and frustration. “With a known budget,” says Jason Bernier, principal/owner of Bernier Building and Remodeling, Inc. in Milford, Connecticut, “we can advise clients to vendors and products within their financial goals.” Being upfront and talking about your budget and expectations, he says, “saves money, time, and confusion.”

So you’re not blind-sided by sticker shock, ask your friends what their home renovations cost. Also, do some window shopping for materials you like and stick with reputable websites like Fixr when researching online. An interior designer or certified kitchen and bath designer know the industry, its products and materials, and what they cost. Also, be willing to adjust your expectations based on what you can afford. 

Be decisive

Don’t start looking for a remodeling professional until you know what you want. Contractors are not there to help you decide which countertop material goes best with the backsplash. If you need a designer, hire one. Performing all the research and planning you can before contacting an independent contractor lets them know you’re serious about the renovation project.

Decisiveness benefits you, too, because change orders cost money. Sometimes, a lot of money. They also delay the project. So, making all the decisions before work begins will save you time and money in the long run.

Know the terminology

According to Dollman, homeowners use the terms estimate, quote, and bid synonymously when they mean entirely different things. Therefore, knowing how to speak the language makes you more likely to get a response.

  • Estimate – An estimate is a range. It doesn’t require specifics, and it doesn’t require a job site visit. Instead, it denotes what the average customer is paying for this type of project in this location. For example, if you want to add a 1,000-square-foot family room to the back of your home, you can call a contractor and get an estimate over the phone. “Without a planning agreement, we provide a verbal estimate with a general overview of the scope of work and an appropriate budget range,” says Bernier.
  • Quote – A quote is detailed. And, for a remodeling professional to be able to give you a quote, he needs specifics. That means you have a blueprint, materials selected, and your ducks in a row. “It’s a very large commitment for a contractor to give a quote,” says Dollman. “A quote requires research and time.”
  • Bid – Bidding is a competitive process by which large commercial contractors “win” multi-million jobs from government entities and developers. Home remodelers and building contractors do not bid on single-family residential projects. 

The winning script for talking with a building professional

Once you have the terminology down, it’s time to make the call. Most building professionals decide from the first phone call if they want to take on your project. “Homeowners almost always use terms or statements that make their inquiry die at the screening process,” says Dollman. “But there are things they can say, or more importantly not say, that will improve their response rate and decrease their frustration.”

What are those things? Dollman was happy to share them with us. The following is a typical conversation homeowners have with tradespeople on the phone with variations to consider.

Opening the conversation

You’ve got someone on the phone and open the conversation by explaining your project.

Don’t say: “We’re just starting the process and getting estimates.”

Do say: “We would like your company to give us a price to do our job.”

When a homeowner calls randomly without plans or specifications, contractors view that as a waste of time. “When someone tells me they found me on Google, that’s a horrible lead,” says Dollman, “with a closing rate of 5 percent.” However, he says referrals and returning clients have an 80 to 85 percent closing rate. Paradis concurs. “Your best chance of finding a good contractor is word of mouth,” she says. Telling the contractor who referred you elevates your inquiry in their queue.

Meeting up

So, you’ve gotten past the introduction, and the contractor asks for a good day and time to visit.

Don’t say: “We’re generally home and have had dinner by 7 p.m.”

Do say: “You name the day and time, and we’ll take off work to be here.”

When a building professional sees that your project is important enough for you to take time off work, they know you’re serious. Demonstrating this level of commitment shows them you have some skin in the game and are worth their time. According to Dollman, 40 percent of homeowners who engage with a contractor about a project never follow through. They may decide to postpone it to save more money. Or, they may choose to move instead. 

Timing is everything

When the contractor asks you when you think you want the project done, your answer is crucial.

Don’t say: “As soon as possible.”

Do say: “It depends on your schedule. Although, we’d like to have it done as soon as you can get to it.”

This response tells the contractor you know these things take time. Second, it solidifies your desire to work with them, that you’re not shopping around.

The scope of work

Most home remodelers specialize in certain-sized projects. So, during the initial conversation, they’ll ask you about the scope of work.

Don’t say: “Well, we think we want to knock the wall down and open up the space. But we’re not sure. We were hoping you could come and give us your opinion.”

Do say: “We’ve had an architect draw up plans that include removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room, adding an island, and opening up the ceiling.” OR say: “We’d like to open up the space but are unsure if we can remove the wall. We know we need an architect or engineer to draw up plans first, and we were hoping you could refer someone.”

When the contractor sees that you have a plan or are aware that you need one, it makes you a more qualified lead in their eyes.

Sometimes homeowners are on the fence about certain aspects of the project because of cost. For example, they want hardwood built-ins but think painted cabinets might be more affordable.

Don’t say: “Can you give us a quote for hardwood built-ins and painted cabinets?”

Do say: “We’re unsure which type of cabinets will fit our budget, so we’ll do that research and get back to you.” OR say: “Our certified kitchen designer is crunching some numbers for us for cabinet options. We’ll let you know our final decision by the end of the week.”

According to Dollman, preparing a quote for a construction project takes four hours per $10,000 of the project spend. So, researching all the costs and preparing a written proposal for your $150,000 kitchen remodel will take a builder 15 hours. When you’re indecisive about your wants, the builder is less likely to work with you. Also, admitting that you’ve already retained a designer to help the process is another way to let the builder know you’re serious.

The process

If you’ve followed the online advice to have interview questions ready, they probably include how the contractor works, what the day-to-day will look like, and how many subcontractors will be in your home.

Don’t say: “My brother-in-law is an electrician; I’d like to give him the work here.”

Don’t say: “My son works at Lowe’s and can get us a discount. So I’d like to buy all the materials I can there.”

Don’t say: “I’m retired and pretty good with a hammer. Can I save the cost of one laborer if I help?”

There’s really not a “do say” for this section. Just listen. The above responses are red flags to the contractor that you’ll be a challenge to work with and are more interested in saving a few hundred dollars than doing the job right. After all, you want the best work you can get for your money, done on time with minimal delays. That involves relying on the building professional’s expertise.

Striking the deal

If you follow the script and make it through that initial conversation, you’re likely ready to sign on the dotted line. But before you do, there are a few more things the builder will walk you through. Items like financing, payment milestones, the down payment, and the final payment must be finalized. But once everything is lined up, you can kick back and relax.

Choose the right team

As we’ve discussed, referrals are the best way to find the type of contractor you need. But if your friends, coworkers, or family members haven’t had the same kind of work done recently, you might be coming up empty-handed. We can help you find the right members for your home improvement team. Hire a local contractor today.

Find a trusted contractor to update your home

Written by

Carol J Alexander Content Specialist and Subject Matter Expert

Carol J Alexander is a home remodeling industry expert for Fixr.com. For more than 15 years as a journalist and content marketer, her in-depth research, interviewing skills, and technical insight have ensured she provides the most accurate and current information on a given topic. Before joining the Fixr team, her personal clients included leaders in the building materials market like Behr Paint Company, CertainTeed, and Chicago Faucet, and national publications like This Old House and Real Homes.