When you move to a new town, you find a new doctor. With a new house, you also need to build your home support team. It's far easier to find your home professionals before an emergency, including an electrician, plumber, HVAC contractor and handyman.
When searching for a home pro, it's hard knowing who to pick. Until you step back and identify the best qualities you need and appreciate in your favorite contractors, the process of interviewing and selecting home professionals will remain challenging.
What Do You Want in a Home Professional?
The real question is do you know what you want in a home professional? The problem is most homeowners haven't got a clue as you're used to buying products that you can touch, smell and taste. If you've worked with a few contractors, you might know them but have given little thought to what you like about them.
Click to read part 1, Shopping for a Remodeler or Handyman …
Using the criteria we listed for evaluating doctors, let's apply it to a home professionals. You likely will be surprised at how similar they are and where home professionals often provide more service than most doctors.
- Technical qualifications? Some home professionals like architects, electricians and plumbers go through extensive training (1,000s of hours) and testing. Other professionals like builders and interior decorators take required coursework for certification. There is ongoing education as building technologies evolve and with the green movement, what is interesting is there is green certification for builders and there is also green home certification.
A good example of ongoing education for home professionals is the EPA's recent Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. It requires all paid professionals working in homes with lead paint to get education, work under the supervision of a certified business and follow strict rules to reduce risk from educating homeowners, to enclosing contaminated work spaces to reduce the spread of lead dust, to work site cleanup and safe disposal of all contaminated materials.
- Communication skills? People are people and there are great doctors who aren't good communicators. General practitioners are better communicators than specialists. You'll find the contractors who are better communicators move to customer facing jobs like estimating, sales and project management. When interviewing technicians for my handyman business, I look for good listening skills on the phone and comfortable eye contact at the face-to-face interview.
- Customer service? There's a saying that you get what you pay for, and customer service very often reflects the pricing of a home professional, especially the solopreneurs. Solo/smaller home professionals cannot afford the cost of a full-time customer service rep or answering service and most don't provide 7×24 hour, emergency service … but neither do doctors so we go to the emergency room. A good home professional will return their calls within 24 hours.
- Pricing and flexibility? Now you've got to decide what it is you're buying and it's fascinating what we take for granted but never verify when we go to the doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.
|Insurance||Assumed||Homeowners should request a copy of General Liability and Workers Comp certificates|
|Guarantee||No, but should explain typical outcomes so you know what to expect||Reliable contractors will provide a 1 or 2 year guarantee; some exclusions normal plumbing and roofing|
|Project Documentation||Prescriptions; rarely do you get a description of planned procedures so you research on the web||Estimates vary from high level summary to detailed specifications of work to be accomplished and materials; written change requests are important when pricing changes; weekly reviews may be verbal and/or written|
|Project Coordination||Patients must inform each doctor of medications and other medical status; doctors make referrals but patients must handle scheduling||For larger projects, builders and remodelers coordinate all sub-contractors from estimates to scheduling and payment|
Building Homeowner – Home Professional Relationships
The best way to illustrate what I've outlined above is to share a customer story. One of my handyman customers was in the process of buying a condo and wanted to update the bathrooms, add hardwood flooring and other home repairs. He called and asked how competitive my pricing would be compared to contractors he could find on Craig's list.
While I was a little surprised at the question, I explained we're competitive when you look at the total package, not just price. I didn't need to explain insurance or guarantee as we'd been doing work for this customer for several years. Given the scope of the project, I offered a discount for days where we worked 4/more hours. My customer appreciates the work we've done for him over the last 3 years and quickly said “… great, I've always been happy with your work so let's go ahead.”
We only do 4 to 6 larger projects each year, for existing customers. Here's the added value delivered (updated after the project was completed). The existing relationship and added value were especially important to a business owner who travels extensively and has limited time.
- Brought interior decorator into the project given the number of buying decisions to be made for 2 bathrooms.
- Cost analysis for various project design and materials, saving the customer money:
- Reviewed different flooring materials and customer went with engineered wood over traditional hardwood.
- Rather than tile master bath walls up to 4 feet, we used tile chair rail to provide same feeling at lower cost.
- Replaced 3-wall shower with glass, neo-angle shower to make small bathroom feel larger.
- Facilitated customer decisions by dropping off sample materials at the customer's office and in some cases when he was traveling, putting photos online.
- Coordinated purchase of other contractors and all materials.
- Project updates sent via email.