How to Manage Contractors

Dealing with a contractor on home maintenance and improvement projects can be daunting, and especially so if you’re a woman. East Bay female do-it-yourselfers and real estate agents have some tips commanding respect from contractors.


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Issue clear instructions to your contractor.

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Dealing with a contractor on home maintenance and improvement projects can be daunting, and especially so if you’re a woman. East Bay female do-it-yourselfers and real estate agents have some tips on how women can command respect from contractors.

First, learn as much about your project as you can — the terminology, the best practices for approaching the job you have in mind, and how these apply to your home. Second, be choosy when interviewing prospective contractors. Third, always remember: You’re the boss.

“Do research in advance,” said Rebecca Auerbach, a Concord resident who owns a rental property in Richmond and has successfully worked with contractors for more than 10 years. She is also an accomplished do-it-yourselfer.

Have a general understanding of the technical aspects of the work you want done, Auerbach said, because a contractor may be dismissive otherwise. 

Also, try to get an idea of what a reasonable price might be in your area for the project. Try to find a high-low range to avoid being gouged.

For research purposes, Auerbach recommends websites such as the U.S. Department of Energy and Homeadvisor.com. There are also online forums where you can ask specific questions and receive valid answers, though it’s always a good idea to vet these forums thoroughly and use reputable sites.

Nancy Duff, a Berkeley real estate broker with 40 years’ experience, agreed with Auerbach’s advice about research. She also emphasized the importance of carefully selecting a contractor.

“Get at least two referrals,” Duff said. Getting competing bids, asking contractors for names of customers you can call for referrals, having the contractor describe a tentative schedule, and, for sure, hiring a licensed contractor to protect yourself legally are all important.

When interviewing contractors, listen critically and pay attention to descriptions that don’t match what you have learned online. Don’t be afraid to ask relevant questions, so the contractor understands you’re not someone who can be easily manipulated.

Duff said, “Tell them, ‘This is what I want done.’ Don’t wait for them to tell you what needs to happen. Then listen to their suggestions.”

Before the work starts, get everything in writing in a contract, including what is to be done and in what order. This protects you from unauthorized work. Also, for your own protection, don’t pay the entire amount upfront. A deposit is fine.

Once the work begins, Duff said, “Be assertive. Issue instructions. Remember who you are in this situation. You are the boss.” Keep in close communication with the contractor, and refer to the contract if there are disagreements.

If you have a male partner, don’t bring him into it as the authority. This only reinforces any preconceptions a contractor may have about you.

“Remember the golden rule,” Duff said. “The one who has the gold makes the rules.”

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