This past weekend I went to the Philadelphia Home Show. Why? Well, I’m a homeowner now. I’m renovating my house. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than collecting paint samples and drooling over things I can’t afford.
While I was there, trying to justify the purchase of new bamboo memory foam pillows, I noticed a booth. A booth I recognized. A logo I hate.
Actually, I won’t tell you.
Because I’m classy like that. And I still haven’t told you what they did.
So let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? It’s one thing, you see, to be 29 and to buy a house. It’s another to hire a general contractor.
Contestant Number 1 asks me, as we’re standing in the smallest of my three bedrooms, “What do you want done in this room?”
“Just a ceiling fan,” I respond. “Hung in the middle of the room. That’s all.”
He encourages me to think about it. “You should draw it out. You look like an artist. You’re wearing artists’ pants.”
Artists’ pants? What the heck are artists’ pants? I look down at my khaki cargos and wonder if I’ve missed something, and, since we’re on the subject, what the heck is so difficult about hanging a ceiling ran in the middle of a rectangular box?
Still, he tells me I should draw up a plan of exactly what I want, this way I don’t go “changing my mind” and “we’re on the same page.”
I smile and nod but think to myself, “It’s a fan. In the middle of a room. How many other pages are there?”
Contestant Number 2 is full of good ideas and seems competent but then there’s a bit of a kerfuffle a few blocks away from my parents’ house. Although, Contestant Number 3 isn’t directly involved, he never gets back to me with an estimate and given what I’ve been seeing on the news, I’m okay with this.
Contestant Number 3 is creepy. I don’t feel comfortable alone in my house with him. And this is a bit of a problem seeing as I need new ceilings, new walls, a new window, a new door, and something to replace the fake brick “Tuscan” arch between my dining room and my kitchen.
Contestant Number 4 is a woman, and I would really like to give the work to a woman, firstly because I feel comfortable alone with her in my house and secondly because I like to support women-owned businesses when I can (especially a woman-owned construction business!) but she can’t start for several weeks. And I don’t have several weeks. The only way I can finance this entire operation is to rent out the extra rooms, so the longer the work takes, the longer I’m stuck trying to pay the mortgage on my own.
Contestant Number 5 gets me; he understands my vision. And he has some really gorgeous projects up on his website, and he’s recommended by a friend and neighbor so I have high hopes. But then he goes to pull the permits to start the work, and gets denied because he owes the city back taxes over some sort of property dispute. He drives over to City Hall to resolve the issue, only to get his truck impounded somewhere along the way because he has unpaid tickets in New York state.
And so on and so on it goes, until we reach Contestant Number 9: the man from the company with the booth at the Home Show.
He walks in, takes a look at my ceilings and says, “Jeez, you’ve got a lot of work to do here!”
On the outside I just smile but on the inside, I say, “I know, that’s… you know… kind of the reason I’m interviewing contractors.”
After a good deal of scoffing at the sorry state of my walls, he asks “So did your dad buy you this place?”
“No,” I tell him, trying to keep my cool. “I bought it myself.”
As I hand him my punch list, he rolls his eyes and says, “A list? You’re one of those, eh?”
I am rapidly losing patience but I am so desperate to get the work done at this point that I force another smile begin the tour.
“You really oughtta have a husband to help you out with this,” he says. “Don’t you have a boyfriend at least?”
It was at this point that I should have asked him to leave. But I didn’t. So the real kicker comes as he finally heads out the front door and calls out “God bless you” over his shoulder.
This—this sudden display of automaton religiosity—is what really gets me.
And I’m so angry at him, for all of his assumptions about what I can and cannot do on my own, for treating me like some sort of incompetent teenager just because I’m a woman, for acting like there is something wrong with a husbandless, boyfriendless woman attempting to renovate a house that I feel my eyes well up.
And then I get pissed off at myself for crying because that’s exactly what an incompetent teenager would do.
When I tell my dad what happened, he immediately launches into dad-mode. “Give me the guy’s name. And the number for his office. Anyone who talks to my daughter that way is gonna hear it from me!”
But I tell him no.
I’m 29 years old.
I am the one who bought this house. I am the one who he’s going to hear from, because what I lack in conversational prowess, I make up for in strongly-worded letter writing.
So I don’t go off on the guy at the Home Show. After all, it wasn’t his fault that his company hires morons who are stuck in the 1950s. But I will say this, because it needs to be said (and if you have anything to add, be sure to leave your two cents in the comments box below!)
- It is 2015. Women—young women—can buy their own houses these days and if you want their business, you need to know that your condescending sense of humor isn’t going to get you anywhere. I was so offended by the contractor who came to give me the estimate that I crossed his company off of my list immediately, before I’d ever received his price.
- Don’t make stupid assumptions about a client’s financial status or how they financed the purchase of their house. And don’t imply that one of their parents must have purchased the home for them. You have no idea what they went through to get a mortgage. You have no idea how many loan officers they had to go through before they found one who didn’t mind their single status and their non-traditional career. (And if you can’t handle people with non-traditional careers, Philadelphia is probably not the city for you.)
- When a potential client tells you that the kitchen renovation is on their 3-5 year plan because finances are tight for the time being, the proper response is not, “Why don’t you just do it now? It would only cost like $10,000-$15,000. That’s not that much.” Maybe it’s not “that much” to some people, but it might be your client’s entire life’s savings. And no one wants to be made to feel like a loser simply because they’re trying to be sensible about budgeting for renovations instead of bankrupting themselves by doing it all at once.
- Be patient. Take the time to explain and to answer questions and if you can’t do that send someone else who can. And, while we’re on the subject, when you’re talking to your client, talk to your client, not their husband or boyfriend if they happen to have one. I haven’t experienced this personally but I’ve from many women who have and trust me, it pisses us off.
- If you manage to do all of these things (like the electricians I eventually hired did), you will find yourself in a pretty decent situation. And, although I can’t speak for all of us, I will say that some of us will buy you lunch, on multiple occasions, write you good reviews, pay you on time, and not freak out if things take a bit longer than they should as long as you stay in touch and do good work.
Your turn now: any contractor horror stories? Success stories? Humble brags about your latest home renovation project?