Writing left handed

How to Piss off a Woman in 5 Easy Steps: The Contractor(s) from Hell

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.

Contractors workers people.

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?

7 Responses to “How to Piss off a Woman in 5 Easy Steps: The Contractor(s) from Hell”

  1. becky119

    Yikes. I admire your ability to deal with this yourself. Sadly, I am not the kind of person that is able to deal with difficult situations myself, at least not well. I would gladly have my Dad step in. But I guess I should try to grow up a bit and learn to fight my own battles.

    So, I live in an old house. There is a ton of stuff that we need to work on, but it’s not considered a priority and the landlords are renovating their other home so there isn’t a lot of cash floating around. We cannot run a space heater and the microwave at the same time or the power goes. Standing by the window you can feel a breeze. You can see the outside from the front door – there is a huge gap at the bottom. And the heat. Oh the heat.

    We have a radiator system in our place. It hasn’t worked well since we moved in. The gas bill is HUGE and last year we convinced the landlords to invest in a new system. But they went for the lowest bidders and you know what they say, you get what you pay for. Our gas bill went up even more. Oh, and they smoked in my house. Not cool. Plus instead of updating the system and getting something that works well, the landlords opted to just repair our current system. So we put up with higher bills and a shitty system last winter. Then this year we convinced them to hire someone who knew what they were doing to take a look. The guy we hired took one look at the system and said whomever was here last had no idea what they were doing. Luckily, this guy is much more competent. And he didn’t creep me out. AND my puppy liked him. They fixed it up. It still is a terrible system and a lot of the pipes in our basement need to be replaced (as you can tell from the one that is currently leaking). But these guys are much better and even came by at like 10pm when the heat stopped working. So I guess you can call it a win?

    • Kat Richter

      Wow! Sounds like your landlord is pretty awful! Glad to hear that at least some things are getting sorted out.

      As for dealing with this sort of stuff, I should confess that it was only when my dad stepped in that I made ANY progress in the contractor department. I really wanted to do it all on my own but everything was taking so long that I finally said, “okay, I need help.” I really didn’t want to but in the end I am glad I did.

      Buying/owning a home has been the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life. I went to the dentist yesterday and she was like, “Do you grind your teeth?” And I said, “Yeah, it started about a year ago…”

      • becky119

        Actually, the landlords are awesome (FH parents). It’s just difficult to get them to listen to our opinions sometimes. I think it can be hard for them to accept that every once in awhile we do know what we’re talking about. Plus they almost never buy me books for Christmas! 😉

        Didn’t someone say once that the most adult thing you can do sometimes is ask for help? Maybe Giles? So don’t feel bad that you didn’t handle every little detail yourself.

  2. landlord no longer

    I don’t even know where to begin, but will preface it with “first world problem” as our most recent horror story was for our vacation rental that we were renovating. Had two potential contractors, but lost them to Sandy hurricane work, had to start all over, found one at the home show, and yes he was there at his stupid vendor booth too, but it was not him, but a “representative’ ANYWAY…things from putting the dual medicine cabinets in upside down, one was correct the other was not. ..anyway it became clear that there needs to be a multi gender team on any contracting team, as there is a difference in what each side focuses on. They would be “done” by 2 pm, as we were near the beach, meanwhile I WASN’T enjoying the beach because I was WORKING ON THE HOUSE 🙂 When it comes to design and layout, you need a more artistic eye looking and creating, something many contractors and husbands lack, not all, just the ones I know and happen to be married to.

    Yes, it is good to have help, but it is also good to know that there are many things we can do on our own, and the building, car buying, housing, etc. these industries better wake up to that fact quickly.

  3. A City Girl

    It’s hard to find a reliable person/company to help you with your renovation all wrapped up into someone that does the work to your satisfaction.

  4. keenan

    If it is any consolation, contractors are condescending to men too. Perhaps because I look fairly young. I have had the mistake of telling a contractor that a particular project was a house my father owned and he simply went on and on like I knew nothing about repairing a damaged wooden floor. It was beyond infuriating. What really got him upset was when I asked him to leave because he was condescending. Lol. It’s funny now but it really had me riled up. Forgot to mention, it was probably the “artist pants” I happened to be wearing, that prior I was a project manager for a residential architect on v. expensive townhouse renovations in NYC…… But go you for forging ahead! Every project is a homeowner’s baby and should be treated with respect.


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