Now within the context of this article I will make a lot of generalizations which aren’t necessarily true for all people. From this article new contractors should learn how to analyze people and experienced contractors can reminisce on their past dealing that went wrong. But it has been my experience that bad customers are often easy to spot if you know how. Most of this will be common sense when you read the article but in our own rush of greed or desperation to sign a contract we often overlook warning signs only to have regrets later on.
The “everyone else’s time is worthless”
Warning Signs: Over-Shopping for low prices, Unwilling to make personal allowances for construction such as sending pets to a kennel, cleaning out a room or allowing working on a weekend. Also asking for extremely “cheesy” work and re-using of old parts.
They don’t respect your work or skill and feel you are lucky that they hired you. They feel that they are doing other people a favor by simply hiring them. Firstly, let me explain that I have great respect for frugality. However this person isn’t frugal with their own money. That’s why they are being frugal with yours. Also they are self centered and will constantly ask for you to work around them and there ever changing requirements. These people are self centered and don’t function well in the workforce. That means they have trouble earning a high wage. As a result they develop a scarcity mindset and will assume others are in the same position.
How to deal with them: Promise them nothing but the most basic utility grade finishes. Make sure they can write a check on the spot and never let them talk you into some half baked scheme.
Not to be confused with: Rich snobs and trust fund babies. These people will have an attitude that they are above everyone else. Just make sure their attitude is writing checks their bank account can cash.
The neurotic mind changer
Warning Signs: Asking tons of oddly specific questions but unwilling to commit themselves to anything in writing concerning design or layout.
These people don’t know what they wan’t. All they know is that they like or don’t like it only after you have installed. Damn the fact that they picked it out and that you marked the location where it would be installed. Nothing will satisfy them and the more they stand and questions themselves and you the less happy they will be. Similar to the above personality these people will ask you to redo things 3 different ways and expect to only pay for it once!
How to deal with them: Have a solid contract. Refuse change order and keep focused on your original scope of work. Charge them by time and materials or cost plus to avoid the liability of working within their current mood.
Not to be confused with: Indifferent people. They aren’t really particular either way so they have no input. They will be simply be happy with everything installed correctly and looking nice.
The architecture aficionado
Warning Signs: Wild obscure design elements, pictures and diagrams from multiple websites
These people will ask for things you know you shouldn’t be doing. They will ask for semi-gloss paint on an existing hallway were it will look horrible due to drywall defects. They will ask for an amazing glass enclosure around their fire pit which will break from heat on day one. They will “poo-poo” industry standard and come up with a new and better way of doing things. Their heart is in the right place but their energy and enthusiasm must be tempered by your experience.
How to deal with them: It hurts a contractors pride to come up with excuses for why something cant or shouldn’t be done. After all you are the “know all” and “do all” guy…right? Charge them overhead costs beyond a normal customer. There will be much time spent standing around discussing the finer points of building.
Not to be confused with: Weirdo artistic types. People who work with their hands for a living such as artists see defects in all construction much like contractors. Yes they want some things that are a little “off the wall” but you can talk with them reasonably. They are grounded by common sense derived from personal experience in their own fields.
The overbearing complainer & last minute negotiator
Warning Signs: Artificially friendly or distant altogether, tests your responsiveness to their complaints before signing a proposal
These people know what they are doing. They complain about everything just to keep you on the defensive. If you show up early they hate you, if you show up late they hate you and if you show up on time they are disappointed you didn’t show up early. It’s all a negotiating tactic.They are paying a game and trying to get you into a corner. Finally when you finish they will have 101 reasons why they shouldn’t have to pay. These people are arguing with emotion.
How to deal with them: Don’t play their games. Have a solid contract and make sure you never let yourself get into a position where they are actually right, because you will never hear the end of it. Spell out the fact that finishes in all trades will be a close but not exact match. Keep pre-filled out lien paperwork handy and deliver it to them at the very first sign of a serious dispute.
Not to be confused with: A pissed off customer who is impatient due to many issues with the construction process. When somebody has a reputation of being easy going and they complain about you it is 100X more damaging to your reputation than the overbearing negotiator.
The estimate critic
Warning Signs: Asks for overly detailed bid information
This is the person who knows more than you about how this should get done and everything will just be so easy. They really can’t understand how you justify your proposed price. They want tedious invoices with which they will explain how things could be done better, faster and cheaper. These people are arguing from logic. They are learning about your business and are using the information to rationalize away your opinions. And if you simply cant see their point of view they will cut out the middleman and hire your workers or vendors themselves.
How to deal with them: Don’t negotiate down from your original contract and don’t attempt to defend your expenses. Offer them the chance to do the work themselves and be willing to walk away. Make sure you workers and suppliers don’t bill you for any of the owners special requests.
Not to be confused with: The “everyone else’s time is worthless”. The estimate critic thinks your time is very valuable. They will keep on you for as long as the scope of work is beyond their ability to manage.
The do-it yourself time waster
Warning Signs: Calls you out to look at a job, wants to talk shop instead
They come by it honestly because we have all done it. They are a nice person but their wasting your time. They have every intention of doing the work themselves of another subcontractor but first they must pick your brain. How can they save money, what should be done and what issues haven’t they thought of. Sometimes they don’t do the work at all.
How to deal with them: You will definitely give a few free home inspections in this business. Just know when to cut your losses.
Not to be confused with: The “nuerotic mind changer”. The time wasters don’t have a mental disorder there just going through the motions.
The “can you also”
Warning Signs: tough contract negotiations, delayed approval or payment
These people are trying to stretch a buck the best way they know how. There is a tacit understanding that when construction crews are working on your property you can often get them to help you with trivial items. These people will ask for endless “tiny favors”. When the job nears completion they find reason to not be around and examine the work or to pay you. The longer the contract is extended the longer they make you dance. They will try to build a personal relationship with which to ask personal favors.
How to deal with them: Let them know that you may be willing to do them favors after the job is completed and not a moment sooner. Let them know that you are on a new job next week so they better make sure everything turned out as planned.
Not to be confused with: A generally nice person. Nice people will build a relationship with you and ask nothing special in return.
The “Professional Negotiator”
Warning Signs: No personal characteristic warning signs. Possibly a bad business reputation
These people are professional negotiators. They will use every method from the ones listed above and maybe a few extras I didn’t mention. Their intention aren’t clear and they may take you to the cleaners or just paw you around to get a reaction. Their ambitious, aggressive and over educated. They have the experience and the money to back it up. They have had their but kicked before but now they do the butt kicking.
How to deal with them: Scare them off by being on top of your game. The ones with no intention of paying your will not sign a contract unless they feel the can escape it. The ones who aren’t malicious will do a little less pawing if they respect you. I have known these people to get houses remodeled for free by suing everyone after the job is complete.
Not to be confused with: These people are like shape-shifters and you will never now until it’s too late.