Monday, April 4, 2011

Insider Tips: Notes From a Blue Collar Gal

How one client paid us.


Every homeowner bumps into situations when DIY is a DDI -- a "don't do it."

I'm talking about the times when you just have to hire the Big Guys, the ones with all the latest tools, the manly truck, and sometimes the proper local or state certification. They are the ones who have been doing it --  wiring, plumbing, roofing, landscaping -- for years.

This post if for those times. I am going to tell you how to deal with these people. I know because I am one of these people. I am a housepainter.

I might wear pink overalls, but I'm a blue collar worker. Housepainters rank pretty darn low on the status scale of trade people in the construction field. I'm not going to quote Rodney Dangerfield here, but you know what I'm talking about.

I like to think that I always give every client the best service I can. But if I am honest, I'll admit that the people who have treated me well when I worked for them, even though I am "just the painter," are the people I was happy to go that extra mile for.

While I can't endorse befriending every member of every crew doing work around your home, it helps to remember that a little kindness goes a long way.

Here are my tips to having a productive, satisfying relationship for both you and any helpers you hire.

Tip #1
Learn their names. if they will be at your house for more than a few days. First names are usually sufficient unless you are building an ongoing relationship or need to know the name that goes on the check. I remember one woman who hired Mr. Lucky and me to paint her home -- and then her son's home, her church's office, her next home, and her rental property (love that!). Whenever someone came to her home while we were there, she actually introduced us, using both first AND last names. She flattered us by showing us respect, simply by using our names. Lesson: It's the little things that create a bond between people. 

Tip #2
Make them feel welcome. Say hello to acknowledge their arrival and let them know you are home. In the South where I am, the custom is to always engage in a little small talk in all business situations. To not banter a bit is considered rude.

Some people give in-house workers the message that they are not trusted. Don't do this. If you have questions about the honesty or ethics of people in your house, you have hired the wrong people. I am not suggesting that you leave cameras, money, and jewelry about when having your bathroom re-tiled by a couple of men you never met before. Be smart, but don't demonstrate paranoia and distrust.

How do you find trustworthy and capable tradespeople? Ask your realtor for the names of good people. Or ask other tradespeople. For instance, a carpet cleaning service man will probably know who lays good carpet, and a painter will know a good carpenter. You can also ask fussy friends and neighbors for the names of people they have been pleased with.  

We have painted for people who do not leave the room we are working in. They may be lonely, or they may be distrustful. If you have hired tradespeople, greet them, and then remove yourself. Not only is it a distraction to have to carry on a conversation, but workers may feel you are trying to learn how they do what they do, so that next time you can DIY and save the money. It makes you look like you wish you didn't have to hire them.

Tip #3
Make them feel appreciated. In one small house where we were painting, the homeowners were home all day. Each day when their daughter returned from school, they baked cookies. Of course the scent of chocolate chips, sugar and butter filled the place. Did they ever offer us one? They did not. Did we feel appreciated? We did not. Did we adjust our schedule so we could do more painting for them when they called us again? No. We're not mean, but when push comes to shove, people go where they are appreciated. Lesson: The Golden Rule is still good business.  
Cheese, crackers, grapes, jellybeans!

Can you tell I love cookies?

The woman who paid us with gift-wrapped cash in a thank you card last week (photo above) also set out a snack and coffee buffet just for Mr. Lucky and me that was so unusual in its graciousness, I had to take a photo (right). While this example is definitely over the top, the message was clear: "We appreciate you."

You absolutely don't have to go to this extreme, but...just saying...

Doughnuts are always a big hit with workers. A dozen doughnuts buys you a whole lot of feel good.   

Tip #4
Make them comfortable. I don't know if you have ever been in a stranger's home for the whole day. It can be a delicate situation. Workers aren't guests, but they aren't robots either. They will appreciate it, for example, if you tell them when they start a job, where the bathroom is, where they can get water, and what door you want them to use for coming and going. In some states the law requires you provide an outside portijohn when the number of persons on site reaches a certain number.

Are conditions comfortable for working? Tradespeople are used to working around debris and dust, and in extreme heat and cold. But you can still be the hero by providing an environment that is uncluttered and at a sensible temperature as much as is practical. Let them have what they need in order to do their job well.

At the same time, if the person you are hiring will be coming back on a regular basis, a housekeeper or a lawn maintenance person for example, you need to establish businesslike protocol at the beginning of the relationship. If you are too casual about the work that needs to be done, you may find your cleaning person or pool cleaning serviceman expects to have coffee and half an hour of conversation before beginning work. Lesson: Be friendly but don't be friends.

Tip #5
Praise their work.  Even if you are not totally happy with the job being done, find something you like. If you have complaints, let them know that, too. And don't wait until the job is done to express discontent. If you are considering a number of options at the start of your project, ask for their opinions. Experts and professionals usually like to hear the question, "What would you do?" because it signifies that you value their experience. You can still do it your way, or decide on an approach better than either you or the professional hadn't thought of previously.

Clients often ask me to help them make decisions about color or finishes. Some ask about painting-related problems, like removing mildew from a roof (trim the tree branches back to let light in, and sprinkle the roof with laundry powder). Asking opinions is one way to acknowledge expertise.

Next time you need to hang up your DIY tool belt, and bring in a contract worker, whether it's an air conditioning repairman, an electrician, a floor re-finisher, or some other hard working soul, follow my advice, and I think you will see better communication and better workmanship.

Maybe even a better price.

I can offer you many more tips to make selling your home a positive experience. My eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, will provide answers, inspiration, buying guides, and how-tos for everything from arranging furniture to curb appeal and everything in between. It's quick and easy to download. Why wait? I can start today to help you stage to sell.

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