Renovation & Design

MIKE HOLMES: The way you treat your contractor matters -- a lot

Canwest News Service/When the relationship between contractor and homeowner is friendly and mutually respectful, it is much easier for a successful outcome, advises Mike Holmes.

I was talking to a fellow contractor recently -- a guy who has an excellent reputation and takes great pride in what he does. I asked him how his year has been and he said: "Great -- and it'll get even better now that I'm picking and choosing my clients more carefully."

He went on to tell me he wasn't taking every job that was offered to him anymore. He was being a lot more selective because he was tired of putting his heart and soul into a project for a customer who was indifferent or unappreciative.

Now you'd think that, for a contractor, a job is a job. They show up, magically finish the work, and get paid -- thank you very much. But that's not all there is to it, at least not for the contractors who are extremely good at what they do.

Sure, taking pride in the job, doing the best they can do, and personal satisfaction is usually enough for a skilled tradesperson. But I can tell you that the difference between an acceptable outcome and an exceptional one can be something as simple -- and as important -- as how much the contractor likes you. Or, if the personal dynamic is really bad, how much he or she dislikes you.

This isn't about a popularity contest. It's about treating the contractor like a human being. So often homeowners treat their contractor like nameless, faceless, hired help and yet still expect them to treat their home with love and respect and give the project 110 per cent.

We all have feelings. The contractor who is getting selective about clients summed it up best: "Why should I choose to work for someone who is passive-aggressive towards me, when I can work for someone who genuinely appreciates my efforts?" Exactly. If I can pick and choose my jobs, why wouldn't I choose to work with people who work well with me?

If a contractor isn't enjoying his/her work environment, they'll do everything possible to finish that job so they can get the heck out of a negative environment. Believe me, I've seen it many times. I know in my case, I'd try to do little extra things for the homeowner who treated me well. The rewards of treating your contractor with respect are sometimes noticeable and sometimes not. But still, it won't kill you to be nice.

I've heard from many homeowners that they keep calling contractors but, after a first meeting, they never hear back from them. That might be because some contractors are just not any good at following through, or at doing what they say they will. But it might be because the contractor has decided the homeowners just won't appreciate him.

You've heard it before -- there's only one chance to make a first impression. And these days, when good contractors are in demand, that first impression may be the only factor keeping them from working on your house. The contractor I spoke of earlier said that all the jobs he did this year went off without a hitch and the customers were all extremely happy -- except one. And he knew at the beginning he shouldn't have taken the job.

In that one case, he had a gut feeling that there was something not right about this situation, but couldn't put his finger on the problem. On the first day of a two-week project, the homeowner did a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," becoming aggressive, demanding and -- the biggest no-no of all -- talked down to him.

Would a professional contractor with a reputation to uphold quit at the first sign of negative client behaviour? Of course not. But I guarantee that contractor is going to do everything in their power to finish the job in the shortest amount of time -- and the motivation to do the very best job possible goes right out the window with every shortcut they take.

So don't assume contractors are just in it for the money. Some of us really enjoy doing a good job. Remember, contractors are also people and they really do appreciate being appreciated. Good contractors are not just working on your home; they are working hard for you. When the relationship is friendly and mutually respectful, it's much easier for a successful outcome.

You don't have to come out and gush with compliments every day, but I always felt that I was appreciated when the homeowners left a small gesture -- some cookies, or arrived at the end of the day with coffee for the crew. But beyond that, good communication is the foundation of a good contractor-client relationship.

And if you had a positive experience with your contractor, and plan to have them back again for another job, make sure they are on your holiday card list this season. It's like getting a gold star on their report card.

If nothing else, one simple tip that goes a long way: Know the name(s) of the contractors working in your home -- I always hated when the client would refer to me as "Hey, Buddy."

My name is Mike, thanks.

Catch Mike in his brand new series, Holmes Inspection, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information visit


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