I'm curious about the pink area rug...

The contractor interview is actually a two-way street.  You are sizing up the contractor and he is doing the same right back atcha.

 He’s looking for signs that you will be a nervous or unreasonable client, slow to pay, calling him up at all hours with questions and worries, unable to make a decision or changing your mind all the time, untrusting.

Prickly Pear Cactus - wikipedia picture

We are upfront with contractors about our clients …sometimes you are what I call a ‘prickly-pear’, rough on the outside but you have a good heart.  Or maybe you and your significant other argue all the time, which is OK, if that’s how you roll, but the contractor should be warned about that. 


Are you an unreasonable penny-pincher?  As in that guy who insisted on doing his own demo, and removed too much, putting the entire project in jeopardy with the City?  (the City had rules about how much you can demo and still call the project an addition)

Do you enjoy the contract negotiation process?  Maybe a little overmuch?  Just because you are paying less, doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal.  Remember, it’s a service, not a product.  You might end up negotiating out of the contract all the little niceties that the contractor does for his client at his own expense (often unbeknownst to the client).

 Does the cost of everything shock you?  Do you continue to grouse about it?  Over…and over…and over… 

Feed me!

Have you done a project like this before?  Or are you a newbie?  Newbies can require more hand-holding from the contractor.

 Are you always right?  Even when you aren’t?  And believe me, you aren’t.

At least she has protective goggles...

Will you be living in the home while the project is going on?  That means the contractor has to be more careful with the jobsite, especially if you have children.  Just something he must consider when he does his pricing.   There are also timing and coordination issues if you are going to live in one area while work is being done there and move to the new area so work can be done in the old area – all subs will be called out TWICE to the job – eliminating a lot of efficiency.

 Are you so busy at work you won’t be available when he needs you? 

 We had one project where the hubby was busy and left most of the day to day process to his wife.  But she couldn’t deal with the stress of the project and kept arguing and fussing and carrying on, misunderstanding what was happening and why and what was needed next and throwing everyone into a tizzy – she would call with a question, get an answer and tell her husband, who would then call and say ‘what?!?’ and then say ‘oh, I get it’.  We finally asked that the hubby take her off the project! 

 If you are going to be a pain to deal with, the contractor will include an invisible ‘personality’ clause in his contract to enable him to get through the frustration of having you as a difficult client.

 The contractor/homeowner relationship is one of trust.  If you don’t trust each other, then the project won’t be as happy-making for either of you. 

 If a contractor hates working on your project, then…well, let’s just say you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  You want the contractor and his people to enjoy coming to your project.  If they hate working on your job, then yours might be the job that gets pushed to the side when a more profitable one comes along.  They won’t stop work, but they’ll have pauses between phases whenever they can.

Trust your gut, if you feel uncomfortable about a contractor, for whatever reason – maybe you don’t like his toupee.  Remember he and his team are living with you for weeks and months and a good relationship is of utmost importance.

 Remember, too that you are essentially hiring each other.  If a client is a pain in the patootie, it’s likely that no matter how perfect the job is, the contractor won’t be getting a good referral from him; simply because that’s the way he is – nitpicky, unreasonable and never satisfied – so the contractor won’t want that job.  Trade magazines say over and over that it’s better to walk away from anyone who seems that they would be a very difficult client than try to make them happy.  We’ll just spend lots of time, energy and money trying to please them, but its for naught.

We’ve known Jim & Marion Campisi, of Campisi Construction, www. campisihomes.com ,  for about 15 years.  I talked with Jim yesterday and asked him what he looks for in a client – his idea for a ‘best’ client and a ‘worst’ client and about the process he goes through when bidding on a job.  Here’s what he had to say:

Our best client seems to be a person who is, first of all, trusting and respectful of my abilities and able to work in a partnership.  We work on that relationship from the get-go and I work to understand the clients’ needs.


Clients should try to be confident in their decision-making skills and trust their own reactions and instincts.  Usually, whatever we are initially drawn to is the right decision for us.  When there is a lot of going back and forth, constantly second guessing their decisions, this affects the construction schedule and generally leads to confusion for the clients. 

Clients should also be realistic about their budget.  If you have a budget of $2/sf for flooring – try to stay with that.  If you find something you love for $4/sf, and decide to go with that, you will have to compromise somewhere else in the project if you want to stay on budget.  This can ultimately sidetrack your original vision for your project and lead to a treadmill of delays and a breakdown of your timeline and budget. 

I wouldn’t consider any of my customers to be “worst clients.”  A challenging situation for me though is when a couple is not “on the same page”.  If they both plan to be part of the decision making process, it is important that they communicate with each other before making a decision.  I encourage them both to be present at construction meetings, if possible.  This will ultimately save them time, energy and money. 

My philosophy is service, service, service – which begins during the estimate process.  At our initial meeting, I bring a package to the client with my certifications and license information.   We sit down and spend anywhere from 30-60 minutes going over the project.  This enables me to get to know them and have an accurate picture of their needs, desires and budget.  I then go back to my office and work on a ballpark estimate from demo to completion.  The reason for this is that a lot of times we don’t have all the details such as foundation, electrical, etc.  I try to anticipate that information based on my 20+ years of experience. 

I work to make my estimates and bids ‘real-world’ using worst-case scenario numbers so that I’m not unrealistically low.  I’m proud to say that my estimates are usually within 5% of the final bid.  I will then present the estimate and go over the breakdown.

If clients feel comfortable with the estimate and consider me to be one of the top 3 that they plan to get final bids from,  I’ll take them on a tour where I can show them 2 or 3 homes that are similar in theirs to scope, finish and design and explain how it relates to their project.

When a client comes back to me with their final construction documents, I make 6 copies of the plans to give to my subcontractors to get hard bids from for their work.  I then create a cost breakdown for the project with about 80 different points/line items, some of which have subcategories.  This typically takes from 2-3 weeks as I will go over the numbers with a fine tooth comb many times, making sure I have included everything and arrived at a realistic number for the clients.  From there, I can prepare a final Contract to be presented.  We will go over the full scope of the contract in detail which includes a draw schedule, lien rights, etc.  This can take a few hours to present to the client. 

My goal is for my clients to feel comfortable with me and my team.  I urge clients to ask questions  I want them to feel confident with our abilities, comfortable with our contract and to trust that we are doing the job right.  I’ll do everything in my power to help make that happen.


Thank you, Jim, for your insight into the perfect and not-so-perfect client.

If anyone has questions about the process of hiring a contractor, please feel free to contact me at MyBetterHouse@live.com  😉

oops!  I forgot to include the photo credit.    www.morguefile.com  unless otherwise noted.