3 questions your contractor shouldn't ask
Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List
It's not uncommon for service companies to screen potential customers, especially on larger jobs. Like any professional, a contractor's time is valuable and he or she should be confident their client will actually pay once the project is complete. Unfortunately, sometimes a reasonable request for information gets lost in translation and potential clients get scared off by what they think are invasive, personal or rude questions.
Recently, one of our help desk representatives shared a story about a call we received from an elderly member who lived alone. The member was terrified because she'd called a contractor to do some work and he had asked if she was widowed, if she'd be alone when he arrived, and if she had any savings. Instead of hiring the contractor, the frightened woman was ready to call the police!
The contractor likely was only trying to determine if the prospective client would make the hiring decision or if others needed to be present when he made his pitch, and if she seemed like a good risk for paying his bill — both legitimate concerns. However, he literally scared off her business by how he framed his questions.
We've spent 15 years advising homeowners to investigate their potential contractors' reputations in the community before making hiring decisions. Good contractors deserve similar information about their potential clients. They'll have an easier time getting it — and winning customers — with clear communication.
Homeowners, though, should always walk away from anyone asking questions so poorly that they came across as scary. Here's a sampling of questions contractors should never ask, why they shouldn't, and what they should ask instead.
Will you be alone when I arrive?
WHY THEY SHOULDN'T: Asking a potential client if he or she will be alone when a contractor arrives may make the homeowner think the contractor has criminal intent. Also inappropriate are these companion questions: Are you married? Do you live alone? Are you widowed?
WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK INSTEAD: Will anyone else be involved with decisions about the project and payment? I want to be sure not to waste your time, so it would be best if everyone is available at the same time.
What's your credit score?
WHY THEY SHOULDN'T: Asking about a potential client's credit score can easily cause offense, as can questions like: Do you have a job? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? How much money is in your bank account?
WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK INSTEAD: How would you like to handle payment? If necessary, a contractor can check your credit history through normal channels.
Can I see your other bids before I give you mine?
WHY THEY SHOULDN'T: Asking about other bids is sort of like asking if you can cheat off your neighbor during a fourth-grade spelling test. It should make the potential customer wonder if the contractor is offering the best bid he or she can.
WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK INSTEAD: I hope you'll give me a chance to talk this over after you review all of your bids. I think it's a fair bid; it reflects the cost of the job as well as the value of my qualifications and training.