“Thanks for not being condescending”

The first time one of my female clients thanked me for not “talking down” to her when I was providing her with an estimate for a roof replacement, I was a bit taken aback.
I come from a long line of brilliant women. My mother is an executive with the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.

My Great Aunt was the Head Librarian for the US Tax Court and wrote and published the US Tax Court Digest for 40 years.

My grandmother on my father’s side raised 3 boys on a cattle ranch in New Mexico. Needless to say, she was not only a smart woman, she was tough and certainly didn’t put up with condescension!
It’s probably because I’ve always been surrounded by such smart women, that it surprised me when I started hearing from my home improvement clients that they appreciated me not treating them like they were dumb, just because they were women. Frankly, it had never crossed my mind to think of a woman as being dumb, just because the topic of consversation was home improvement or construction. As I heard this same feedback more and more over the years, I began to question my clients about what exactly they meant by saying “they appreciated me” in this manner.
It was then that I started hearing how many of my female clients had got the feeling that some of the other contractors they had dealt with in the past, or had received estimates from, had talked down to them as if they were incapable of grasping the concepts they were discussing.
As I worked with more and more clients, I heard the same complaints over and over about the other contractors. At first, I really didn’t mind, I saw it as a competitive advantage over my competition. I reasoned, if my competititon was so broken-headed as to be condescending towards their female clients, all the better for me! But the other side of problem was actually starting to bother me. That side involved homeowners being ripped off by contractors, whether it be monetarily or just by the contractor doing poor work.
As a campaign to market my growing business, I started hosting a radio show in our area of Hampton Roads, VA . The show aired on Saturday mornings on AM radio and was an “Ask the Expert” format about the subject of home improvements.   The show was produced by the brilliant, yet always over-caffienated, Christy.  Here’s a video I shot of her bringing us back from a commercial break, while the other members of the show look on in awe of her ability to speak without breathing.

YouTube video

During the show I received countless calls from homeowners in our area whose experiences with contractors were nothing but an exercise in pain and frustration. I was asked over and over by homeowners “how can I check out a contractor before I hire them?” and “how can I prevent one of these contractor nightmares from happening to me?” It was a question that I really struggled with because there is no clear cut answer on this, for many reasons.

This series of blog posts are my attempt to give smart women the tools to achieve a successful home improvement project. I would teach the guys too…but let’s face it, guys never read instructions anyway…or ask for directions. Hopefully, through my efforts, their wives can protect them from themselves.
In the next several articles I will define the problem and give practical steps towards proactively dealing with it (notice I didn’t say “solving it”) with the goal of having a favorable contractor experience, increasing the value of your property and enhancing the enjoyment of your home.

My friends who have attended Alcoholics Annonymous tell me the organization teaches that the first step to dealing with alcoholism is to “Admit there is a problem”. I think that should be our first step too.

What are the facts about home improvement? Home Improvement contracting consistently ranks at the top of consumer complaints lists with every consumer advocacy group. From The Better Business Bureau to State Attorney General’s to Angie’s List, there is no shortage of disastisfied and disgruntled customers. The findings from the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America, reported on by CNN Money, show that Home Improvement is #3 only behind Cars and Credit Services on a list of top complaints that consumers come to state and local consumer protection agencies about.
Personally, I was pleasantly surprised that my industry got passed by credit card services on the complaint list! For years I have appreciated the car industry for keeping home improvement contracting out of the top spot, but now that credit card services is coming on so strong, the contractors have plummeted all the way down to the third spot! Woo Hoo! Our dream of reputability lives! Maybe some day mom will be ok with telling people at cocktail parties that I’m a contractor…

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