Since the publication last year of my book, "What No One Ever Tells You About Renovating Your Home," the first question I'm forever being asked is how to find a contractor.
Of course, "word of mouth" is the reply, but the issue goes much deeper than those three words. For even if your contractor comes with the most impeccable credentials and solid recommendations, there are going to be times that the two of you aren't going to get along.
The reason: You as a homeowner are handing a perfect stranger thousands of dollars to take control of your life for anywhere from three days to six months or longer. Wouldn't that make you less than accommodating?
Kimberly-Clark financed a couple of surveys by Opinion Research Corp. to try to gauge what contractors and consumers really think about one another.
For homeowners who have used a contractor in the last few years, the worst fear is shoddy workmanship. Four of 10 respondents who had work done in their homes in the last few years chose this over other unpleasant possibilities, such as contractors who make romantic advances, break things, talk all day, or even use the bathroom without flushing.
By contrast, a contractor's worst nightmare was the customer who continually asks for work to be changed or redone. This was followed by customers who don't pay on time. Lower down on the contractor's nightmare meter were customers who talk too much, who ask for work that doesn't conform to building codes, and even those who threaten to sue.
What were the top three complaints that contractors and customers had about each other? For customers: Work isn't started on time, when the price of the job is increased after it's been started or completed, and contractors who leave a mess and don't clean up.
For contractors: Customers who try to get them to do more work without additional compensation, customers who don't pay on time, and customers who try to renegotiate the price after the job is completed.
How are contractors picked?
Sixty-four percent of home improvement customers cited a personal recommendation from someone they trust as the key determinant for selecting a contractor.
Seventy percent of contractors said they believed customers chose them because of quality workmanship or work experience with the customer or someone they knew.
Only 2 percent of customers said they'd base their choice of a contractor on good looks. A small number of contractors begged to differ, asserting that customers chose them because they're "hot, and everyone knows it."
I think this is known as the "Ty Pennington Syndrome," and I assume that there is a treatment, such as hiring the next contractor on the list.
These finding bears out one of the major points of my book, I'm happy to say.
For customers, negotiating prices and "feeling weird about having a total stranger in their homes" tied for the least favorite aspects of hiring a home improvement contractor.
For contractors, customers who change their minds took the top spot, followed by constant complaints and nitpicking, having to negotiate prices and feeling like they're being watched.
If they do not like a customer, contractors do have options. When they don't want a job, their most common response is to overprice it.
After that it appears that honesty is the best policy: One-third of contractors will simply tell potential customers thanks but no thanks.
Jay Cipriani, the contractor in Chapter 13 of my book, says just that.
"If I begin working with a customer and it looks like we are not going to mesh, I tell them as quickly as possible that it won't work and suggest they find someone else," he says.
Of the 100 jobs Cipriani's company does each year, two on average don't work out, he says.
And now to a delicate matter.
Nearly 70 percent of customers said they have no problem letting contractors use their home bathrooms. Fifteen percent said they would allow contractors to use their bathrooms, but would hope they didn't take them up on the offer. Ten percent said they would change the towels and clean up after a contractor used it.
Only 1 percent forbade contractors from using their bathrooms.
When contractors are working outside the home, 74 percent of customers said they would let workers inside to use the bathroom. Eleven percent would say yes and immediately regret it. Eight percent would just say no.
Contractors who work outside have a variety of methods for dealing with this issue: 44 percent ask the homeowner to use the bathroom, 26 percent run to the nearest gas station or convenience store, 22 percent order a portable outdoor toilet and 12 percent drive to a fast-food restaurant.
My suggestion: Let the workers use your bathroom. About 20 years ago, I had a crew of plasterers working in my house, and the contractor decided that they couldn't use my bathroom without asking me.
The neighbors were not amused.