November 7, 2013
I’ve been having the most frustrating time trying to get someone to replace the skylight at my house. Ever since I bought my house in early 2010, I’ve known I wanted to replace the window in the bedroom. But, it didn’t leak water, and it wasn’t too pressing. Finally, when I moved out and was planning to rent the house out, I decided to get it replaced since the cost was now a tax deduction and my budget would better afford it.
I made the mistake of entering my contact info into an aggregator site and allowing several contractors to contact me. That resulted in a lot of emails and calls and I got two different contractors to quote the job. I probably should have asked around with friends for their recommendations or tried Angie’s list first.
I got one guy (Contractor A) to come out and measure the window; and after several rounds of emails and calls, we decided on the model and size of the skylight to order, and he sent an initial bid. This contractor broke the work out into a labor estimate and then listed the window as a separate item with the price marked as variable depending on which model I choose for a total of ~$2,100. I offered to pay $500 upfront and then order the ~$1000 skylight myself. (I was offering to put up about 2/3 of the total cost.) Contractor A wanted half the fee upfront to initiate the deal and wanted to order the window himself. Fine, maybe he was going to mark up the window or didn’t trust that I would order the right one and proper flashing kit.
When I clarified that I wanted one with a built-in blind, I could see on the Velux website that the cost would be higher – the total price should have been about $2300. I asked for an update bid to reflect our verbal agreement, but a week or two later hadn’t gotten the updated copy. I sent a check for half the original bid amount and wrote that I understood that the total cost was dependent on the cost of the window, so the second check (payable when the work was complete) may need to be more.
After a week without response, when another check I sent out the same day had already been deposited, I called the contractor to see what was up. Had he ordered the window yet? Another week went by and I called and left voicemails and emailed a few more times. No response.
At this point, it was 2 months after Contractor A and I had first talked and a month after I had expected the approximately 8 hour job to be completed. So, I emailed Contractor A and said if I didn’t hear back that day I’d cancel the check and use someone else. I got an email later that day, saying:
“Thanks for the email. My voicemail has been a little strange for messages. Anyway I looked through all my mail and I did end up finding your letter and check! I apologize, my kids get the mail sometimes and do not tell me. I have your check, I can get the skylight ordered and put in asap. Sorry for the delay.”
Blaming your kids and cell phone is unlikely and lame, but I was still willing to give him one last chance. I emailed back within the hour to ask for a timeline for installation. No response, until today, 10 days later.
I’d already paid $25 to cancel the check, and yesterday, given Contractor B $1300 (half their $2600 fee) and signed an agreement for them to do the work when I got an emailing saying Contractor A could install the window next week, but they “noticed that you canceled the check?”.
Things Contractor B has done right so far:
1) Calls back 2) Follows through on commitments 3) Arrives on time
Contractor A did a lot of leg work, but got those simple things wrong. Ultimately, it’s not all about price. Since Contractor B could stay in the right ballpark for their fee and was willing to order the window before receiving my check, just to help me out, and set a firm date to install it, I was willing to pay them over 10% more. It’s certainly not 10% more work to respond to emails and voice messages in a timely way.