How to Pick a Contractor


If I had to make a list of things I don’t like about my job as a  . . . - whatever I am, it would not include scrubbing toilets, weeding, or disposing of the possums that our dog kills in the back yard. My top three hateful things about my life are these:

#3. Carrying groceries from the car to the kitchen.

#2. Taking the empty hangers out of closets and putting them back into the laundry room.

And the #1 Thing I Hate to Do: Calling people to try to get them to come to my house to do things like fix stuff or give estimates.

I’m aware that my list of three makes me look like a spoiled princess. If my worst day consisted of going grocery shopping, transporting wire hangers from room to room, and calling 1-800-Roto-Rooter would anyone feel bad for me? I don’t think so.

I swear I would rather participate in a triathlon than ask someone to do work for me. Besides a general dislike for talking on the phone, I have a weird sense that I’m imposing by asking someone to come all the way to my house and do their job for money. Insecure? Me? Nooooo.

This also applies to calling babysitters and ordering pizzas. There were times when I’d think of a reason why we just shouldn’t go out, rather than call a 16-year-old and offer her a babysitting job. And I’ve been known to whip up a three-course meal in 20 minutes using only canned kidney beans, jelly and a shriveled zucchini just to avoid calling Papa Johns.

Recently I’ve had a lot of calling to do, with just having moved. Already I’ve called for estimates for car insurance, house painters, plumbers, shelf builders and window blinds installers. This week I’m tackling finding a landscaper and lawn maintenance person. It’s grim. I don’t excel at this kind of thing. My strategy in picking the four-to-seven contractors to compare estimates brings results that could come from closing my eyes, spinning around and pointing. A kindergartner could do better. 

I once chose a painter because he was the only guy who called me back using a Kentucky accent I could understand.

I chose a tree trimmer once because his estimate was the highest of five but when I asked him how he planned to take down the tree he didn’t use the words “cherry picker,”  “permit” or “liability insurance.”  

I chose a dentist once because his name was Dr. Michael Balloon. How could someone with such a cute name cause any pain?

This week was landscapers. I put together my first list of four by flipping through the yellow pages and calling companies that sounded like they’d have receptions that would answer the phone. They had names like A Cut Above, Sharper Cuts, Total Lawn Solutions, and Mowing by Brad.  No luck there, so I moved onto Phase II.  My second list consisted of:

Frank’s, who I found in the yellow pages. He sounded so lonely. 

Charles Johnson Lawn Care, who I found on the Internet. I knew a guy from Hubbard whose name was Charles Johnson and he was a pretty nice guy. Thus . . .

M&M Landscaping, whose truck was parked across the street. I heard a weed whacker, got out the binoculars and read the phone number off the truck. 

My Three Sons Landscaping, whose truck was driving down our street when I went out to water plants. I dropped the hose and followed it the corner and said the phone number over and over again until I could get in the house and write it down.

Even after all that, I’ve only gotten one estimate from one company. 

Doesn’t anyone want to cut my grass? Trim the bushes? Use all the equipment you bought when you started this business? Hand out your business cards so that I can recommend you to new clients? Grow? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sorry I called.