Contractors often get a bad rap. While homeowners know they need a contractor to repair their house after a storm, complete a renovation, or build their dream home, they’ve heard the stories. They can come in expecting contractors to take advantage of them.
While you know that your company is one of the good ones, the homeowner is only thinking about the predatory contractors they saw on the news — and they’re finding this trust barrier difficult to navigate. So, how can contractors earn a homeowner’s trust, win more projects, and avoid delays or disputes down the road? Keep reading to find out.
8 ways for contractors to build trust with a homeowner
If you’re looking for a magic bullet, this isn’t the place: Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. There aren’t any shortcuts to building trust with a homeowner, but the following tips will help.
1. Be punctual and prepared
Most homeowners don’t expect contractors to show up on time, so take the opportunity to surprise them. Show up to their estimate or other appointments just a few minutes early. This small gesture will show the homeowner that their time matters to you, and that can help set the tone for the whole job.
Also, be sure to come to the house prepared. If you’re coming from another job, keep a change of clothes in the truck, and swap out those muddy boots for a fresher pair. The goal here is to show them that you’re professional while still being yourself. Don’t try to fool them with a three-piece suit, but try to avoid dirty, grimy clothing.
2. Set expectations
Being honest with a homeowner can go a long way toward gaining their trust. Tell your customer whether or not their project, budget, or timeline is feasible. If it’s not, you’ll be able to educate them and put yourself in a more lucrative position than lying, taking the job, and upselling them down the road.
Shady, fly-by-night contractors will promise customers the world — and they hide the fact that they can put a lien on the owner’s home. They’ll collect a few checks, perform shoddy work, and then file a lien when the customer doesn’t pay.
The best place to set expectations is in the construction contract. Take the time to go over it with the homeowner. Review the scope of work, schedule, and payment terms to ensure they know their rights – and their responsibilities.
It’s also important to educate your customer about mechanics liens. A lot of homeowners don’t know that contractors can file a mechanics lien against their home if they don’t get paid for their work – even if they perform shoddy work or fail to finish the job! And it’s not just the contractor they hire, either — their subcontractors on the job can file their own claim, too.
Dishonest contractors may hide that fact from the homeowner — the owner will only find out when they get served with a copy of the lien. And you can bet your boots that they will tell everyone they know about it. When dealing with homeowners, remember: There are few things they hate more than surprises (unless your surprise is a lower bill).
If you’re upfront about your payment rights before the job begins, it sends a strong signal that you’re a professional outfit that wants to work with educated customers.
3. Communicate early and often
While being responsive is important, initiating communication might be more so. Reaching out with standard paperwork, concerns, questions, and ideas when they come up is important. This increased level of communication will help them feel more comfortable, as well.
This is where a document like a preliminary notice can be so critical. While this document preserves lien rights in some states, it has many benefits beyond the lien process. It also serves as a helpful introduction and establishes a level of professionalism. This is especially important when your company doesn’t have a contract directly with the homeowner.
Use a preliminary notice to introduce your company, outline expectations, and open a line of communication. And encourage your subcontractors to do the same.
Download a free preliminary notice form for use in any state.
But don’t stop communicating there. While it’s not worth bothering a customer for every minor detail, be upfront with challenges that can derail the project. If a sub makes a mistake, a particular material is delayed, or there are issues with inspections, it will all come out in the end anyway.
Be up front, assure them that you’re working on a solution, and stay in contact with them until you resolve the problem.
When you are forthcoming with information, the customer is more likely to do the same. If they’re unsure of a particular aspect of the project, they’re more likely to tell you before it’s too late to fix it. And, if they’re unable to make a payment, they’ll hopefully let you know ahead of time. While this won’t necessarily protect them from a lien, it does give you the opportunity to plan for tighter cash flow.
Read more: Why promises to pay are so dangerous
4. Be responsive
Most homeowners don’t have a ton of experience in the construction industry, so they’re likely to have a lot of questions. Being available to them — within reason — and answering their questions in a timely fashion can go a long way toward earning their trust.
Encourage your customers to reach out to you and ask questions when they have them, but set clear expectations about your availability. Choose times to check your phone and let them know when those times are.
Related: 9 tips to improve communication, reduce delays, and get paid faster
If they ask a question and it takes you 8 hours to get back to them, every hour that passes chips away at their trust. But, if you make it clear that you check your messages, emails, and texts twice a day, they’ll be much more willing to wait to hear from you.
If you don’t know the answer to their question, let them know that you received their voicemail, text, or email, and that you’re working on an answer. This small bit of communication will keep them feeling involved and maintain the trust you’ve built.
5. Make it easy for the owner to get to know you
People fear the unknown. In today’s modern, connected world, people want as much information as possible, and they want it as quickly as possible. They want to know more about the people that will be in their house.
Make sure your website’s About Us page has plenty of information about the company’s background, owner, and employees. When sending emails to schedule quotes or meetings, give the potential customer a quick bio about the person showing up. If you’re that person, don’t be shy about your experience or credentials. Customers want to know.
Take social media seriously, as well. Learn to get comfortable with being authentic in front of a camera. Also, be proud of your work and post frequently. Potential customers will begin to feel like they already know you, helping build trust.
6. Introduce them to your subs
Homeowners can be put off when a group of strangers are stomping through their house. If you really want to wow a homeowner and earn their trust, introduce them to everyone who will be working on their job.
Introductions don’t have to happen in person. Give them a list of your subs and suppliers, and share their names and contact information. While you may not necessarily want the homeowner to contact them directly, this gives the homeowner peace of mind just in case anything comes up.
The more information you can provide about your subs, the better. Show the homeowner why you selected these. When they know exactly who is walking to their house, it puts their mind at ease. It doesn’t hurt to show them you prequalify all your subcontractors before working with them, too.
Also, explain to them that each of these subs and suppliers has the right to file a lien against the property if they don’t get paid. Use this as another opportunity to educate your customer on lien rights, but don’t strike fear into their hearts. Liens exist to protect good contractors from bad property owners, not swindle homeowners out of their money.
7. Use social proof
One of the best ways to build trust with a homeowner is social proof. By providing a prospective client with real customer testimonials, you’ll be showing them other people trusted you and it worked to their benefit. They paid you to complete a job for them, and in return, you met or exceeded their expectations.
Contractors make collecting testimonials harder than it needs to be. Go back through your project portfolio and reach out to previous customers. Ask them how the project you completed is doing, and see if they have any more work planned. If they don’t have any new work at the moment, it’s your opportunity to ask for a testimonial. It might take a few follow-ups, but it’s well worth the effort.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to provide your customer with your payment profile. Showing that other subcontractors believe in and trust you can help address any hesitation, as well.
8. Keep your cool
One of the most important ways to build trust with a customer is to show them you deserve it. Contractors that lose their cool, yell at subcontractors, or take a sledgehammer to a bathroom like an angry toddler will seem unpredictable and unhinged.
Show them that you’re capable of handling setbacks by staying positive. When a challenge comes up, communicate effectively and work with the subs to come to a resolution. If there are conflicts between personalities on the job site, resolve them swiftly before they become something the homeowner has to address, or worse, needs to fear escalating each day.
The same goes for subcontractors. Only work with people that can conduct themselves in professional, approachable manners. Word of mouth still matters in this industry, and if a homeowner is worried about battles or outbursts from you or your subs, they aren’t likely to suggest you to friends or family.
Trust isn’t easy to earn, but it’s worth it
For contractors, earning their customer’s trust can feel like an uphill battle. However, changing just a few things they do on a daily basis can go a long way toward helping a homeowner believe in you.
Stay sharp, remain positive, be proactive, and maintain open lines of communication. This approach will make it easy for your customer to place their trust in your company. Once they believe in you, they just might become a customer for life. Better yet, the next time a neighbor or friend is looking for a contractor, guess who they’ll recommend?
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