In this installment we go over a couple of ways to develop a relationship with contractors in order to build trust and to make sure the contractor understands your expectations and you understand theirs.
Real estate agents and brokers are constantly in need of qualified and competent contractors. The problem is, a contractor that is consistently available on a moments notice is usually not the one you want for your project. Generally, if they are available on a moments notice they are not really established or high quality and/or they are charging such a high price that you truly pay extra for the fast service.
In part [1 of 4] we went over how to start the communication process with a contractor and explained how a contractor feels when working with a new REALTOR. In part [2 of 4] we went over how to work with a contractor as a fellow professional and the struggles that contractors often face because of the misunderstanding of their profession.
Grab a cup of Joe
Most people don’t really know about their contractor’s background. How is it they became a contractor, what ‘soft skillsets’ does the contractor have, and how can they be useful to you or your clients? Construction professionals are often viewed as the people you easily replace and are just fungible goods. You’d be surprised how many professionals, such as lawyers and real estate brokers, decide to become contractors. When a contractor listens to you and believes that you care about their background and how they came into the profession it builds trust and understanding. It might also help you to understand the contractor’s point of view in case of needing to interpret a comment or email.
Explaining where it is you come from and how you came into the profession is also a great way to gain the trust of a builder. You can tell a lot about a person by how they speak and refer to people in the world. When they see you showing others understanding and empathy a contractor is better able to extend it in return. Building this fundamental understanding is important to the realtor-builder relationship. We have all been at that point where we feel like “what did they mean by this phrase in their email?” When you and they have some background in how each of you views the world it makes it far easier to interpret an email. I can’t tell you how many times I have been working with someone that is a longtime client and they use a phrase and I think, “what did they mean by that?” and I start to get defensive and upset. But, I think back to the times we have sat down for coffee or lunch just to shoot the breeze and think, no, that doesn’t sound like them. I’ll send a calm email back to them asking for clarification. A majority of the time it turns out they meant something I didn’t even think of, generally for the better.
Go to lunch
Once you’ve gotten to know your contractor, getting a project going can be tough. When you really think about it, a transaction having to do with real property is really something serious. There is potential for large financial, legal, and reputational consequences if things go south. Even a small job is one that can cause a huge amount of emotional capital to be lost. In order to preserve the relationship with the contractor, it is always good to communicate throughout the project. I am not saying that it will always go well; rather being available to communicate is a good thing. One of my biggest mistakes in growing my company is when I get so busy I am slow to respond to or miss communications sent to me by a client. On my end the consequence is that I miss an email, on the clients end they feel neglected and as though I don’t care; not things that I want to be conveyed. Often though, by the time I figure out my error it is too late. Another thing that I learned as a Real Estate Broker and Attorney is that when I hire contractors sometimes I don’t hear back, and rather than being upset I usually ask if they are doing ok. I usually get a text or email back apologizing and saying sorry for getting too busy and missing it. We then carry on as though it didn’t happen. We all get busy and it is a fact of life.
Ask if there is anything you can do to make the contractor more successful. This might sound cliché, but asking a contractor how it is they are doing and if there is anything you can do to make them successful on the project is a big deal. Personally, there have been times when this has spurred a conversation that brought up bad news and allowed us to get out in front of it and mitigate damages. I think there is a misunderstanding about construction and real estate: that everything goes smoothly all the time. I find this not only to be untrue but WILDLY inaccurate. With the current regulatory environment and the complicated nature of building and real property transactions things go wrong, that is why you hire a professional. A true professional in my opinion is one that not only knows how to do the thing right in the first place, but also how to get it back on track after it has gone bad. A majority of my work is taking a problem project or deal and getting it back on track. It is incredible how many times a problem in the project causes a breakdown of communication. Communication is key in such a time.
Don’t forget to ask the contractor to do things to help make you, the REALTOR, successful. A professional relationship is rarely a one-way street. If that is the case for you my guess is the relationship is not going to last long. There should be mutuality in the working relationship. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Knowing that this is how most relationships go, know that you as a REALTOR are more than welcome by most contractors to ask for things that will make you successful. An example that comes to mind is asking for a contractor to maintain a boundary around your for sale sign, or to provide parking for your clients when there is going to be a jobsite inspection. While contractors are esteemed professionals and equals with other professions, such as doctors, lawyers, and real estate professionals, they are not mind readers. I saw a funny meme on Instagram the other day I thought fitting. It simply said, “Behind every frustrated Realtor is a Contractor that has no idea what he did”. Most contractors have never had to heard cats like a RELATOR has to, to get a deal to close. However, if you express to the contractor what needs to happen it goes a long way to build trust and understanding. It also gives a contractor a matrix that he or she knows she will be graded on. Contractors love knowing what they can do to help, that is their job after all, to give you the product you want when you need it. This also creates buy in by the contractor into your vision for the project or property.
Go to dinner
Even though you told your contractor what you expected on the front end during the coffee, REALTORS are often surprised because they felt as though they conveyed exactly what they wanted to the contractor and the contractor still didn’t get it quite right. To reduce or prevent this situation, check in every so often. Having outlined the expectation to begin with, now is the time to review it. Maybe it is as simple as figuring out that the two of your professions use a different word or phrase for the same thing. The word you used means X in your profession and means Y their professional or vice-versa. I have found at least in California that there are separate and distinct sub-sets of the English language based on profession. There is a legal concept called usage of trade that allows terms within the industry to define the meaning of something spoken or written as direction. When there is a usage of trade gone wrong it often creates a series of flustering and costly problems. This problem can often be overcome by another legal principle called usage in past dealings. This concept allows the court to view how previous deals between parties went to interpret the meaning of the communication in the current deal. Here, by building a relationship and working together to define the terms of the build through conduct and communication, you and the contractor are shielding yourselves from future litigation. The real deal is this: a game plan without evaluation and improvement after the plan is executed is a waste of time.
Lastly, explain your version of customer management. A lot can be communicated to a contractor by telling them how you handle your clients as a REALTOR. I am not saying give them that line most salespeople use: “I provide the best customer service coupled with quality management and limit my listings to provide excellent service”; it looks great on a business card but screams, “I am only here to make you feel good to get the sale”. As discussed in part [1 of 4], this will put your working relationship with the contractor in the Dread category very quickly. Instead, truly tell people what it is that makes you tick and sets you apart. I have one client REALTOR I am doing a job for that is trained as an architect and advertises Eco-Real Estate as her niche. I have to say, I really get a lot from that when I need to make choices on her job. I have another that when we talk I know she is a no non-sense, cut throat negotiator. Knowing that she is ruthless in negotiations, I know how much to include on my invoices and reports to her.
Knowing the personality of my clients and their needs as REALTORS and knowing my own needs when I hire contractors, act as Broker, an Attorney, and a Contractor myself helps me to know how to best serve the REALTOR, realtor’s client, and the project in a way that is most helpful, even if it means I need to refer them to someone else. As the relationship blossoms so does the profit margin in most cases. Remember, we are all here to make money, but we are under a duty to the industry to act ethically and always have our client’s best interest at heart. These steps will help to accomplish that.
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DISCLAIMER: Let me stop here to give you the boilerplate disclaimer. Every situation in law and building is different. Do not rely on this article to make decisions on your specific situation. Every matter is different and requires that you talk to a professional. If you want to talk to me about your matter see my contact below. Nothing in this article shall be construed to create an attorney client relationship or partnership.
Dan Knight is principle at Dan Knight Construction & Plumbing and The Law Office of Daniel J. Knight. He is a third generation building contractor, attorney, real estate broker, Construction Management Lecturer at Cal Poly State University, and Lead Instructor at Cuesta Community College Construction Tech. Program in San Luis Obispo. He is a former San Luis Obispo City Planning Commissioner.
His practice focuses on construction defect Expert Witness engagements, construction defect representation, land use and zoning, public interest real property matters, and private real property matters.
Phone 805-316-1180 | Email: Dan@NerdContractor.com
Office Location 1103 Johnson Ave #H, San Luis Obispo CA 93401