Everything I learned about finding a mate I learned from hiring a contractor. So, men and women, listen up. If you’re entering a relationship or looking for one, you won’t find any better advice than this.
As a recently remarried woman who has gotten relationships right and wrong over the years, and who has built three houses and remodeled many more, I have the chops and the crow’s feet to comment.
My recent experience seeking, interviewing and ultimately hiring a contractor to repair a stucco-covered beam over our back patio brought all the parallels home.
The first similarity between finding a contractor and finding a partner is the scarcity factor. According to the National Association of Home Builders, we’re in the midst of a national labor shortage for home remodelers that isn’t going to ease up any time soon. That correlates with the constant complaints I hear from friends seeking relationships: All the good ones are taken.
This contractor shortage was on my mind as I began my hunt. Sure enough, just getting three contractors to come out was a feat on par with getting tickets to ride the first spaceship to Mars, or to "Hamilton," whichever is more difficult. The first dates, er, interviews, went like this:
Contractor No. 1 came through a recommendation from the house-washer who had recently power-cleaned our home’s exterior. I call and his wife answers. When I ask if I can meet with her husband at my house, she acts as if I want to take her husband permanently.
“He’s only available for large jobs, new home builds and large renovations,” says she, the prison warden.
Oh, so we’re not good enough, I think. “What if we brought the house to him?” I ask, though I well know that the path to over-accommodating leads into a dark blind alley.
“I’ll talk to him,” she says. She calls back. “He said we can send our stucco guy.”
“But we need someone to tell us what’s going on beneath the stucco.”
“Our guy is really good,” she insists.
“Uhh, we kind of want to meet the contractor himself.”
Very reluctantly, she sets an appointment for three weeks out. She calls to confirm the day before. “Yes, yes. We’re expecting him,” I say.
The morning of the meeting, the contractor doesn’t come. His son does. Because we are desperate, we decide he might do. We show him the beam. He makes notes and says his office (mother) will be in touch. A few days later, the “office” emails us a price not to repair the job, but to take everything apart so they can provide an additional estimate.
“Can you provide pricing for a best-case and worst-case scenario?” I ask.
“Not until we get in there.”
Contractor No. 2 comes recommended by my Realtor. He has a good reputation. So good that his mailbox is full. I find another less direct number and ask through voice mail if someone can relay a message to this guy. When bachelor, er, Contractor No. 2 calls back three weeks later, so much time has lapsed, I don’t recognize his name. As he begins to apologize for not calling sooner, the fog lifts. We arrange a time to meet at the house.
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Though he, too, says he won’t know the extent of the repair until all the stucco is stripped off the beam, he can give us an estimate for best- and worst-case scenarios.
Sadly, this is progress.
He promises to send a proposal by the end of the week. Twelve days later, I have no proposal. Against my better judgement, I text him to nudge, though I know better.
He texts back: “I’m so sorry. It completely slipped off my radar.” Um-hmmm. “If I don’t create a file right over my desk, I can sometimes miss it. I will get it out early this week.”
The proposal never arrives.
Contractor No. 3 comes through a recommendation from one of my readers. (Thank you, Mary Y., of Orlando). He comes out and looks over the job. The next day, he sends us a bid with the best- and worst-case prices. He says he can start in 10 days.
And he does.
All of which brings me back to my point: Whether you’re a man looking for a woman, a woman looking for a man, or some combination, everything you need to know about finding a good mate you can learn from hiring a contractor, whether male or female. In short, I offer these rules when looking for either:
• Don’t listen to what a person says. Watch what a person does. Behavior, not words, will tell you everything you need to know about someone. (This may be the best advice I’ve imparted in 15 years of writing this column.)
• Don’t kid yourself. Most toads are not princes or princesses in disguise.
• If a person is hard to reach, he or she doesn’t want to be found.
• If they act like they’re too good for you, stop auditioning.
• If they don’t call you back, they’re not interested. Don’t chase them.
• If they show up and are not as advertised, don’t trust them.
• If they leave you hanging or stand you up, walk away.
• If they promise to do something then don’t, they’re either a coward, a liar or a loser. Don’t wait around to find out which.
• If they show interest, arrive on time, follow through on their promises, are honest about their availability and intentions, and don’t have a trunk full of sorry excuses, give them a chance.