Thursday, July 25, 2013

We-Design-Day (on Thursday): How to NOT Hire a Company (for work on your house) When You're a Girl (or boy)

In my day job, I'm a project coordinator working for a large educational institution. I manage and oversee renovation and construction projects that are primarily completed by our own, on-staff Trades (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc). I also manage the same kind of projects done by external contractors (usually general contractors who bring any number of trades along for the ride). I have been doing this since 2004 (in addition to design, facility and telecommunications management).

Over the course of nine years, I'm managed many projects. From $2000 office refreshes to multi-million dollar new building builds. Generally, short of nearly blowing up one building and flooding part of another, they go off without a hitch. I've learned to always add a minimum of 20% contingency to EVERYTHING, add 8 to 12 weeks to every schedule (and always do it in weeks, MONTHS seem longer to the client) and always, always consult a professional when dealing with:

1. Electricity
2. Plumbing/mechanical
3. Structural issues

(Lesson One: Always know when to call in a professional)

There is one thing, however, I've not perfected the art of and that's being taken seriously in this industry, because I'm a girl. I've got cajones the size of Michigan when I need them and I can talk trash with the best of them, but I've continually run into "issues", I think, because I'm a women in a male dominated field.

I've been called an inferior designer in the middle of a site walk through (no, his firm did not get the job), I've not had calls returned when I'm inviting contractors to bid on a job (but suddenly, when a male coworker called them on the same job, they showed up) and I've had contractors out-right LIE about conversations I've had witnesses too (Lesson Two: always have witnesses).

Thankfully, at my present place of work, I have 1000% support from my senior management and the guys I work with. The support came easily and with the clause "if anyone gives your trouble (implying I may run into trouble because I'm a girl) let us know if you can't work it out." I didn't (have trouble) and I will deal with all things on my own. Always... In my personal life and work, I struggle. All. The. Damn. Time. 

In 2011, we decided we needed to have our roof replaced. I began calling companies in May - by July, not one of the four I called, returned my calls. I called another three companies. Two finally provided quotes and one of the first four had also finally decided I was worthy and also gave me quote. (For the record, one of the 'first four' returned my call this spring - two years later. Turns out they aren't so busy any more and are looking for work)

Seven companies and three quotes later, September was on the doorstep and we really needed a new roof before winter. The company had done our neighbours so without checking additional references, we hired them because they could get it done before October. I went against EVERYTHING I know I should when hiring a contractor. (Lesson Three: Never hire ANY company without checking their licensing and insurance, without interviewing them AND without calling a minimum of three references)

In addition to replacing our roof, we also wanted our eavestroughs replaced. None of the roofing contractors who did show up "did" eavestrough work.

Last summer, I called six eavestrough companies in hopes of getting a quote in a more timely fashion.

Guess what?

It didn't happen. Not one returned my call and the one who provided a "site unseen" quote via email (based only on the square footages of the house and garage) refused to return my calls and emails when I asked him to come to site for a more 'firm' quote.

So again, in May this year, I started the search. Again. I called one company May 12, 2013. He GUARANTEED me they would show up.

They didn't.

I called them back June 14. I was told they had the request but no one knew why it wasn't done. I was assured I was being 'prioritized' and someone would be out "as soon as possible" - intimating it would be done in a couple of weeks, at most.

July 9th, as I was preparing to call them AGAIN, I get a call asking if I would still be interested in getting a quote from them.  Now, I will sing out the praises of receptionists. I was less than pleasant when I called back and she was very professional, even when I was not.

The same week, I put a complaint out on Facebook about how being a girl SUCKS. My aunt gave me a number of a guy she knows who did hers. Apparently, the wife of the guy grew up down the road from my (paternal) grandparent's farm.

I called him and emailed one other company. If you're good at math, you've now deduced that I've called/contacted nine different eavestroughing companies.

By the end of the next weekend, I had three quotes, in hand (well, two, technically, my aunt's friend just gave us a price 'at the door' (again, folks, DON'T DO THIS. Always, always get a firm, written down quote with each item itemized. ALWAYS)). (Lesson Four: Always get an itemized quote)


(Lesson Five: Always have a contract, again itemizing EVERYTHING, with prices, contingency, holdbacks, EVERYTHING)

(Lesson Six: Don't let desperation get in the way)

I should have taken all three quotes, checked references, double checked references, seen the work they had done, checked the Better Business Bureau, interviewed the company and taken a few days to think it over. But I didn't. I was tired, I was desperate and I was so thankful that I finally had something to work with, I panicked, not wanting to let another contractor get away without hiring him.

Four days later, the company we'd hired showed up - well, the guy (it was a one man show, which is fine, but I didn't know that). he did the job in a day and my house has lovely, new, not leaky, not overflowing, eaves. It worked out okay. This time. I was lucky. Very lucky.

Let's recap what we've learned from my mistakes:
Lesson One: Always know when to call in a professional
Lesson Two: always have witnesses
Lesson Three: Never hire ANY company without interviewing them AND without calling a minimum of three references
Lesson Four: Always get an itemized quote
Lesson Five: Always have a contract, again itemizing EVERYTHING, with prices, contingency, holdbacks, EVERYTHING
Lesson Six: Don't let desperation get in the way

Even as a trained professional, I can't always get what I need done. Is it because I'm woman? I don't know, I really don't, but in the coming weeks, I'm going to share the right way to do all the things I did wrong. Step by step and I'll even include "the desperate woman's mantra" on how to let that contractor walk away, unhired, even if he's muscly, manly hotness in Carhartt's.


  1. I feel I am damn lucky that I do most of my work myself. Or at least lucky in that I don't have to wait for things to get done. Unlucky that I you know, actually have to do them.

    I also work in a male dominated field. I can count on one hand the number of girls I have worked with in the past two months. But for some reason I rarely have to deal with being put down because of my gender. I think it's the swearing.

    1. We've done some DIY around the house (and I renovated our condo) - I just don't have the capacity to bother anymore. Mostly because I just don't want to do it. :)

      I'll look into swearing more. It could take me places. ;)



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