The phone rings and it’s a client, or a client’s friend or neighbor, who needs a chimney cleaned or a leaking faucet replaced. Can you suggest someone? For remodeling companies, the question is far from open-and-shut:

Confidence and competence: “We’d rather not,” says Mark Pennington, secretary/treasurer at Gardner/Fox, a design/build firm in Philadelphia’s upscale Main Line suburbs. That said, Gardner/Fox has and will recommend tradespeople. But the recommendations that would be made are to past clients, and the trade contractors recommended are those that the company regularly uses and made “where they would be a good fit.” If Gardner/Fox doesn’t know the caller, “we direct them to Angie’s List or some other online referral service,” Pennington says. That reluctance, he explains, has to do with the fact that a lot could go wrong, in which case the company becomes the bad guy. But there are exceptions. For instance, Pennington says, “if the [homeowner] calls and wants to know who did the HVAC on one of our projects five years ago, we can do that with more confidence.”

Eager to assist: With leads for new prospects running anywhere from $250 to $400, Steve Klitsch, owner of Creative Concepts Remodeling, in Germantown, Md., figures that if the phone rings for free, he’s ahead of the game. Especially if it’s someone he has never worked with before. “It’s an opportunity to introduce my company,” Klitsch says. He spends about 15 minutes on the phone narrowing down the request. For previous clients, Klitsch dials into a file of trade and service technicians that, he says, “I feel comfortable recommending.” Follow-through is key. “If I recommend Johnny the Plumber, I call him up and say: ‘Johnny, I gave Mr. Jones on Rock Creek Road your number and told him to deal directly with you. Please expect his call.’ The homeowner may not make the call, but at least the plumber knows I’m thinking of him.”

Matters of perspective: When Daniel Kliethermes, owner of Kliethermes Homes & Remodeling, in Columbia, Mo., gets calls asking for service referrals, his first question is why. His example: Not only do you need the faucet replaced but why do you need it replaced? Replacing a problem faucet with something expensive wouldn’t make sense if whoever owns the house plans to move soon. Neither would replacing one cheap faucet with another if the owners plan to stay put. Kliethermes says that not only does he follow up by contacting the tradesperson he recommends, he gets back with the homeowner in a week or two to ask: Did the guy take care of you?

Case by case: Most calls in the office of David Tyson Inc., in Charlotte, N.C., seeking referrals for tradespeople come from previous clients. If clients were easy to work with and they got along well with the trade contractors — since those are the people Tyson would refer — then the connection is made. Tyson also asks the client if there are other home repairs needed, in which case he bundles them into a list of small jobs that his own company might do. For many remodelers, calls seeking service referrals often become their own work. “We’ll give names, if necessary, but our first response is to try to handle it ourselves,” says Bob DuBree, owner of Creative Contracting, in North Wales, Pa.

Worry-free results: Viking Custom Homes, a Maryland home-building and remodeling company, decided this year that all those calls were really gold. “There’s a need out there,” says Jon Carucci, who runs the recently launched (in July) Viking Residential Services.

—Jim Cory is editor of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication of REMODELING.

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Trading Leads: How two remodelers trade leads, share software tips, and recommend vendors and subs to each other

The Handyman Can: Referral reward program gives clients a handyman for a day