Contractor. The very word makes homeowners uneasy. They think of day laborers drinking from bottles concealed in paper bags during three-hour lunch breaks while wolf-whistling at their daughters. In their minds they see the picture of a job that, on completion, more closely resembles the Before than the After.

It's no secret that there are contractors looking to take advantage of anyone willing to hand them a deposit. Many more, though, want long-term relationships with happy customers who will supply references and future work. If you're a contractor, you build those relationships by finding out what homeowners want, giving a fair price, delivering more than what you promise, and servicing what you sell.

Homeowners, for their part, look for the friendly, trustworthy, and competent contractor. Here's the bonus: Finding him means they know who to turn to the next time they need work done. But what homeowners often don't realize is that, as in any strong and trusting relationship, they have responsibilities as well.

HOW TO ENSURE A GREAT JOB I tell homeowners that there are five things they can do to ensure their project is enjoyable instead of exasperating.

1. Interview experts. Homeowners should speak with neighbors, relatives, and friends, or stop by a job in progress to get more information. They should check out the reputable magazines and websites that recommend contractors in their area and read comments, good or bad, on review sites. If the contractor's vehicle is a beat-up minivan with crooked lettering made of electrical tape, the job probably won't end well.

2. Respect the contractor's time. When I set an appointment I let homeowners know that I'm punctual. If I'm going to be late, or for some reason can't make it at all, I call as a courtesy. I ask the same in return. I don't want to drive for an hour to find a note saying you had errands to run and could I please leave the estimate in the mailbox.

3. Know what you want. All too often my initial conversation goes something like this: “Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner, what are you looking for in quality and aesthetics, and do you want to do the entire house (of siding or windows) or just part of it?” Homeowner: “Isn't it your job to tell us?” Me: “Actually, my job is to guide you based on what you're looking for, not to tell you what to buy.”

Prior to the arrival of the specialist, homeowners should take some time to discuss project goals and the look they want to achieve.

4. Price is only part of it. After a long day of work, no one is eager to spend two to three hours discussing their project. Homeowners may simply ask for the price up-front. Giving it to them is the worst thing you can do. It would be like asking three candidates for the same job how much they'd like to earn, then hiring the one who wants the least — you'll get the least. Remind homeowners that this is their home, so if they're considering several offers, they should make sure they know what the company is actually going to do.

5. Be prepared. Homeowners should make sure that both they and their home are ready when the crew comes. Valuables should be moved and stored, pictures taken down, and additional drop cloths laid on items they want protected. You may want to offer drinks and/or snacks, as well as a bathroom that the crew may use — a full stomach and an empty bladder make a happy worker. And if the crew is happy, the homeowner will be, too. —Jason Kersch sells for Major Homes, a home improvement company in Queens, N.Y.

Does your company have a business practice or installation technique to share with the industry? Call Jim Cory at 215.923.9810 or e-mail [email protected].