Homeowners in the US: do tradespeople call you back?
December 9, 2021 5:59 AM   Subscribe

For smaller projects like masonry repair of outdoor stairs, building new wooden raised garden beds, and repairing sections of drywall: do tradespeople call you back? Both in the Before Times and now. I'm curious if this is just an STL thing or not. Note that I do not DIY. Thank you.
posted by Ms Vegetable to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I'd say they almost always called me back. This was before the pandemic - I haven't hired anyone to come inside my house since it started.

I did hire a landscaper during the pandemic, and she was a nightmare of not showing up when she said she would. I wondered if it was at least partly because I was always understanding about it. I didn't see how she could have a business if she was doing that with all of her clients.
posted by FencingGal at 6:11 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's all too common that maybe half to 3/4 of my calls or emails to contractors never get returned. Sometimes we'll make initial contact just for them to fail to show up to bid the job. I've even accepted bids and scheduled the job just to be ghosted. It seems to be just how a large number of contractors operate. It's very frustrating. I've had better luck asking for referrals through my locally-owned hardware store and through Nextdoor.
posted by mezzanayne at 6:13 AM on December 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It's always been extremely difficult to get hold of tradespeople. It's gone from bad to really, really bad lately because of a huge spike in demand. A lot of trades folk are being kept very busy, and have very few incentives to get more thorough with communication, because they have as much work as they want - and much of it is on larger projects.

So: Always has been a problem, gotten much worse.

This is true here, in the Philadelphia area, and as far as I can tell every other major metro. Not a STL issue at all. We had a personal recommendation for a general contractor, that recommendation came from a reliable high-dollar client of the contractor with close ties to us (ie: "We're with the rich guy"), and the GC still totally ghosted us after he realized our job wasn't in the hundreds of thousands.

I will say that local handy-person folks are much easier to get hold of, being typically not engaged on larger new-home projects, and more used to doing small jobs. I'm clueless about masonry but for some wooden bed building or simple drywall repair, I'd go there, rather than trying to find a trades specialist who's going to be booked out to their eyeballs through Spring of next year.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Given that I am currently waiting on a small Ziploc bag of fasteners to complete a three-day project that has dragged on for months, but the provider has a) stopped responding, and b) still hasn't gotten the final $2500 from me for the project, which is otherwise complete, no. Tradespeople, by and large, do not call back. It is phenomenally difficult to get people to accept payment for services, and then to complete those services. There's a labor shortage, an enormous amount of demand, and no particular need for responsiveness given that not every quote or call will turn into a job that feels worth it to every business. Also, there's not necessarily any connection between being good at doing a thing, and being good at running a business/customer service. And given the aforementioned notes about supply and demand, there's not really any need to be? People already have more work than they need. I get now why people get into DIY, and also why there's so much bad/dangerous/structurally unsound DIY in my house from previous owners.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Also, nthing that this was a thing in the Before Times, too. Unless you're building a large commercial project, and especially if you are modifying an existing structure and not building entirely new, it's just really really really hard to get contractors. We've had an increasingly difficult time getting handyman-type work done, but I think that's more of a pandemic-era thing because we were able to before. Hopefully, eventually, someday it will settle down but I wouldn't expect that for at least another few years.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:19 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In the beforetimes, my experience was that it could be hard to maintain contact or get a site visit for what I and they knew was likely to be a “small” (for them) project. That has gotten harder since the start of the pandemic, due to labor and supply chain problems, and just getting preliminary calls and mails returned can be a struggle.

Can’t get around most of that, BUT independent contractors/do-a-bit-of-everything-ers have sometimes been easier to schedule. I’ve found them by asking local friends/colleagues or by asking (successful, experienced) real estate agents whom they contact for X or Y. RoofMaxContractor doesn’t seem to care about fixing the three shingles up by the chimney that I don’t want to climb up to, but Joe Worksalot may.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:26 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nobody is calling me back either, and haven't for years. I agree with the above that a handyman-type service will probably be able to do all of the things you have listed, and are more likely to call you back. I've had success finding handymen on Nextdoor - I post about what work I need done, and there's usually 2 or 3 people that message me saying that they can do it.
posted by little king trashmouth at 6:37 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Boston. Lol, no. I think this is because they have so much potential work that they don’t need to do things like follow-up, reply back or hell, even show up on time. And this was before Covid!

We recently had to get our heat fixed and it was a debacle. Mr. Fish probably spent about 10 hours just calling and dealing with finding someone and sorting out the logistics. We got everything taken care of, but went almost a week and a half with zero heat. Stressful and like pulling teeth.

What worked for us is to call companies, not individuals. We’ve noticed that individuals tend to be more flakey. This pains us because we believe in supporting the individuals but also need our shit fixed. Good luck.
posted by floweredfish at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I am in Albuquerque, and have only owned my home since the pandemic. Responses, or not, have varied, but I mostly hear back.
posted by NotLost at 6:47 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Philadelphia: They generally don't call me back. They don't respond to emails, either. They don't respond to messages on Angi (Angie's List), though Angi followed up. My best results have been with larger companies, but even then one outfit turned down my job because they were too busy. Real happy with the one who took the job, though it was months of work.

Best results have been calling, talking to someone live, and mentioning the friend/relative who they did work for before.
posted by Peach at 6:47 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Before the pandemic, I'd say I had about a 50% response rate in tradespeople returning calls and still even got ghosted a few times by people who set up appointments to come give an estimate.

During the pandemic... recently I had to call 11 places to get 3 responses for an estimate. Only two would come in person; the last wanted to do the estimate via pictures texted to them or charge me $80 just to come in person (and this was for a small, extremely straightfoward job, the kind of things skilled homeowners could do themselves but I am not that skilled).
posted by TwoStride at 6:49 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: I've had some good luck with Thumbtack for small handyman type jobs -- those guys are usually hustling for smaller work and are eager to get out and get things done. I hired a painter (did a 4-star job, which was 100% better than my zero-star job of not doing it at all) and a pressure washing guy recently off Thumbtack and they showed up directly on time, corresponded with me through the platform, etc. I'd recommend it if you've not tried it before.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:50 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Chicago, this is an issue for sure. Even when we talked to someone highly recommended, and had a good talk and set a time the next day for them to visit, they just ghosted.

What worked for us is to call companies, not individuals.

This is what did it for us, too. We use our local Ace Handyman franchise. It's a good bit more expensive than a regular old handyman, but it's way more reliable too. They've been out 4 or 5 times since last summer as we ticked through the list of stuff we needed done, and it's a thrill to have the work complete for a little bit extra than to have the list get longer while we chase down our neighbor's in-laws' cousin.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In Chicago I have mixed results, though many more call/email back than don't. I find providers by referrals or pre-screen based on public reviews, and one thing I look for is mentions of good communication. I don't communicate with providers over lead channels (HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, Yelp, Angi), though I sometimes read reviews on such sites; I always use phone, email, or (rarely) SMS.

I suspect individual operators are going to be at the extremes of good or bad, and it's often particularly hard to tell which in advance unless they're a referral from someone you trust. When I don't have a referral, I strongly prefer people/companies (often small companies) that have at least a basic web presence.

I can provide some recommendations within Chicago. (I know you're not there, but for others reading this—feel free to send me a message.)
posted by likedoomsday at 6:53 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Please do add your location in answers.

This happens regardless of recommendations, name-dropping, independent person versus company, if we've used them before, etc. Hence the curiosity.

Thank you for the responses.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:16 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: In northern Illinois. I'd say half are good with phone. At least half of the people who don't call back will respond to text, and it's okay to text after you call without verbally confirming texting is okay first.
posted by michaelh at 7:22 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's common everywhere I've dealt with them (all over the US for the past 20 years- some jobs in the $200k+ for corporate projects).

To put it simply: contractors do that job because they like building, not because they are good at administration. Two completely separate tasks, and most don't make enough to hire secretarial staff.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In July, aquamvidam asked a question about contractors and scheduling. OP might find the answers edifying, especially the one from EllaEm -- marked as a Best of -- whose father works in the building trades. (aquamvidam lives in Los Angeles, according to their post; EllaEm doesn't say where they live.)
posted by virago at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: contractors do that job because they like building, not because they are good at administration

This is double posting and anecdata, but I had to jump in and affirm The_Vegetables' observation.

I live in southern Maine, where one of my best friends works in the building trades for a living.
She is the first to admit that bidding, scheduling, billing, etc., give her the metaphorical hives. She does do these things, because she's a responsible person, and because people work for her and they need to be paid, and because she, like all of us, has to fund food, clothing and shelter. But administration was definitely part of the learning curve when she started working for herself.

(She has an ex who also is in the building trades. Because he hates to send out invoices for completed jobs, he just ... doesn't. He also never has any money. These two things, and his being her former rather than her current partner, are not unrelated.)
posted by virago at 7:57 AM on December 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Atlanta: Once had a contractor walk away from a final $5000 payment because he couldn't find time to finish a day's worth of punch list items. We have joked that handyperson abilities are somehow linked genetically to unresponsiveness. Getting people to respond, then follow through has been a headache over many years. Also true in Chicago where we now live. Absolutely maddening, but a constant through time and locations.
posted by MelissaSimon at 7:58 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been a homeowner for nearly 20 years, in several areas (mostly along the west coast of the US), and this has always been a problem to varying degrees.

A couple of people already touched on this, but I want to echo that I've found that telling them you were referred by someone they have done a significant amount of work for does seem to improve the service we receive (granted, with a small sample size). As Tomorrowful said, sometimes they still don't care, if your job is small. But it seems to help. The best ones we've had were friends of good friends. For example, a close friend of ours had a friend who was a tradesperson and who had done some beautiful work on their house. So we got to see the work first-hand, and also this tradesperson knew that if they blew us off or gave us a bad experience, it would come back to them via their friend (and I'm sure also the friend wouldn't have made the recommendation unless they knew it was solid, because it would hurt their reputation with us). Obviously this is kind of an unusual situation, and something you can't will into existence, but it's an example of the kinds of things that we have found to make a difference. The less we can be just another random prospect, and the more we can be someone who they either want to please or at least know their reputation rides on, the better.

I have mixed feelings on the "companies" vs. "individuals" question. It does depend on the job, but as long as I can get a solid personal recommendation I almost always prefer an individual. With companies, you never know who you're going to get, you might get a different person each time, and the individuals who are doing the work don't have their name and reputation staked on it the way someone working on their own does. But it is also true that the worst experiences with companies rarely reach the depth that the worst experiences with individuals do. I won't hire an individual without solid references unless I am absolutely desperate.

Anyway, bottom line, this is a thing, has always been a thing, and will probably be a thing forever. And yes, it is one of the more frustrating aspects of home ownership.
posted by primethyme at 8:07 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: (Edit: I see you've already mentioned name dropping - below is my experience in the mountain west region so take it for what it's worth)

You will have more luck if you can get a referral to a specific tradesperson and drop the name of the referrer when you contact them - I've found that tradespeople (for the most part) want to maintain positive relationships with clients they've had in the past, doubly so with the increase in online reviews and the ease of badmouthing people on social media.

If you don't know someone who can give these types of recommendations, I'd suggest posting on nextdoor or your city's subreddit and asking for recommendations for this type of work, and going from there. I've found that when someone gives me a recommendation, messaging them directly and asking if they will give you their name (even " in ") to use when you call so the tradesperson will know who referred you to them (and that you aren't just another cold call) will help the process - a lot of people like getting the "credit" for sending business someone's way and using a recognizable name when contacting the tradesperson may increase their responsiveness to you.
posted by _DB_ at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Houston: I contacted a plumber about a water heater replacement. Contact was by me calling their office and leaving a message. I got a call back in maybe 30 minutes (and an immediate call back later when their phone system dropped me mid-call). I followed up with an email with measurements, photos and details of what I wanted.

This was all two days ago. I'm currently waiting to hear back. To be fair, I've asked for something that may require some thought, planning and talking to equipment vendors, so I don't consider this delay to be unreasonable (though I may reach out today or tomorrow just to make sure the email made it and that they don't need any additional information from me).
posted by sourcequench at 8:23 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Maryland suburbs of DC: maybe we have just been lucky, but virtually everyone has called back, though some have been flakier than others in setting up actual appointments or we've had to wait weeks to get in their schedule depending on the size of the job.

Everything we've done so far, however, has been through referrals from a neighborhood email list or from other tradespeople/contractors.
posted by AndrewInDC at 8:33 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Central Mass checking in.
They don't show up.
In our local facebook group, over and over for years there are queries like "Anyone have a plumber/electrician/etc that will call you back or show up?"

Sometimes they come, give an estimate, but must end up with a potential job that pays better and they just don't show up.

We always pay out workers, try to be very easy to work for so this doesn't seem to be a "it's just us" kind of thing.
posted by ReluctantViking at 9:14 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Philly: Responsiveness has gone from "sometimes good, sometimes bad, hard to know what to expect" to just Very Bad Across The Board since the pandemic hit.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Northern suburbs of Rhode Island -- so between Boston & Providence.

Most independent guys don't call back. If they call back, they want $100+ just to come look at the job. They miiiight keep the appointment.

Our most recent contractor was for full siding job that started twelve months ago. He was referred by his actual neighbors, who are friends of ours, who just used him for a deck. He did decent work but fixes trailed into the late summer, and he simply stopped responding. (At one point they went over to his yard and scolded him so we got one more visit, but then he ghosted us.) I think I heard him in our neighborhood on Halloween night, but he sure steered clear of our driveway. *hard eyeroll* (He left several hundred dollars worth of equipment in my attic and didn't even know about it; I should have kept them, but I told him. I am soft, I know.)

We have had success with an independent guy two years ago for an A/C install. He was just starting out. A few months later, he refused to fix something I showed him the day of the install which never improved. FTG.

We have one guy who is responsive & effective, a plumber, and I have referred him to my BiL (who got a heating from system just like ours, in 2019?), and to a local business. I will refer him to my dying day.

But everyone has become less responsive and less flexible since COVID. *shrug* Not sure that I blame them.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:28 AM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Tradesmen come to my house and the conversation always comes around to them bitching that there's no one entering the trades, and the average age of a master plumber is 66 and yadda yadda.

Many of these same guys are bad businessmen with poor customer service, and if they could find someone to front the "office work" for them, I bet they would be much happier.

My SiL handles the billing & collections for a contractor in Minnesota, and he is able to concentrate on quoting & managing jobs, while she does the stuff he hates. She's snug at home on the couch with a laptop, and everyone wins!!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:29 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Upstate NY here. We had a contractor who came out to bid on a project in August, we agreed to take him on, and since then he has been almost impossible to reach by phone or text and the project is being worked on piecemeal whenever he deigns to show up - and of course he doesn't ever confirm when he's coming, which has led to us repeatedly leaving our back door unlocked when we go to work JUST IN CASE he decides to show, which makes me super uncomfortable. (Though we do live in the boonies now.)

Oh yeah and it's December and the project still isn't done. Was supposed to be done by third week of September.

It's not just you. Sigh.
posted by nayantara at 12:09 PM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Seattle. No. Not great before. Impossible now.
posted by susandennis at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Southwest Pennsylvania: Definitely difficult before and worse now, and I think of myself as Good on the Phone, when I'm up to making phone calls. My best success has been from recommendations in our county-focused facebook groups - either asking for recs for a specific job or looking through the group for people who are advertising their availability. Spouse and I both have chronic illnesses that preclude DIY, so we are often looking for someone for small jobs that many people could tackle alone. Thankfully, we haven't had to hire for any indoor DIY since the pandemic started - just outdoor tasks, knock wood - though there's a lot of stuff we're putting off because of it.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:28 PM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Columbus: We moved here in August 2020 so we've only experienced pandemic conditions, and we've had decent success (but no huge/expensive projects). Furnace repair or plumbing have been good. Got a toilet swapped out same-day, and our furnace had a successful non-urgent repair done in a couple weeks. New water softener and iron filter bid quickly and installed on schedule.

I tried to get new gutters earlier this year. Agreed to the job in writing with a well-reviewed company and they ghosted before we got to scheduling. I think it was too small a job because it didn't include siding, but the impression I got from the bid wasn't disinterest so idk.

We had an energy audit and our attic insulated as our first project and that went great. Top-reviewed company moved up our appointment on the insulation because they had a slot, offered to lend me tools to do some of the pre-work ourselves to lower our bill, and were punctual and clean.

Completely mixed bag on mask-wearing, but at least our projects were usually handled through garage access or open-windows season.
posted by rawralphadawg at 3:06 PM on December 9, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you for answering my random curious question today. One of my siblings had said this was just an STL thing, but I didn't know if that was true or not.

It is interesting how different strategies have worked for different people in different areas.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: No, no they do not. They called back more 5 years ago when we first bought a house. Have been trying to find a plumber (non emergency plumbing upgrade) for MONTHS and no one is calling back. NJ.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2021

Best answer: Suburbs way north of NYC.

Pre pandemic? Sure, call backs within a day.

Now? Forget it. All tradespeople seem to be booked solid until, well, at least six months from whenever you talk to them.
posted by freakazoid at 4:06 PM on December 9, 2021

The backbone of the trades is general carpentry and those have disappeared. It’s the lowest paying, the old guys all retiring, the pipeline for training new carpenters broke in the 80s and the whole edifice lumbered along on the backs of undocumented workers. Here’s a deeper dive from a YouTube carpenter.

It’s a huge issue as commercial construction has been simply absorbing all of the available workforce, not just from residential but from adjacent industries like machine shops and auto repair.
posted by zenon at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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