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10 Questions That Give Away Problem Customers

General Expertise
By on Jun 2, 2015
10 Questions That Give Away Problem Customers

While masked behind boots and tools and trucks full of lumber, contactors you want in your home are professionals. The real kind. 

Like doctors, like lawyers, like managers. Like, well, you. Except not exactly. You probably go to an office. Ours is somewhere between our trucks, shops and on your roof. Unconventional to say the least.

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Still, many of us are half-way decent at running a business and managing relationships AND talking art, sports, current events (never politics; it serves no one), whatever Elon Musk is doing, and being proud of our kids.

However, many homeowners don’t view contractors as such and as a result, spend too much time on very minor details.

Sadly, a collegial, professional relationship is much easier and more efficient than a questionable one. Even funnier, those of us who know the ‘tells’ start ratcheting up the price as problem-child customers give themselves away with truly silly questions.

So, if you’re the asker of these questions, chances are the ‘deal’ you’re trying to finagle from the person who you think is dumber than you is costing you more time and heartache by the minute.

1. How Much Does A Deck Cost?

This question isn’t necessarily adversarial, but it is indicative. The ‘tell’ could be that you’re a property virgin. No harm, no foul. If you’re nice or in over your head, we can tell and we’ll take care of you. But if you’re asking that yet are surrounded by fancy fixtures, we know where you’re going with this.

Substitute ‘deck’ for ‘car’ or ‘computer’ or ‘diamond ring’ or any of the other million things you own. You’re smart enough to know this is a stupid question. The ‘tell’ is you’re either thoughtless or that you think we are.

2. Could You Sharpen Your Pencil on that One? 

Translation: Would you do the same work for less money?

The ‘tell’ here isn’t that the asker is tight on budget. That happens and we can find ways to make it work. However, this means you’re willing—almost—to ask if I can make less while you get the same thing.

If you want a contractor remotely worth having in your home, asking them to do the same work—that has the same value to you and your home value—for less must be done in a different way. Remember, you want someone working there who wants to be there. Dread is not a motivator for most people.

If you’re a DIY and really want to know how to sharpen a pencil, watch this video.

3. Can I Buy My Own Materials?

Translation: You’ll jump over a dollar to pick up a dime.

You think you can save yourself a few bucks by piling tile and grout and drywall in your mini-van. There are always small tools pros need to get the job done right. As a result, buying your own materials can get tricky.

So, sure, buy your own materials. But this sets the stage for every conversation and action surrounding fixing the problems it creates to be billed hourly. You don’t ask your doctor if you can get your own medicine, do you?

It’ll cost you way more than you can save in most cases.

Don't Ask...

4. What’s Your Mark-Up?

Translation: What’s yours?

Some contractors don’t mind sharing this information. Others do. Thing is, you’re not buying a car from some frumpy dude in a polo shirt who has to go to his manager to ask questions. You’re working with the owner of the dealership.

Asking what the mark-up is just means you’re looking to outsmart someone for your own benefit. And when you do this, it means that when things happen down the road—they always do, houses are complicated—it’s a dead give away you can’t handle it. 

Contractor Reaction: Upcharge in the estimate.

To see the right quetions to ask, see How To Find The Right Cotractor With These 5 Essential Questions.

5. I Red-Lined Your Contract; Do You Mind?

Translation: You’re a lawyer.

Every agreement has some back and forth. Red-lining payment schedules and contractual details just means you’re adversarial. We don’t find this very professional. And it means a premium must be charged to babysit you. If you don’t mind paying, that’s fine. We’ll take care of you. Just not for free.

Contractor Reaction: Sure, red-line away. We can do this ‘time and materials’ instead. What’s your hourly rate?

6. Is This The Best You Can Do?

Translation: You really don’t think my trucks, food, mortgage, vacation, etc cost anything.

All in all, this question means you’re difficult.

Contractor Reaction: No, I can try less and charge you much, much more.

Ask The Right Questions

7. The Customer Is Always Right.

Translation: Not always true.

That’s like saying the patient is always right.

While any good contractor serves their customer to the best of their ability, customers are not always right. They can’t be. Unless they’re experts in the field.

Do you tell an electrical engineer how to design a circuit board because you like your iPhone? Your financial advisor how the market works? Of course not.

Contractor Reaction: With the appropriate amount of time and money, we can make anything you want happen. But take those tools away and we need to compromise to move forward.

8. While You’re Here, Could You Just

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I actually love this question. If it’s ‘fix this little thing so I can be happy,’ then yes. If it’s ‘could you give me some advice on this room,’ yes. If it’s ‘could you help me lift this new dresser into my house because I’m alone and can’t do it,’—YES. But if it’s just a request for free work because you think you can get it, no.

Everybody needs to get something out of the relationship in fair amounts. You get your deck, for example—that’s all you paid for—and I get paid for the deck. That’s all I charged for. But if I’m nice to you, you’ll tell your cousin, brother or neighbor. I didn’t ask for that but you did it anyway, like me helping you with the dresser or to fix that towel bar.

9. Can I Work With You to Save Money?

I love this question too. But it has to come from the right person who is willing to do the work we do the way we do it. Normally, I say yes and I have made friends doing this. But it always comes with the caveat that I can fire you. I won’t ‘pay’ you that much. And if I have to fire you, the price changes.

Reaction: Sign here.

10. Can I Put Some Stuff in the Dumpster?

Of course you can. But if you empty your attic, then you’re paying for that dumpster.


Good contractors tend to be good people. We do what we do because we love people and our craft. We love houses and shelter and working outdoors. And we love to serve. We also sense that many ‘insulting’ questions can come out of fear. We get that.

But if they come too fast and furious, we know another game is afoot and we’ll either walk away from the project leaving you with someone who is perhaps less capable than we are. Or we’ll give you such an inflated price that you’ll just wish you sharpened your own pencil and gave some thought to the nature of a professional working relationship.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I’m not. I’m here to serve. I just want to be treated like any professional in any other industry.

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