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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

How to Deal With a Contractor If You're a Single Woman

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Contractors are all the same. They just have different faces so you can tell them apart. It's a nightmare for a single home-owning woman to deal with male contractors who seem to think we're not the ones paying them. For one thing, they don't look you in the eyes, they look you in the chest. They don't talk to you as a human being, they talk to you as a dimwitted slug. In fact, they don't really want to talk to you at all, they want to talk to a man, preferably your husband, the one they assume pays the bills.

For some reason, when contractors can talk with your husband, it brings a lower job estimate than if they have to talk to you, a woman, otherwise known as someone who thinks a Philips Head is the head on the neck of someone named Philip, when it's a special kind of screwdriver with a wonky tip.

What if you haven't got a husband at the moment? You are defenseless, powerless, and apt to sign the contract they so presumptuously shove at you with the pen they just happen to have in their hand. I've experienced shoddy workmanship without a husband to direct and inspect their work before final payment is made. And that was before I realized I needed a new roof.

When it dripped rain on my sleeping head during a recent storm, I realized the old roof wouldn't last another winter, and started calling roofing contractors. I learned how to deal with feckless contractors; there's nothing more frustrating than to handle a contractor with no feck.

Never mind that the local roofers' estimates were almost twice as much, for the presumed convenience of proximity, let's just cut to me finding a fairly priced roofing estimate from a company about 60 miles away willing to make the long round-trip drive for several days. This time, I thought, a contractor will not take advantage of husbandless me because by the time work commences, I will have one.

Living near Los Angeles, the hub of the entertainment industry, I first thought of hiring a movie extra, until I found out what it would cost. Second, I thought of interviewing male escorts but they not only cost more, they were all too young, too handsome, and too expectant of special extras of their own. Desperation drove me to a better solution; I already had a possibility.

I asked my long-time handyman if I could hire him at his regular rate to act like my husband, explaining the need for a man to join me in meeting with the contractor. He was thrilled because, he enthused, "I'm 62 years old and this is my first acting job!"

Hiring a husband worked out very well. The contractor addressed all his remarks to him, the handyman asked intelligent questions I never would have thought of, and made it clear that I (his "wife") was in charge of home repairs.

What persuaded the contractor to address future comments to me, satisfied all parties, and sealed the deal, was when my hired husband told the contractor that I was in charge of the checkbook. Now I have a nice new roof to prevent raindrops from falling on my head, but my checkbook has sprung a leak.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
February 9 , 2011 column
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