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Biggest Contractor Complaints When Working for Wealthy Clients

Most contractors are in business both because they love building and they want to make money. So you'd think that their favorite clients would be their richest clients—those with plenty of money to spend. But that's not always the case. Here are nine things contractors hate about working for the rich.

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Changing Plans

We spoke to one tile contractor who had almost completed a massive four bathroom project on a high-end home, only to get a late-night phone call that put a stop to everything. The homeowner had stayed in a Las Vegas hotel and discovered the wonders of heated mirrors. In order to do that, the already-grouted wall tile would need to be pulled, and new electrical wiring would need to be installed.

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The Murphy Brown Situation

This headache takes its name from the popular ’90s sitcom, where the title character kept a contractor working on her home indefinitely.

Contractors love having a warm relationship with their clients, but things can get weird when their clients start viewing them (or their crew) as part of the family. The goal for contractors is to do the job, get paid, and move on to the next job. It is definitely not to stay around forever, functioning as a de facto family therapist and new best friend.

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The Yes-Man Issue

Wealthy clients are often powerful people, and they may go through life not hearing the word ‘no’ very often. When contractors run into this attitude, their options are to present issues along with potential solutions, and to lean heavily into the “yes, and…” mentality, rather than the direct confrontation of the flat-out “no.” It’s like verbal judo, using the rich client’s assumptions to sway them back to reality.

What contractors should never do is compromise job safety or their integrity, simply because a wealthy client has decided to railroad them into submission. That path almost always leads to the client threatening to pull work and go with a different option.

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The Constant Promise of More Business

Wealthy clients are often aware of the leverage they can obtain by dangling potential work in front of contractors. With the promise of more work and bigger paydays down the line, contractors are often pressured into concessions or price reductions on current work.

The problem is that sooner or later all that extra work will evaporate. For contractors who give in to temptation and play along, it’s a strategy that will often come back to bite them in the end. Even if the rich client is operating in good faith, this kind of power play is almost always indicative of someone who will eventually move on to the new lowest bidder. While it’s fine to tell contractors about future plans, promising more work simply to generate lower bids is a short-sighted strategy.

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Squeaky Wheel Syndrome

In the same way that some clients use the potential for future work as a carrot, the rich sometimes believe that the power provided by their wealth entitles them to better treatment than the average customer. This “squeaky wheel syndrome” may manifest in behavior such as calling contractors at all hours and expecting them to respond immediately to even minor issues.

Some contractors avoid this by establishing boundaries and not budging. Particularly useful is a call service that provides a 24-hour receptionist who answers any after-hours calls and prioritizes them with the simple question, “Is this an emergency?” Often, even the squeakiest of wheels will back down at this direct question.

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Keeping Up With the Joneses

Sure, customers trying to keep up with their neighbors can be a great source of work for contractors. But in high-end properties, the elements that clients are “keeping up” can be trivial and time-consuming to achieve. This is one of the reasons that contractors that specialize in high-end projects train their workers to observe even the most minute (or seemingly random) details.

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The Warranty Call that Wouldn’t Die

This is a common complaint of contractors, and combines several of the topics we’ve mentioned before, the only difference is that now it’s taking place after rather than during the job. Just when it seems like they’ve escaped from an endless headache of a project, wealthy customers can pull contractors back in with warranty calls that seems like they’ll never end. Combining persnickety details with the Murphy Brown syndrome and that strange drive to impress the neighbors by having construction crews over all the time, the unceasing warranty calls can cause the last drops of a contractor’s profit margin to evaporate into nothing.

Of course, there are plenty of companies that offer customer-friendly warranties, but warranty calls need to be managed just like any other type of customer service. And with wealthy clients, that management can be tricky!

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Chasing Payment from Someone Who Doesn’t Value Money

The second most irritating complaint that contractors have with wealthy customers is that, for all their money, the rich are often slow to pay. Sometimes it’s because they have a policy of paying all their bills as slowly as possible, and sometimes it’s because they simply don’t understand why their contractor is making such a big deal of things — after all, a $20,000 invoice isn’t that much money, right?

Chasing payment is never fun, but it’s especially aggravating when the contractor knows the client just can’t be bothered to take the time to write a check. It’s one reason that many contractors like to tie their work to home improvement loans. That way they know the bank will be cutting the check.

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Lawyers, Litigation, and Sticking it to the Little Guy

You may be wondering why we said that slow payment is the second most irritating contractor complaint about wealthy customers. That’s because sometimes the rich decide they’d rather pay an attorney then pay their contractors. Fighting for this money can quickly become a huge headache for a contractor, especially when the homeowner has an attorney on retainer and they’ve got the money to force a contractor to drop his or her bill in order to get a resolution.

It’s unfortunate, but on occasion contractors have to swallow their pride and accept a payment that they know isn’t fair in order to make sure their workers will get their paychecks on time.

Next, check out these ways that contractors can work with clients to set and meet expectations.