The contractors have retorted (and believe it or not, their retorts arrived right on time).
They say customers can be tardy, too. They say customers treat them as nonprofit information banks, not as businessmen. They say customers expect the moon and won't settle for a little moon dust.
In just a couple of inches, the contractors' case. You can decide where your vote goes. First, however, a dab of background.
On May 12, Levey published the rants of a Northern Virginia homeowner. She has been looking for someone to build a deck for her. Her luck has been out -- far out.
Contractors say they'll come and don't, the homeowner told me. Nor do they call to cancel appointments. I sympathized hugely and floated the idea of a "reverse bond" -- a pot of money that contractors would be forced to establish. Potential customers would get to raid it if they've been stood up, inordinately delayed or "dissed."
About 35 contractors weighed into the discussion. As you might guess, they didn't love the May 12 column.
Cindy Linder, the spouse of a contractor, said most homeowners want contractors to drop everything and handle their job first. They want evening and weekend appointments. They can't understand why they can't be "squeezed in." And they don't rush to apologize when Cindy's husband is on time for an appointment but they aren't.
"Oh, Robert, you've done it now!" began another woman whose spouse is a contractor. She listed Six Deadly Sins that her husband's customers regularly commit.
1) Make appointments and don't show up.
2) Ask for estimates, make 40 changes to the plans and then pick someone else.
3) Meet you at a party or social gathering and ask for free advice.
4) Hire you but then change their mind after you've blocked out time in your schedule and bought the materials.
5) Continually change the scope of the work and then complain when the work takes longer than originally anticipated.
6) Withhold payment or write a bad check.
Matt McBride, a self-employed contractor, said he often gets this dance from customers: "It was my wife (or husband) who called and they're not here and I don't know what they wanted." Bye-bye to two hours of Matt's time.
Matt also notes that "when a potential customer wants a free estimate, he often has no intention of having the work done." Matt says he often hears: "That's about what I thought it would cost, and that's too much, so me and my brother-in-law are going to do it this weekend." Or: "Thanks, I needed the estimate for my insurance company."
Matt wasn't big on my cell-phone lecture, either. In that May 12 column, I chastised contractors who won't give their cellular phone numbers to customers. But Matt painted this picture:
"Imagine a contractor standing at the top of a 40-foot ladder, holding one end of a piece of material and the tools it will take to fasten that material. Now imagine that my cell phone rings and someone says, `Hey, Matt, Bob Levey said that I should call to see if you're coming over tonight.' " As Matt observes, "I'm not sitting at a desk with a phone within easy reach."
If you like stark contrasts, you'll love the pearls that "E.P." provided.
E.P. works for a small company in Northern Virginia that does heavy-duty cleaning. The company operates the way a contractor does -- lots of estimates, bidding, juggling.
According to E.P., customers often ask for detailed technical advice. It's obvious that they are just picking the brains of an expert and plan to do the job themselves, E.P. says.
Another regular fly in the ointment: customers who ask for a small cleaning job, but then order additional work once a crew is on the scene. That's one reason E.P. always leaves some "flex" between the end of Job One and the start of Job Two.
E.P.'s payoff pitch is unforgettable.
If a customer calls and asks for free advice, "we happily do it in the name of customer service" and don't charge, E.P. says.
"On the other hand, the other day, I called our accountant to ask a question. My company got a bill for the six minutes of time they spent over the phone with me."
"Mike in Gaithersburg" is just back from Peru, Ind. He had an experience that we Washingtonians ought to ponder.
Mike was there for a funeral. En route to the cemetery, "people traveling in the opposite direction pulled off to the side of the road to let us pass," Mike writes.
Then, when the cortege passed two construction workers, they "stopped what they were doing, took off their hats and stood at attention as we drove past. I was truly amazed."
Almost as amazed by what Mike says he sees during funeral processions here at home.
"I have witnessed people cutting in[to] a funeral procession just to make the light," he says. "I have been sitting at a green light, unable to go because a funeral procession got caught mid-light cycle, and people around me start honking and inching out [into] the intersection.
"People just need to chill out!"
Or perhaps to remember that, some day, they will be riding in that lead limousine.