When it came time for my friend Abby to have a tankless water heater installed, she got the distinct feeling that it made a difference that she was a woman when dealing with both the manufacturer and the installer. “I felt that I was being treated differently in both cases because I was asking questions, and the men I was dealing with were wondering why I should have to know.”

In the first instance, dealing with the manufacturer of the system, she said, “I wanted to learn about the system because it was a gas unit that was going to be installed in my attic, and I had concerns about how the flame would be protected from that environment. I had to go through three people to get answers to a simple question.

“Then, when it came time to have the system installed, I had to deal with a gas company that wanted to plant a big 60-gallon propane tank right at my front door which aesthetically would have been a disaster, an affront to my sensibilities. I had to stand my ground and insist that they come up with another solution,” she said. “They just had to know that they were not dealing with a hysterical female, but rather someone who has been a homeowner for 20 years, who knows how things work and wasn’t going to take ‘don’t worry about it’ for an answer.”

Are women treated differently as a rule? As in all things, it would seem to depend on the individuals involved. Others argue that it’s an advantage to be a woman when it comes to contracting for home improvement, but from a different perspective, that of the contractor.

Mary and Robert Sniffens, proprietors of Miracle Home Improvements in Croton-on-Hudson, contend that it’s women who are the decision makers when it comes to home improvements. Robert said, “It’s Mary who goes out to discuss the jobs and sign the contracts because we have found that it’s the woman who makes the final decisions, and she relates better to another woman.”

Then again, it may be easier dealing with contractors as a single woman than as a woman who is half of a male/female couple. Interestingly, there have been complaints lodged on Angie’s List from women who say that contractors have refused to come to give estimates on jobs unless their husbands were also present.

An Angie’s List subscriber from Tucson, Arizona, took offense when she called a contractor for an estimate to get work done on a house she and her husband had recently purchased. She said that the company called the day before the appointment to make sure both she and her husband would be at the estimate, and then canceled the appointment when she indicated that only she would be present.

“They were more than happy to talk to me over the phone, but refused to come and do a detailed estimate without my husband present,” she said.

The company’s office manager responded that this indeed reflects the company’s policy, but is not discriminatory toward women in any way, but rather helps avoid future problems.

“We find it’s more time-efficient and fuel-efficient to get everybody at the presentation the first time,” she said. “We ask for both homeowners to be present because we have to have permission from anybody listed on the deed to make changes to the home. We run into a lot of different questions during the presentation, and we’ve found that most people want their spouse to be involved in those decisions.”

Scott Siegal, president of Certified Contractors Network, which provides sales and management training to 350 contractors nationwide, said he advises service providers to meet one or both homeowners at the initial estimate, and then ask that both homeowners be present for the second meeting where specifics will be discussed.

“That way, everyone is clear about what will take place and when,” he said. “We found that the most dissatisfaction comes from a missed communication or an unrealized expectation on the job, and that’s usually a result of not everybody being involved in the buying process. It’s a whole lot easier if everybody’s on the same page.”

As a takeaway, interestingly, statistics show that contractors will be dealing more with single female homeowners than male homeowners. Today, more women (15.5 million) than men (11.8 million) live alone. Among these, women were more likely than men to own their own homes (56% vs. 47%).

If you happen to be a woman homeowner, single or otherwise, looking for a woman contractor to show up to discuss a job at hand, you can call Mary Sniffen of Miracle Home Improvements at (914) 271-9119.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

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