I'm starting to get suspicious (Construction projects)

Haven’t put much thought into this but my wife and I seem to get motivated to do some renovations on the house when the market turns down. Help the economy blah blah blah but it is just when we seem to think about it more seriously and so it happens.

Every time, EVERY TIME, we do this the construction people we talk to say something like “Surprisingly, we are very busy!”. This happened recently. Now, it is highly likely that they really are busy this day but it caused me to look back. I remember being surprised when the Great Recession hit a little over 10 years ago getting the same responses. News and such said everything ground to a stand still but everyone we talked to talked about how extremely busy they were and scheduling etc.

There were several other down times since the early 90s and I remember all the same.

Now, being slow on the uptake, I am going ‘hmmmmmm’. When I was working, we always told a client, when asked, that we were extremely busy even if we were sitting around all day skipping stones in the nearby pond. I guess to appear important and maybe to short circuit any ‘well I should get a price break’ discussions.

True, with respect to construction? Again, I can believe today it is true but what about 2009? after 9/11? etc.

Yes I would guess pretty much this, as well as not letting the client think that since you’re not busy that the job deadline can be sped up, or they’re not available instantly at the client’s beck and call when there’s a problem or something that needs fixing. To admit “you’re my only client right now” puts them at the client’s mercy.

We just had a new heat pump put in, and for one of the two companies to give us a bid, the guy said he would give us his best price because business was slow. We actually went with the other company, because their price was better for a slightly better model.

We also scheduled for replacement windows, they told us they were busy, and we had to schedule several months out, so I guess that was most likely the truth.

I think that might be the best test – do they say they’re super busy, but they’re available to start next week, or do they say they’re super busy, and they’re scheduling for summer?

I have a different experience during the great recession. We built a new house when the housing market was completely dead. The typical response our building received when trying to arrange a crew to do some task was “I can get the team out this afternoon or tomorrow morning, which would you prefer?”

For the past few years in Seattle, one has to book crews months in advance.

Hundred percent. This is just what any smart business would say. I own my own little company and I always say I’m busy even when I’m not.

Depends where you are, I guess. In the mountain West things are insanely busy. To the point where you can call major subcontractors and say “I’ve got a $175,000 plumbing/heating/HVAC project I’d like you to take a look at” and not get even a call back… My electrician was on site at 5 am Friday because that’s what it’s taking to keep up with his commitments.

I found out on Friday that I have to have my wastewater plumbing replaced — no surprise, most of it is original (vintage 1943), and even I could tell that a lot of the rest had been cobbled together without attention to code — and the rep told me that he could have a crew available on Tuesday.

He also gave me 20% off (what he said was) the list price for the package, in addition to a senior discount and a discount for being a teacher (even though I told him I only taught part-time thirty years ago). He was pretty open that while they weren’t dead in the water, they were focused on keeping their crews occupied.

So it’s smart to risk missing out on additional income? How fascinating.

Bootb, he isn’t turning down the business, just saying very busy and the project can’t be started until xxxx etc to give the appearance of busy.

The most surprising was 2009. We had several projects needed to be done worth a significant amount of money (for a residential place). The news was dire and I mean DIRE. Stock market collapsed and talks of it just going away. Housing market had collapsed. You remember it. However, every single person we called, except one, was interested but also ‘very very busy’ and acted like it.

It backfired on them because we chose someone local and small who admitted they were worried about their survival. We liked the idea of helping him, he had good references that we knew and all those other guys didn’t need us, right? They were very, very busy after all. We chose him and he was great and has done all the projects for us since until he retired recently.

I’ve done enough home renovation projects to have seen varying trends in the economy. It certainly helps to have an on-going relationship to be able to slot into someone’s queue during a busy time. Two years ago we were looking at redoing our front porch- had an architect draw up some plans, but ultimately it was a small project in the middle of a building boom. We reached out to 10 contractors to get a bid. Only 3 responded, 1 showed up and left 5 minutes later saying he wasn’t interested. #2 took some measreuments and said “about $20k” but we could never get him to send a bid or paperwork. #3 showed up for 10 minutes, told us how he would deviate from Architect and why… and then sent a bid/contract for $100k." I viewed it as, this is how much you need to pay to make it worth my while to do the project- economics speak: opportunity cost.

So in my opinion, “I’m busy” = banter. Not showing up and insane bids are actual signs of “I’m busy”.

I don’t understand your response. Why would saying the company is busy cause it to lose income? No customer ever says “well, in that case, never mind.” If they want your services, they want them.

“Busy” does not mean “incapable of accepting further business.”

Clearly you have no clue how many people think. Yes, SOME people have patience and are willing to wait. Yes, SOME companies have little competition, and thus can afford to act badly.

But let’s say that I need new windows, or a new roof, or something else that’s common. If I reach out to a particular company, and the owner says, “I’m busy” – Guess what? I’m going to see if I can find a company that’s NOT busy.

Not all that many people are willing to wait around at the whim of some company owner who wants to play games and appear like a big-shot who is in huge demand when he isn’t. THAT’S how you lose money.

I don’t think you’re grasping the idea here.

Apparently I’m not either.

This sounds like a game some people have played where they refuse when someone asks them out and then get upset because the asker took them at their work and didn’t pursue them harder.

It’s more like puffing yourself up as if you’re in demand, not actually saying you aren’t available. It could also be used as pressure to seal the deal – like, oh, you’re planning to get more bids? Well, we have a spot on our schedule for next week, but after that we’re booked until end of May. You can get the spot if you sign now.

I mean, if I call two companies and one says they’re very busy and can come take a look in two weeks and the other one says they can start tomorrow, there are a lot of times I’m choosing the guy who can start tomorrow.

Being busy has got to lose some business at the margin to customers who value promptness over the appearance of being busy. Unless, I guess, you say “I’m busy” but also you are not actually busy at all and you can schedule something right away.

Who suggested refusing work?

It’s an attempt to signal value. A busy company is a company in demand. If in demand they must have something worth demanding.

Disclaimer: one of my clients is a major manufacter and installer of replacement windows and doors. I’ve been studying this topic a lot over the past year.

The ecomomic impact of the pandemic in the U.S. has been very uneven, far more so than nearly any prior recession which we’ve experienced (and, just to note, the recession technically only ran from February until roughly June of last year). The pandemic has absolutely, and often devastatingly, hurt the economic welfare of many people and many businesses, particularly people who worked in restaurants, bars, travel, tourism, etc.

But, many Americans – mostly those who don’t work in the above sorts of industries, and particularly those for whom “work at home” was/is a viable option – haven’t seen their incomes or savings particularly damaged over the past year, and this is particuarly true of people who are mid-to-higher income. Additionally, as many of them aren’t spending disposable income on things like vacations, camps for their kids, etc., they are instead investing in remodeling and improving their homes (particularly as they realize they may be spending more time at home for the indefinite future).

While my clients absolutely saw slowdowns in their business in the first couple of months of the pandemic, things came roaring back around June or so, and most of their local branches are currently slammed with projects for months to come. I’ve seen similar reports of high demand for other sorts of home improvment/construction contractors, as well.

You mean you don’t say “I’m busy!” and immediately hang up? Dude, you’re doing it wrong!