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Seeking the true "professionals'

Question: What's happening with the vast numbers of painters, plumbers and carpet installers masquerading as "professionals" these days? When they show up hours late, it's a blessing because so many don't bother to show up at all! How does one find a true professional?

Answer: I hear from hundreds of frustrated homeowners. It's my opinion that professional tradespeople are an endangered species. The trick to finding one of the few competent and courteous ones left is understanding the dynamics of the marketplace.

The professions in the residential construction business require little, if any, formal education or training. Anybody can pick up a brush and call himself a painter.

Even if a person you find is the best painter or other tradesperson in your area, that does not automatically mean he or she handles business in a professional manner.

Remember, tradespeople receive a steady stream of phone calls every day. You are just one of many, and plenty of workers simply don't care if they forget to show up at your place. After all, they might have 10 other houses to go to and will more than likely have 20 appointments next week.

Add to this the controlled chaos that surrounds the average plumber, bricklayer or tile setter. Many of these individuals operate as the craftsperson, receptionist, bookkeeper, delivery person, etc., of their business.

Cellular phones have made the problem worse because they allow a tradesperson to multitask by communicating with other clients while working on your project. Since they can't be in two places at one time, if there is a problem at some other location, odds are you will get stood up.

None of the above excuses the lack of professionalism of so many "professional" tradespeople. It's also not to say that you should give up hope.

To spot a professional, why not go where they go? The first place I would visit is a wholesale supply house that sells the materials the pros use. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Plumbing Fixtures and Supplies." You will discover some well-hidden companies that sell hard-to-get plumbing fittings. The same businesses exist for electricians, roofers, carpenters, painters, etc.

Visit these businesses after the morning rush. Look for an older counterperson or ask to speak with the general manager. Tell them you are looking for an individual who has been buying there for 10 to 15 years, has a minimum of 20 years' experience and buys the best materials. Ask this same person to name three professionals from whom they would solicit bids if they needed work performed at his or her home.

If you have a technical school or a high school that offers technical courses in your city, contact the teacher. Frequently, this teacher knows which students were blessed with the most potential. Ask for names of recent graduates.

You can also search out the local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (the Tampa Bay Area chapter can be reached at 727-578-2207 or www.nari-tampabay.com).

And never forget the value of personal referrals from friends, neighbors or work colleagues.

Send for Builder Bulletin No. 399 listing an additional 10 secret tips on finding a professional. Please send $3 and your name and address to Tim Carter, c/o St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 36352, Cincinnati, OH 45236-0352.

Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. Got a question for him? Call from 10 a.m. to noon today toll-free 1-888-737-1450 on his radio call-in show (not broadcast in the Tampa Bay area). You can listen to archived shows by clicking on www.askthebuilder.com/

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