When a homeowner is considering a solar PV installation, they often keep certain points in mind when searching for the right contractor. Though some homeowners focus solely on the bottom line, most are savvy enough to know that other factors come into play if they want to have the best outcome. Here are the top items contractors should address to stand out in a competitive market.
1. Detailed estimates
When homeowners look at a variety of quotes and see a wide range of prices, they may wonder why there is such a big difference between your quote and alternate proposals. Educating them on exactly what your quote includes can boost your reputation and get their attention, even if your bid is the highest of the bunch.
What homeowners need first is an education on how to read the estimate; they need to understand how the quotes are put together so they can make an apples-to-apples comparison. The contractor can take the time to go row-by-row on a sample quote or their actual quote.
Remind homeowners that even when quotes have the same line items, there can still be significant variations in cost. For example, if a company will cover pulling permits, that might have a higher administrative fee. Or if the materials you use are of much higher quality with better warranties, your quote for materials may be higher than what the competition presents.
When it comes to references, there are two approaches that work particularly well.
Offer a list of the most recently completed jobs. This is not a curated list; this is literally the contractor saying, “Here are the last jobs I completed, no cherry picking, just the last five or ten jobs” – so the customer will get a true representation of what is going on in the business at that moment. Avoid a list any longer than 10, as too much information can be overwhelming.
Another good option is to offer a list of projects that are right there in the neighborhood. This allows the homeowner to walk by and look at the work themselves. Maybe they even noticed the project in progress, so they have an idea of what it’s going to be like when they get the same work done.
When it comes to getting those references, the easiest option is to simply write the request into the contract.
The ones that do it best layer references into their agreement as a customer satisfaction tool. They’re saying, “You’re going to be 100% satisfied with this project and I’m going to want to use you as a reference.” It’s front-loaded into the agreement so the homeowner feels comfortable they will be satisfied and at the same time, they are agreeing to be a reference to testify to their satisfaction.
3. Installation description
Homeowners can envision their roof covered in solar panels, but they probably can’t envision the process of getting there. Perhaps they will be surprised to see a Port-A-Potty in their driveway, or didn’t expect that the power would be turned off while you installed panels on their roof. Keep your customer happy and your reputation intact by making sure the homeowner knows what they’re getting into throughout the installation process.
Homeowners think about what they have today and what they will have at the end of the project, but they may not consider what they have to live with day-to-day during installation. They might not visualize the details, or the compromises that sometimes need to be made for the actual installation to be completed.
So, if you’re going to be tearing the roof apart at seven in the morning or need the homeowner to take down some overhanging branches before installation, let them know up front to avoid any surprises. Contractors that do a better job of highlighting those details have a much more satisfied homeowner base than those who just show up and turn the homeowner’s life upside down for a few days.
4. Paperwork guidance
Will you handle permits for them? Many homeowners expect the quote to include absolutely everything so they can stay hands-off, but that’s not necessarily the way it always works.
Some homeowners will be happy to let you handle the heavy lifting when it comes to paperwork. They are willing to pay more for administrative costs if it means you’ll be the one standing in line at the permit office and taking care of everything that needs to be done for regulatory purposes. And it might be in your best interest to take care of the permits yourself, so you know it’s done properly.
On the other hand, a homeowner who wants to save money might insist on handling the paperwork themselves. That’s certainly possible, with some caveats. In general, if the homeowner wants to save money, they can volunteer to handle as much of this as possible and then work with their contractor to make sure there’s no duplication of effort and that they are doing it all properly.”
Many homeowners will ask questions about tax incentives and how to get those; in most cases, though you can give them the paperwork they need, they will have to handle things on their own from that point. Make sure they are aware of this up-front, and tell them to talk to their tax professional before moving forward.
5. Realistic savings expectations
The solar panels are up, the house looks great, and it’s time to start saving money! Those panels should pay for themselves rather quickly — right? Well… perhaps.
A lot of times consumers have this idea that’s not always aligned with reality in terms of how rapidly the panels pay for themselves. Homeowners don’t always ask specifically how installing these panels will affect their energy bills.
It’s important to remind homeowners that while they can expect to save money, several factors come into play that affect that bottom line, such as sun intensity, cloud cover, temperature, and more. The numbers they might see from their local electric company or the solar panel manufacturer often reflect the performance of the panels under ideal conditions — and no home has ideal conditions every day. Make that clear up front, so they surprised by their rate of return.
Bottom line: Communication matters
In the end, keeping customers happy boils down to excellent communication. From the first phone call to the final handshake, make sure the customer knows what to expect.
Gregg Hicks is Vice President at Modernize, a source for informational guides to empower homeowners to get home improvement projects done.
— Solar Builder magazine