I’m ready to Renovate! But Now What?

Want to know how to find a contractor? Join the club 
This just Published  By MARNI JAMESON |
PUBLISHED: October 17, 2018 at 8:05 am | UPDATED: October 17, 2018 at 8:11 am
“We are only taking work for new home construction or complete renovations,” the woman from the contractor’s office tells me when I ask for a bid on a patio renovation project. But ,I’m trying to find a contractor!!
“That’s it?” I ask. What my job isn’t good enough? I think.
I call another contractor: “The mailbox is full and can’t take new messages.” Sigh.
Calling Home Advisors, a national contractor referral service and got disconnected three times.
After our house got professionally power cleaned, DC and I agreed that the covered patio’s overhang and balcony above could use an update.I asked the house washer if he knew a good contractor. He said he’d check around.
A couple days later he sent a text. “I’ve asked three guys. No one is available.” And so my futile phone calling began. I also asked the well-connected women in my book club. “Good luck finding anyone,” was the universal answer.
I called the National Association of Home Builders to see if I’m the only one who can’t find a contractor.
I’m not alone. “We’re in the midst of a national labor shortage for home remodelers, and I don’t see it easing up anytime soon,” said Paul Emrath, an economist and vice president for survey and housing policy research for the association.
 
A 2017 NAHB remodeling survey found that 91 percent of remodelers reported shortages in available carpenters; 70 percent reported shortages of bricklayers, masons, dry wallers and concrete workers; and half reported shortages in almost every other building trade.
“The shortage has its roots in the 2007-2008 market downturn,” Emrath explained. “That scared workers away, and they haven’t been coming back, certainly not in proportion to the increase in residential construction and remodeling.”
In the first eight months of 2018, Americans spent 60 percent more on residential construction and improvement than they did in the first eight months of 2008, according to NAHB data, and 160 percent more than they did during the same period in 2000.
“A strong economy, rising house-price appreciation, and low unemployment are all driving Americans to put money into their homes again,” Emrath said.
“The smaller the job, the worse it is,” he said.
What can a home remodeler to do?
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Be one with the shortage. Accept that you’re at the mercy of a builders’ market, and be prepared to pay more when you find and the work to take longer.
  • Know your place. Subcontractors, including carpenters, plumbers and electricians, are naturally more attracted to work for general contractors or companies they know they can rely on for repeat business than to a homeowner’s job. That means homeowners with smaller, one-time projects take a back seat.
  • Be more attractive. Consumers can make themselves more attractive to a builder by having all the financing lined up, and by being easy to work with, said Emrath.
  • Be patient. If your job is small, which Emrath defines as between $3,000 and $20,000, it will take longer to find a contractor and longer to get the work completed.
  • Consult a national association. Both NAHB and the National Association for the Remodeling Industry have pro-finder tools on their websites that can connect you with professionals in your area. You will still have to check them out.
 
  • Do a deep background check. Because a high demand for workers in a tight labor market attracts flakes, consumers need to be more vigilant in their vetting, said Elizabeth McKenna, NARI spokeswoman. Make sure the worker you’re considering is a licensed contractor, then do some online research. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints filed against the worker or company. Check the county court’s website for any suits filed against the contractor. Ask for proof of insurance. Call references.
  • Don’t settle when trying to find a contractorThough I’m tempted to hire anyone who knows one end of a hammer from the other, I will hold out until I find a contractor licensed with proven references. If you hire an unlicensed worker, you have few remedies if the job goes awry or the worker goes AWOL.
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Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of four home and lifestyle books, including ‘Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go”.  She can be reached at www.marnijameson.com.

 

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