“We are only taking work for new home construction or complete renovations.”
This is the response I received from a woman working for a contractor’s office, when I called in, asking for a bid on a patio renovation. Feeling insulted and as though my task wasn’t “good enough” for the company, I called another contractor. I was redirected to a voicemail that was full, so I then decided to call Home Advisors – a nationwide contractor referral service. However, I was disconnected from them on three separate occasions.
This all began when our home was professionally cleaned. DC and I both knew that our covered patio’s overhang was due for a much-needed update, so we asked the home cleaner if he knew of anyone who could assist us. He said that he would call around, but I received a text message a few days afterward, stating “I’ve asked three guys. No one is available.” After making several of the aforementioned phone calls, I decided to ask a few women from my book club, but they too said, “good luck finding anyone.” Following this, I decided to phone in to the National Associate of Home Builders – surely I’m not the only one who can’t find a contractor!
Paul Emrath, economist and vice president of survey and housing research, informed me that we are in the midst of a nationwide shortage of home labor workers. As of 2017, a NAHB survey concluded that 91% of remodelers reported shortages in carpenters, 70% reported a shortage of bricklayers, drywall workers and concrete workers. Finally, more than half reported shortages in nearly every other form of building trade. Mr. Emrath explained to me that the shortage began over a decade ago, around 2007, when the market began to suffer. This apparently scared many workers away from the trade, and they pursued other forms of employment, never returning to home repair. What’s worse is that this decline peaked around the same time that demand for workers began to rise – causing a shortage of workers that has affected the entire nation.
According to data provided by NAHB, in the first three quarters 2018, American’s spent over 60% more on residential construction than they had at a similar time in 2008, and more than 160% more than they did in the year 2000. According to Emrath, “A strong economy, rising house-price appreciation, and low unemployment are all driving Americans to put money into their homes again. The smaller the job, the [harder it is to find workers.]”
So what are we supposed to do?
Accept this shortage as reality. We are at the mercy of a builder’s market, and we need to come to terms with the waiting period of licensed workers, and also accept that when workers are available, prices will likely be higher than we anticipate.
Be reasonable. Contractors, plumbers and electricians are naturally going to be more enticed to work with business or repeat-buyers, rather than one-time projects, such as minor home repairs. They rely on repeat business to keep their finances flowing, so it’s perfectly understandable why consumer jobs are often put on hold, in exchange for larger projects.
Be prepared. When workers do become available, it’s always best to have your financing in order before scheduling the work. By having your proverbial ‘ducks in a row’, contractors are more likely to take your work sooner, rather than later.
Contact national associations for help. Both the NAHB and the National Associate for the Remodeling Industry have helpful tools that can be accessed both online and over the phone, with these resources helping you to locate the best contractor for your job, in your local area.
Don’t be afraid to conduct a background check. Ensure that contractor you are working with is licensed, and be vigilant in your vetting processes. Check with the Better Business Bureau and any previous clients you may be aware of to ensure that work was done properly, and according to schedule. It’s also important to always ask your contractor for proof of insurance, to avoid any potential issues down the road.
Don’t settle. In a market like this, it can be easy to simply hire the first worker that shows up to your door, tools in-hand. But it’s important to hold out for a contractor that you feel safe with, and that has proven references. Never hire a workerwho isn’t properly licensed. If a job goes wrong and your worker is not licensed, this could place you in a serious legal hang up.
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Reworked by Ty Notts, this article was originally compiled and written by Marni Jameson – 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