Contractor Hotline was founded in August 2006, when the economy was strong and demand for home improvement services was high. Those days were much like the present, when good contractors stayed busy with their customer’s home repair and remodeling needs. But, those days didn’t last long before the recession pretty much brought business to a grinding halt.
Prior to that time, we knocked on a lot of doors trying to get the attention of good contractors interested in new business. By the end of 2008 the tables began to turn and many of those same contractors were seeking out our services. Over time we retained a lot of those original contractors, recruited many more, and built a solid network of quality home improvement professionals. We have been through these times together and value the relationships we have with each other.
Fast forward, we now find ourselves in an interesting housing market. If you have sought out the services of a contractor lately, you likely discovered delays are imminent, especially on larger scale projects. Several factors contribute to current conditions.
Real estate inventory continues to be modest, helping drive home values higher. Many homeowners whose property values were dramatically reduced during the recession are experiencing significant appreciation. This opens up the opportunity for many to make long deferred home maintenance improvements. Others are updating or remodeling their existing homes, rather than waiting to find the next ideal home to purchase. For those who are selling their homes, repairs or updates are sometimes necessary to prepare the home to show well and sell quickly for the best price. New buyers often make improvements such as painting or replacing flooring, before moving in. Each of these circumstances, in addition to an upsurge in new construction, all contribute to an increased demand for good contractor.
Remodeling contractors report they are the busiest they have been in ten years. Some are booking work as far out as 6-12 months. While this can be good news for contractors, it puts an increased strain on the consumer. Homeowners pressured to get work done sometimes take risks, knowingly or unknowingly. Just like the days prior to the recession, stories of illegitimate contractors posing as licensed, bonded, and insured professionals are becoming more common. Contractors disappearing with a homeowner’s deposit, abandoning a job midway, or doing shoddy work are on the rise. Some employees of contracting firms decide to grab the brass ring and strike out on their own. What many of them fail to understand is that it takes a lot more than being a great mason, painter, or remodeling contractor to run a successful business. What goes on in the background such as paying off vendors, obtaining lien releases, and keeping current on insurance premiums and taxes, can impact their customers.
Hiring a contractor during high demand times not only requires due diligence, but also planning as far in advance as possible. Setting unrealistic goals can be stressful and lead to disappointment. Allow 6-12 months for larger scale remodels and home additions. In a soft market when contractors are readily available it can still take weeks and sometimes months to go through the process of meeting contractors, procuring proposals, and obtaining permits. The better prepared you are from the start will help expedite the process. Larger projects may require building plans before contractors can provide bids. Finish materials need to be decided upon and a budget established. Reviewing proposals, checking references, and finalizing a contract are all important steps, prior to getting on the contractor’s schedule. It’s easy to see how it can take months just to reach this point.
Some improvements are seasonal, such as exterior painting for example. Waiting until the weather is ideal is often too late to get on a good painter’s schedule. Starting the process in late winter or early spring helps to ensure there will be multiple contractors to choose from and that your project will be completed during the optimum season.
If you plan to sell your home in the next 6-12 months, now would be the time to have a professional home inspection. A thorough inspection will likely cost less than $500 and well worth the money spent. It should include the structural components, basement or crawl space, foundation, drainage, attic, electrical, plumbing, heating & air conditioning systems, and the full exterior. Allowing plenty of time to address any problem areas in advance will help make the sale of the home go more smoothly. You will also have the option to share the report with prospective buyers, which can be a positive selling point.
Buyers often want to make improvements to their new home before moving in. If the seller is agreeable to allowing prospective contractors into the home prior to closing, this will help expedite the bidding process. Deciding on a contractor and getting your project scheduled prior to possession will save valuable time. Focus on the projects that would be most difficult to complete after you have moved into the home. Painting and flooring are much easier to complete in a vacant house. Larger remodels may require a delayed move-in date or completing in stages so a portion of the home can be closed off from the construction area.
It is realistic to expect the demand for home improvement professionals to remain high for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the size of your next project, it is imperative to plan ahead and be patient.