How to Attract Busy Contractors to Renovate Your Home
Brian Gawthrop waited over six months to remodel his home.
The Washington State-based Certified Financial Planner and his wife have a wish list long enough to keep a contractor busy: a kitchen remodel, new flooring, a new deck and many other upgrades.
They did a cash-in refinance last summer, which lowered their mortgage rate and gave them money to use to improve their home. They planned to start shortly after receiving the money, but by mid-December Gawthrop had still not found the right contractor.
Contractors say pandemic-driven home renovations have kept their schedules full, while labor and material shortages have extended project deadlines. This means that the next contractor you call may be more selective about which projects they take on, and your quote may be higher than expected.
Here’s how to stand out among a crowd of homeowners vying for a contractor’s attention.
Get a recommendation
A contractor may be more likely to call you back if an existing customer refers you. You can try a friend, family member, or neighbor who has recently done some work.
Mike Williams, owner of Maryland Professional Contractors, says when he receives dozens of voicemails, referrals get the first calls.
Williams says he enjoys working with new clients, but the referral network sustains his business.
“This base supports about seven full-time employees right now,” he says. “I know it was there before this boom, so I’m pretty sure after the boom we’ll have that baseline.”
You can also contact your real estate agent. Williams says about half of her referrals come from agents.
Be patient – and kind
For Williams, summer is the busy season and demand starts to drop in the fall; last year, however, he remained busy until the end of the year. Renovation timelines could be delayed by late municipal permit applications, a shortage of subcontractors and out-of-stock materials.
Christina Starmer, a building contractor with CenterBeam Construction in Jacksonville, Fla., says she returns every client’s call, but acknowledges that not all contractors do.
“I think it’s really important to be extremely nice to customers and call them back, but customers are extremely frustrated right now because they can’t get anyone to pick up the phone,” she says.
As frustrating as it is, don’t let anger get the better of you. Starmer says renovations are hard work and a little empathy goes a long way.
If someone is mean at first, Starmer assumes they will also be mean to their staff and usually moves on to a new client.
Know what you want
Look for finishes, like cabinets and countertops, before calling a contractor because they can make a big difference in the cost of the project, says Jonathan Larkin, sales manager for St. Paul, Wash.-based JoNick Construction. Minnesota.
“It’s much easier to write an offer if someone has a clear idea of what they really want,” he says.
If you haven’t ironed out the details, Larkin recommends budgeting ahead of time.
Giving a number may feel like giving up leverage, but it says a reputable contractor will use your budget to help you weigh options, not overburden you.
Your budget may need to be higher than before the pandemic, he says. Lumber prices soared last spring and have yet to fall to pre-pandemic levels. Other materials, like shingles and siding, are also more expensive than they were in 2019, Starmer says.
Larkin recommends getting a detailed estimate in case you need to find opportunities to cut costs.
Protect your finances
Gawthrop says his wife wants to start their renovations as soon as possible, but he wants to remain budget-conscious. In this market, he says, price seems largely at the discretion of entrepreneurs.
“It feels a bit like the Wild West,” he says.
But you can stay in control of your finances.
For example, ask to embed a price stamp in the contract. Larkin says that if material costs increase or decrease by more than 12% between the time he makes an offer and the start of the project, he will correct the offer. This helps protect him and his customers from material price volatility, he says.
If you’re not paying cash for the renovation, compare financing options. For example, home equity financing typically comes with single-digit rates and repayment terms of 10 years or more, while personal loans can have rates between 6% and 36% but shorter terms of one. at seven years old.
Weigh each type of financing to find the right one for you.