This is a man’s world…. This is a contractor’s world. (
Think of the James Brown song as you read this title :))
Friends of mine recently had a leak in their townhome that caused enough damage to their dwelling to make it uninhabitable. They ended up having to stay with in-laws, in hotels and condos rented through air b n b for over two months, as they couldn’t find a contractor to call them back to discuss their home renovation needs. A neighboor in my condo building had to live on a construction site (his own condo) for over 8 months because it took that long for the contractors he hired to complete his bathroom renovations. Why would it take 8 months to renovate 2 average sized bathrooms in a 1,200 square foot dwelling?
Stories like this are all too common these days. According to a recent survey conducted by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America, 70% of contractors reported they are having a hard time filling hourly positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce; carpenters, electricians, plumbers and roofers. This is all happening at a time when the demand for construction is growing.
With such a large shortage of workers, contractors are having a difficult time keeping up with the demand. Because most contractors run a very lean organization, the current situation forces them to be stretched thin, working on multiple projects simultaneously. This in turn causes project completion delay (as in my neighboor’s case whose bathrooms were being renovated for 8 months) as well as cash flow problems for the contractors since they don’t have enough staff to deal with money management issues.
As the shortage of construction workers puts homeowners at a disadvantaged position, the following guidelines may be helpful in navigating the current home improvement/small construction project market conditions.
- Plan ahead. Try to do as much homework as possible prior to contacting potential contractors. Create as precise a list as possible of all the work you need done and gather photographs of what you’d like your space to look like or materials samples (these can often be found at places like Home Depot).
- Research, research, research! Try to find out as much information online or through friends that have done home improvement projects regarding what such work entails. Try to find out how long a typical kitchen remodel takes as well as which types of trades are involved. Inquire regarding the costs of the materials/look you identified in Step 1 in order to create a budget for your project.
If your friends have had delays in their projects, inquire what caused these delays and what they in retrospect think would have helped avoid them. These types of exercises will help you set realistic expectations.
- Create milestones. If you’ve done the proper research recommended in Steps 1 and 2, you will be able to create a project timeline with milestones. This will give you a clear picture of how long your project will take as well which milestone should occur at which point in time. Unexpected delays and complications are always possible, but creating a project schedule will at least give you a general picture.
- Go outside of your immediate radius. If you are unable to find word of mouth recommendations for potential contractors in your immediate circle of friends or acquaintances, try posting on social networks you belong to such as Nextdoor, Facebook, etc. If that doesn’t work, consider reaching out to contractors who are geographically further away. You never know, they may be motivated to travel if they’re short on work.
- Due diligence. Do your due diligence of gathering at least three estimates from three different contractors. Once you’ve decided on which contractor to employ, you should get a written contract that outlines the exact nature of the work to be performed as well as the cost for labor and supplies.
- Release funds according to the established milestones. In order to avoid being vulnerable to a contractor who might not finish the job or does subpar work, funds should be released according to the milestones you established in Step 4. An initial deposit is typically required in order for the contractor to purchase the supplies needed for your particular project and this deposit should generally not be larger than 10% of the total project cost. If a large purchase is necessary at the initial project stage, or any project stage for that matter, you might consider purchasing the materials yourself and providing them to the contractor instead of giving the contractor money to buy on your behalf.
- Touch base. Touch base with your contractor on a regular basis to review the work that has been done and that still needs to be completed. Do not wait until the end to voice your concerns regarding the work that has been done. Review the project on a regular basis and communicate both your concerns and praise. Listen to your contractor’s ideas and concerns and communicate your own ideas, concerns and expectations. Maintaining open channels of communication will help your project be a success!
If the steps stated above sound like a lot of work it is because they are a lot of work! If you’re in a financial position to hire a project manager who will act as your owner’s rep, who will manage the project on your behalf, that is a much easier route take. However, if your financial circumstances do not allow for this expenditure or you’d like to oversee your home renovation yourself, we hope that the steps we’ve outlined above will prove useful!