Brian Gawthrop has waited over six months to remodel his home.
The Washington-based certified financial planner and his wife have a long enough wish list to keep a contractor busy: a kitchen remodel, new flooring, a new deck and many other upgrades.
They did a cash-out refinance last summer, which lowered their mortgage rate and gave them money to use toward home improvements. They planned to start soon after receiving the cash, but by mid-December Gawthrop still hadn’t found the right contractor.
Contractors say pandemic-prompted home remodels have kept their schedules full, while labor and material shortages have extended project timelines. That means the next contractor you call may be more selective about the projects they accept, and your quote may be higher than you expected.
Here’s how to stand out in a crowd of homeowners vying for a contractor’s attention.
Get a referral
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 had work done recently.
Mike Williams, owner of Maryland Professional Contractors, says when he has dozens of voicemails, referrals get the first calls back.
Williams says he enjoys working with new customers, but the referral network supports his business.
“That base supports about seven full-time employees right now,” he says. “I know that was there before this boom, so I’m pretty sure after the boom we’ll have that referral base.”
You might also use your real estate agent. Williams says about half of his referrals come from agents.
Be patient — and nice
For Williams, summer is the busy season and demand starts to drop in the fall; last year, however, he stayed busy through the end of the year. Renovation timelines could be delayed by backlogged city permit requests, a shortage of subcontractors and backordered materials.
Christina Starmer, building contractor at CenterBeam Construction in Jacksonville, Fla., says she returns every customer’s call, but acknowledges that not all contractors do.
“I think it’s really important to be extremely kind to the customers and call them back, but the customers right now are just extremely frustrated because they can’t get anyone to pick up the phone,” she says.
Frustrating as it is, don’t let anger get the best of you. Starmer says renovations are hard work, and a little empathy goes a long way.
If someone is unkind early on, Starmer assumes they’ll be unkind to her staff as well, and usually moves on to a new client.
Know what you want
Research finishes, like cabinets and countertops, before calling a contractor because they can make a big difference in the project’s cost, says Jonathan Larkin , sales manager of St. Paul, Minn.-based JoNick Construction.
“It’s much easier to write up a bid if somebody has some solid ideas of what they really want,” he says.
If you don’t have the details ironed out, Larkin recommends setting a budget ahead of time.
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