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How To Hire A Contractor In The Middle Of A Pandemic 

Lindsay Tigar  |  December 21, 2020

Looking to have work done on your house? A look at how to do it safely, and how COVID has changed the industry. 

This year has brought about a lot of introspection, and it’s put one big aspect of our lives under the microscope in myriad ways: our homes. When you live, work, teach, exercise and exist 24/7 within the same four walls, you start to notice everything. You start to realize just how much your kitchen could use a facelift, the backyard that could be so much more with just a little effort, and the living room layout that could benefit from being just a tad more open. 

Because of this, many homeowners have started to invest significantly in their homes with renovations, remodels and upgrades, resulting in an increased demand for contractors. Online home remodeling platform Houzz has seen a 58% annual increase in project leads for home professionals, and reported a 275% increase in interest for new decks. Jess Kennedy, co-founder and CCO for home loan start-up Beeline says the contracting industry has been able to maintain stability despite COVID rocking many industries. In multiple states, home construction, including remodeling, has been classified as an essential service, even under stay-at-home orders, so in most cases, business is proceeding as usual. But of course for those of us doing the hiring, this doesn’t mean things like finding the right person for the job and scheduling that person have gotten any easier… If anything, the demand has made it more difficult.  And of course with COVID, people are much more cautious about who they bring into their homes. 

So how can you mitigate complications and find the right contractor for your particular job? Take a look at these words of wisdom from the experts. 

Have Some Patience

Kennedy says anyone hiring a contractor should expect and plan for plenty of hiccups along the way. Part of this is due to the uptick in current demand, but a lot of it is due to many contractors still playing catch-up from the spring. “When industries first ground to a halt, many current projects for contractors were put on hold. Now those projects will be back up and running, so your contractor could be booked up for some time,” she explains.

Also, because contracting requires a supply chain from multiple vendors to complete a project, you may also run into delivery delays in materials. To prepare for this likely scenario, Kennedy suggests making decisions early on with regard to finishes, appliances and other goods that must be ordered. This allows your contractor to set expectations accordingly or recommend alternatives to speed up the process. 

Ask For References And Past Work Samples

When you start the process of selecting a contractor, it’s vital to think of it as a hiring process. You’re not going to find someone overnight. You’re onboarding someone to take on a major project in your home, so ask to see examples of their work, from start to finish. You’ll also need to confirm they have liability protection and only use licensed subcontractors and provide warranties for their work.Don’t be afraid to ask for this information right from the beginning of your conversations, says Carson Wright, the executive director of Manorly Concierge Home Management. “Hiring a professional company will be more advantageous in the long run. The cost to complete the project right the first time will always be a better deal than having to bring in another contractor to remediate shoddy work,” he stresses.

Come Prepared With Questions

Negotiation is always part of the process of hiring a contractor, and in any negotiation, you’ve got to do your homework before you start discussions. By gaining an understanding of the market, the scope of work and the average cost in your zip code, it’s less likely you’ll be quoted an outrageous amount or otherwise be taken advantage of. Morgan recommends having a list of specific questions to demonstrate your confidence and knowledge, so you aren’t sold on things you don’t need.

Not sure what to ask? No worries. Principal, architect, contractor and designer at Cadiz Design-Build, Lorraine Francis provides these basic suggestions to begin:

  • Can you share reviews from past clients?
  • How long have you known your subcontractors? 
  • How many projects did you complete in 2019?
  • What issues have you run into in the past, and how did you resolve them? 

Stay Safe: Stay Digital As Long As Possible

With the continued threat of COVID, you and your contractor should keep all communication and meetings digital for as long as you can. Obviously, you can’t redo a kitchen or build a back deck via Zoom (yet, anyway), but plenty of prep work can be completed virtually. Kennedy suggests sharing site plans over video so your contractor can get a good idea of the area, and you can point out specific changes and details. You can also send photos back and forth, discuss how much time will be spent at your home during the project, and so on. The less time you have to spend in close contact with one another, the better. 

Once you’ve reached the stage in the process where a contractor needs to visit your home to take measurements and start construction, take time to read the recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding having outside workers inside of your space. This detailed guide provides ways both the homeowner and the contractor can stay healthy and protected throughout the project. 

Kennedy says you should also feel empowered to ask your contractor about the screening precautions they’re exercising with workers and subcontractors. “Ensure temperature checks are happening before workers enter the home and clarify if there’s contact tracing being undertaken for all contractors on their previous site visits,” she continues. “Mask-wearing by both contractors and homeowners is highly recommended. Having extra face masks on hand in the home in case contractor’s masks become dirty or wet is a great idea to keep up safe work, too.”

With COVID, Have A Plan B… And C, and D… 

Because of the unpredictable nature of, well, everything right now, there’s a high chance that a worker could test positive during your home improvement. In this case, you’ll need to know what steps your contractor is taking to isolate to prevent further spread. If the worst happens, find out if they plan to bring in additional workers, so that your work isn’t wholly derailed with a two-week quarantine. “Clarifying if there will be delays or alternative teams to step in is crucial to avoiding any mid-project stalls,” Francis says. 


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