What to expect if you’re planning home repairs or remodels

Jene J. Long

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Most industries took a hit during the pandemic, but it was the opposite for contractors and remodelers –business skyrocketed.

“[It’s] insane,” said Josh Brown, vice president of sales for Bliffert Lumber and Hardware. “So the last year’s been crazy.”

And it’s not slowing down.

“It’s still pretty crazy,” said Louis Weiher, owner of Carmel Builders and the chapter president for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

According to a Harvard study, although the US economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, spending on home improvements and repairs grew more than three percent, to nearly $420 billion.

”People staying at home, identifying some of the issues they’ve had, let’s say deficient in their homes, now looking to do projects, it has continued that boom,” said Toby Van Sistine, director of operations at The Metropolitan Builder’s Association.

Area contractors and suppliers tell CBS 58 business is nearly double what it was before the pandemic. And as demand increases, so do prices.

“If you’re building a house, just the lumber package alone on your house could be $30,000,” Brown said.

And it’s not just lumber.

“I would say across the board, probably 30 percent in the last year, but I don’t think it’s coming down any time soon unfortunately,” Weiher said.

Projects are also taking longer because everything from lumber, to tile, to paint is in short supply.

“We’re telling all our clients right now something is going to get delayed because of COVID,” Weiher said.

There are several reasons for the delays and price hikes: production shutdowns due to COVID restrictions, labor shortages and transportation issues

“Demand is really, really high and capacity for supply is here and it keeps going further and further apart,” Weiher said.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin says when demand is high, complaints about scams or bad contractors also go up.

“They are out there because there’s more of a need for it,” said Jim Temmer, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin.

The BBB has tips if you’re hiring:

  • Get everything in writing — start date, estimated end date and cost.
  • Ask for proof the company or contractor is insured.
  • Don’t pay cash.
  • Don’t pay everything up front.

“We recommend a third up front, a third midway through the project and a third upon completion, when you’re satisfied,” Temmer said.

And get multiple bids.

“Worst thing you can do is find someone who says yeah, I can get that done next week and not follow through with getting reference information and getting background on it,” Temmer said.

There are also organizations you can go through. The Metropolitan Builders Association represents 650 builders, developers and remodelers.

“We want to make sure we set the bar as high as possible for the building industry,” Van Sistine said.

And there’s the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“We vet our members,” Weiher said.

These experts recommend interviewing contractors, asking for pictures and references.

“Anyone who’s not comfortable answering questions and talking about what they do, to me that’s more of a red flag than anything else,” Weiher said.

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