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Finding a contractor in Seattle’s hot housing market

Posted on Mar 20, 2017 in:
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Homeowners
  • Build

By Jason Legat, Model Remodel

Q: I live in Seattle and want to remodel my home. Where do I start and what should I expect?

A: We hear it too often: “None of the other contractors I called ever got back to me.” You’re not alone — the Seattle housing market is hot, and subsequently so is the remodeling industry. There are almost more homes that need updating than contractors to remodel them.

To get your project rolling, we have some suggestions for setting realistic expectations, getting off on the right foot with your contractor, and moving through the process of a home remodel with ease.

Start the process now

If you want to remodel in 2017, even if you’re not planning on getting boots on the ground until December, start looking for a contractor today. Reputable, licensed contractors are booking out months in advance.

Depending on the size of the project, you might get lucky — we take small last-minute jobs, for instance, when breaks in our calendar allow — but most likely a contractor won’t be able to start work in your home this month. That doesn’t mean you can’t start the design process, though.

If you’re not sure where to start, doing some online research is a great first step. See who’s located in your vicinity and find out what others have to say about them. Great places to find online reviews of contractors include Yelp, Houzz, and GuildQuality. Another smart place to start is by asking your neighbors, friends and family. Your contacts will only recommend the best, and contractors will be more likely to respond to referred clients as they show a certain level of seriousness.

If you need help with layout and interior selections, consider narrowing your search to design-build firms only. They’ll be a one-stop shop, and have someone dedicated to design. Going with a design-build team will likely pay for itself by reducing errors and miscommunication.

Set yourself up for success

When you call or email a contractor, the minimum information they will need is your name, neighborhood, budget, start date, design and/or permit status, and a brief description of your project. Have these things ready and willing to share. If this is your first remodel, let them know so they can describe their process in a bit more detail. You’ll feel more comfortable, and your contractor will appreciate that you respect their way of doing business.

At your first meeting, have a prioritized list of things you need (must-haves) and things you want. It’s okay if these are two separate lists. You’ll save yourself money and your contractor will save time by having something from which to make educated recommendations.

Have a budget

As a homeowner, setting a budget isn’t easy. You’re either unsure of what a remodel costs or have a number that you’re afraid to disclose from the get-go. It’s a hard spot to be in, but you should have a number that you are willing to share. On this topic, there are two things to remember: It’s hard for your contractor, too, and remodelers are in high demand.

Contractors need to make a living for themselves and their crew. They have reasonable operating costs and profit margins because they have to stay in business, just like your employer. Skilled laborers are in high demand, so getting the right, qualified people on your project isn’t going to come cheap. Be respectful of their profession, process and prices. The cost to remodel your home just one year ago is not the same as it is today. Thankfully, the booming real estate market should help you recover costs if you’re planning to sell anytime soon.

It’s also difficult for a contractor to recommend things without knowing your budget, so find a number or range you are comfortable with. Be sure you have around a 10 percent contingency fund in place in case your remodel uncovers some asbestos or poor electrical work that needs fixing. Those are not uncommon remodeling expenses.

Remodeling your home is a process that needs to start well before you’re ready to demo. With the right expectations and research, it can be a really exciting time for you and your family. Finding a contractor who is a good fit is absolutely worth your time and effort — your home is an investment and should be handled with care, regardless of the crazy housing market we’re living in. Find someone you trust and will enjoy working with, then get on their calendar now.

Jason Legat is the owner of Model Remodel and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.

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