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Don’t Get Scammed: Find a Qualified Contractor

There are thousands of legitimate, ethical contractors in business around the country. Unfortunately, there are also scam artists looking to cheat you out of your money who pose as legitimate contractors. These “fly-by-night” operators often show up in communities impacted by natural disasters to try to scam distressed home owners into paying for shoddy repairs or work that they will never show up to perform.

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Doesn’t have license and insurance. All professional contractors should be insured and able to show their certificate proving such insurance. Although all states do not require licensing, contractors in states requiring licenses should have it and be able to provide a copy.
  • Asks you to sign anything before you’ve hired them. If they want you to sign an “estimate” or “authorization” before you’ve made the decision to hire the contractor, look out. They may be trying to get you to sign what is an actual binding contract.
  • Doesn’t write contracts. Professionals have clear contracts that outline the job, process, the cost, and helps clarify how problems will be managed. If you don’t have a contract, you are not protected when something goes wrong. Don’t hire anyone who tells you a contract “won’t be necessary.”
  • Requires cash or payment in full before starting the job. Shady contractors demand cash and then run with the money. Many home owners have been stranded by paying in full up front. A deposit towards materials is common, but only pay it once you have a contract signed by both you and the contractor. It’s also suspect you’re asked to pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.
  • Vastly underbids all other contractors. They may have the best price, but that doesn’t guarantee the best work. Such contractors may cut costs on quality, which can end up costing you more when you have to have the substandard work redone.
  • Offers “special” pricing. If you’re told you’ve been “chosen” as a demonstration project at a special, low price, or you’re told a low price is good only if you sign a contract today.
  • Cannot provide customer references. Professional contractors should have current references they can provide from current and past clients — and you should be able to reach those references, not just an answering machine.
  • Difficulty contacting the contractor. Professionals have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. They should respond to your queries in a timely manner. Make sure you can verify the contractor’s business address. If they only have a p.o. box, be wary.
  • Tells you to obtain the building or remodeling permits. Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking the home owner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor.

Your best bet is to take your time, do your research and choose someone you feel completely comfortable with. If your state requires contractors to be licensed, look them up on the state licensing website even if you’ve seen a piece of paper that looks like a license. Make sure they don’t have a record of consumer complaints lodged with your local Better Business Bureau. You can also find your local home builders association and contact them for a list of reputable contractors in your area. Search NAHB’s Directory of Professional Remodelers to find a NAHB Remodelers member in your community.

Make Sure You Understand Alternative Building Products Before Use

As home builders throughout the United States grapple with building material price surges, and shortages or delays for certain orders, many are exploring alternative products to complete or start projects. Some builders are constructing homes from natural materials like rammed earth, adobe brick, and volcanic rock. Using these alternative materials, however, may come with added challenges, such as higher costs due to a need for skilled labor, delays by home inspectors who may be unfamiliar with the techniques and methods of construction, and energy consultants who might have difficulty calculating the value of homes with these materials.

In addition, the long-term effects and unintended consequences of material use should not be ignored.

For instance, it has been reported that earthen materials are known to contain numerous organic substances and can harbor mold. It was not too long ago that mold was a high liability issue for builders and property owners. The use of rapidly renewable materials — products that can be produced naturally and quickly from nature — is a key component of green building. These are cellulose or carbohydrate-based products and as such, are typically optimal food sources for mold in the presence of moisture. To avoid mold, it is important to understand the relationship between construction materials and their susceptibility to mold in the presence of moisture. In a 2007 study for his Master’s thesis at Texas A&M, Aaron Cooper exposed samples of rapidly renewable materials used as exterior wall insulation products to different moisture levels in an encapsulated environment, representing the environment within a wall cavity when exposed to water from pipes, leaks, condensation, and absorption, or from initial construction. The samples were monitored over time for mold growth. Mold-related issues are just one example of the potential for unintended consequences from the use of alternative materials. Carefully reviewing building material choices in advance may help eliminate non-conforming building materials, returns, and possible disputes.

The No. 1 Thing Builders Get Wrong With Customer Experience

Builders often refer to their warranty departments as Customer Care or Customer Service. But sometimes the building company’s interest in that area overshadows the interests of its customers. That can be a big problem for today’s homebuyers because customer expectations for warranty service are at an all-time high. You can attribute that to the auto industry and its “bumper-to-bumper” policies, which cover almost anything that goes wrong during the first three to five years
of owning a new car, giving customers nearly complete assurance that the automaker stands behind its product and workmanship. So it follows that when those same buyers are purchasing a new home, they assume they will get the same treatment as when they’re buying a car—even though the cost of a house is 10 times that of a new car. Realistic or not, it’s what today’s buyers expect.

Another reason why the warranty phase of a homebuyer’s journey is so important is that it’s one of the last things a customer remembers about the entire experience. They think, “I just moved into a brand new home and I can’t get my builder to come out and fix things. They must not care about my house after it’s built.” Even if everything leading up to that point has been fantastic, the warranty experience is what buyers will remember—and what will make them more likely to write or post a negative review, regardless of how well everything else may have gone.

The third and biggest reason is that selling homes online hinges on your warranty. Aside from online reviews of your company and your homes, the biggest trust-builder for dispelling doubts and alleviating anxieties about buying online, sight unseen, is your warranty. Trust is everything to these buyers, and if you plan to sell homes in the future, you need to get it right. 

Despite often using their warranty as a selling tool with a “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you if anything goes wrong” message, the reality is that nearly all builders’
customer survey scores plummet after the home is delivered because that expectation is not met in the eyes of the buyer. And the only way to turn that around is to rethink how warranty fits into the bigger picture of your business.

There are other reasons why a warranty can negatively affect the customer experience. Consider the difficulty of managing trade partner schedules. Picture this scenario: It’s three weeks before Christmas and a homeowner notices nails popping through the dining room paint where the holiday family gathering is set to
take place. Fixing that unsightly issue likely means frequent calls between you and several trades that need to make multiple visits to the home on different days—a process that takes weeks or months (certainly not three days). But through all of that, the buyer doesn’t know that the paint sub has 30 other
homes on his schedule and this one touchup job got lost in the shuffle. All they know is that their dinner guests are staring at a big patch of unpainted drywall in the brand new dining room—not the lasting impression any builder wants to leave. And many builders don’t realize it, but we often make it difficult for buyers to
submit warranty requests. We force buyers to use non-user-friendly forms online or clunky back-office systems, assuming they remember how to find them or to log in. I know of more than one builder that turned off their live chat because customers were using it for service requests instead of sales inquiries.

How to fix it? The first step we should take is to remove all barriers to submitting warranty requests. Keep it simple, with a prominent phone number or live online chat—preferably both—and aim for response times measured in minutes, not hours or days. If a customer would rather text or email photos or videos of the problem, enable that opportunity and tag the images to their case file. Also, understand and respect that not all people are comfortable with your technology. Find out what’s easiest for buyers, using a CES (customer effort score) to measure it. With that, after each service call, ask: “How easy did we make it for you to handle your issue?” The best warranty experiences are painless, from inquiry to resolution. Next, empower your frontline associates to focus on the relationship. Someone who bought a home from you inherently wants to believe it was a good decision. They want to feel like the person answering the phone has their back and will do what it takes to get the issues resolved. Most customer care reps I’ve met want to help but often aren’t empowered to do so. My advice: Don’t put inexperienced “admins” on the front line with the sole responsibility of data entry. Hold them accountable to follow up all of the ways through a warranty resolution. Some of the best reviews I’ve read were written about customer care reps who went above and beyond, sometimes driving to the customer’s house themselves to fix a towel bar or do paint touch-ups.

Builders Encourage Youth To Consider Trades

As the industry enters its busiest season, the ongoing skilled labor shortage continues to make it difficult for builders to meet demand, and fuels affordability concerns. More than 80 percent of builders and remodelers in a recent National Association of Home Builders survey reported labor shortages in all 15 skilled trade occupations. There are currently about 280,000 unfilled construction trade positions. The NAHB is addressing the labor shortage in several ways. The Skilled Labor Fund provides scholarships to attend accredited training schools. Through education, students may develop lifelong, marketable skills while contributing to the
broader community. NAHB created the fund in 2017 in concert with its philanthropic arm, the National Housing Endowment, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and SGC Horizon, the parent company of Professional Builder magazine. The Home Builders Institute (HBI), NAHB’s educational arm, is one of the nation’s key providers of construction skills training. HBI training programs are taught to youth and adult populations, veterans, ex-offenders, and displaced workers. With an 80 percent job placement rate, HBI programs consistently benefit graduates and their communities while providing the industry with a steady flow of skilled workers. Last year, HBI received a $50 million grant from The Home Depot Foundation to train 20,000 new skilled workers over the next 10 years. Home builder associations across the country are working to buoy interest in residential construction through a robust student chapters program that engages students locally and provides them with industry exposure. NAHB and its affiliated associations are working with local and state governments and public school systems to spur more skills-training programs. And the National Housing Endowment awards nearly $200,000
annually to develop and expand construction management programs. These programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities train future generations of industry leaders. Reflecting the growing demand for construction skills training, Congress is also considering ways to increase accessibility.

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