Beth Mumby has been remodeling her 30-year-old Cooper City home for years. She has replaced kitchen cabinets and retiled floors, and now the married mom of two is in the midst of a bathroom makeover. Known for her meticulous research of materials and labor, Mumby said she’s learned a few things along the way about picking the right contractor.
Doing your homework is the first step in finding the best contractor for your home improvement job, said Michael Galvin, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida. Though it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a renovation project, it’s important to remember that it’s a business decision.
The biggest mistake in these economic times is that people are always looking for the cheapest price, Galvin said. “That doesn’t always work out. People need to do their homework up front and approach it as a business decision, rather than an emotional one,” he said. “People get all excited and say ‘Oh, that price is so cheap,’ which means it’s probably too good to be true.”
The U.S. home improvement industry is rebounding from its worst downturn in the past 50 years, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Homeowners who shied away from maintenance and improvements during the recession are starting to open their wallets for repairs and upgrades. Foreclosed properties are being rehabilitated and homeowners forced to stay put during the housing market crash are making improvements for the long haul. Spending on homeowner improvements is expected to grow annually at 3.5 percent, according to the agency’s 2011 study.
People spend about $1,000 to $15,000 annually on home improvements and repairs, said Ellen Siegel, a certified financial planner with Ellen R. Siegel and Associates in Miami. “You have to be financially prepared.”
• Get referrals: The best referrals come from your friends — people who have had work done to their own houses, said May Cheung, a certified financial planner for The Enrichment Group in Miami and a part-time real estate agent. “Then you can go to their house, look at their bathrooms, look at the floors, and see the work.”
Cheung has completed four home improvement projects on her West Kendall home. “I’ve learned a lot,” she said.
Mumby has used referrals from friends and contacted contractors working in her neighborhood, but now relies on Angie’s List, a subscription service that compiles consumer ratings of service people. “It gives a grade, and there are written reviews. I’ve found that to be really helpful,” Mumby said.
Many homeowners shy away from interviewing prospective candidates, especially in South Florida, where a lot of languages are spoken, and the contractor may not speak yours well, Siegel said. That can lead to decisions you’ll regret.
• Verify licenses: It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, because you’re excited about your home renovation, Galvin said. But don’t neglect your homework. Go to www.myfloridalicense.com, to your county’s board of licensing and to the Better Business Bureau to check licenses and a complaint history.
“People say ‘Why do I need to do all this?’ ” Galvin said, “but if something happens, it’s too late. And it will have financial consequences.”