Why It’s So Hard to Find a Contractor Right Now — And How to Make It Easier

published Aug 7, 2023
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collage about searching for contractors with a woman on her laptop surrounded by marble tiles, plumber tools, and an electric wire with a wirecutter
Credit: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

Whether you’re an avid DIYer or dread the thought of home improvement projects, there’s going to come a time when you need to hire a pro. For some, that involves enlisting the help of an electrician to update light fixtures; for others, it means calling a contractor to do a complete kitchen renovation. But regardless of your skill level or the project you have in mind, finding licensed professionals is becoming increasingly hard to do — and that can mean that you may have to wait a while to call any project “finished.”

Professional contractors have thoughts on why they are currently such a limited resource. “To be honest, it wouldn’t have been this difficult for consumers to find contractors if not for the pandemic,” says Miami-based painting contractor Anthony Lara. In Lara’s opinion, at least part of the issue is that the entire construction industry underwent a temporary halt during the most rigid lockdown periods that then required a catch-up. The resulting financial crisis didn’t help when it came to restoring balance.

Todd Saunders, CEO of FlooringStores, agrees that the economy is partly to blame. “Inflation has made it more expensive to do business in nearly every industry, and contractors aren’t exempt from rising costs,” says Saunders, who adds that even quoting a project can be a hardship for contractors. “Free estimates have become a more costly ask as well, as this becomes lost time if a potential client goes with another option,” adds Saunders.

Another factor: Although there is a slight resurgence of younger generations learning trade skills, such as electrical and plumbing, there still aren’t enough skilled laborers to keep up with demand. Stephen Keighery has been flipping houses for two years and has had trouble finding contractors due to a lack of supply. That’s largely in part to more people pursuing a bachelor’s degree rather than trade education and apprenticeships.

All of this information may seem dismal if you’re in the market for a home renovation. The fact that contractors like Lara are working 60 hours a week and are booked for the next 18 months isn’t comforting, either. However, having a clear vision of your project and a bit of patience can set you well on your way to enjoying your newly refreshed space. Here are four things you can do to help secure a contractor in the current climate.

Ask for recommendations.

You’ve probably asked others for their advice on what restaurants to frequent or where to go for a haircut, so ask those who have recently done renovations for their insights. Asking neighbors who they’d recommend can save you time scouring the internet. “The absolute best way to find a good contractor is through word of mouth,” advises Lara.

This works two ways. First, folks are unlikely to endorse someone who did shoddy work, so inquiring with others is a worthwhile vetting process. Plus, some contractors are more likely to get back to you if they had a positive experience with the person who recommended them. 

Check with local companies for referrals.

If you need a handyperson or electrician, see if a local home renovation store can refer anyone. For example, if you need your house painted, Lara recommends heading to your local paint store and requesting the names of any contractors they would endorse. “The store managers usually have a handful of contacts of their best customers they can refer to you,” says Lara. 

Tom Nolan, who is the founder of All Star Home, agrees about asking local construction supply companies for their advice. “These people will know what someone’s book of work looks like and can help you find someone who might have closer availability, helping you get the work you need done fast,” he says. Talking with employees who know which contractors are available increases the likelihood that your work will finish on time.

Provide the exact scope of the work requested.

The more details you can give about your project, the better your chance of securing a contractor. Lara recommends sending emails to prospective contractors to outline your exact requirements. Include sketches, inspiration images, layouts, finish options, and any other information you can provide. “The more information you can give, the easier the transaction will be,” says Lara.

If a contractor knows precisely what the job entails, they can better assess whether or not they can add you to their schedule. They might have room in their schedule for a smaller project, thanks to a short delay on a different job site, or they might have had a large project cancel and they’d like to recoup that expected income. In any instance, more information is better.

If you have flexibility, note that, too. For example, if you’re looking for someone to renovate an entire floor but can work with someone who’s only available to do one room at a time, it’s helpful information. Contractors might be willing to take on smaller jobs as their schedule allows. 

Act kindly towards hired workers.

Just like you want a qualified contractor, those in the construction and home repair industry also want to work with those who respect them and their work. Word can spread quickly about challenging clients, so being courteous is vital — especially if you need contractors for future projects. As a former contractor, Ryan Ratkowski knows this all too well in dealing with what some homeowners want. 

“Not all possess a grasp over the intricacies and complexities involved in such tasks, leading to potentially unrealistic expectations and inadvertently bestowing upon themselves the tag of being difficult to please,” Ratkowski says. Making a clear initial plan can help everyone manage expectations and ensure a happy working relationship between you and the contractor — so you can both confidently respect and recommend each other moving forward.

What does a respectful relationship look like? Make sure to follow any prep instructions in advance of contractors’ arrival — such as clearing out any furniture — and ask what they need from you in order to make their work go smoothly. Give them space to focus on their tasks but make yourself available to answer any questions along the way so that they’re not waiting on your response to continue. Lastly, make sure anyone working in your home has access to water and a bathroom they can use. And if you’re happy with the project outcome, leave a stellar review online for others to read.