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Who You Gonna Call?

TimberHomes Vermont raises a home this Fall in Northfield. Courtesy of TimberHomes Vermont.

Lack of Contractors Challenges Central Vermont Homeowners

Whether a homeowner is looking for repairs on the inside or outside of their home, the demand for services is increasingly exceeding the number of available contractors in Vermont.

“We have seen an upturn in demand, and we could take on more roofs if we had more employees, said Tim Hutchins of Hutchins Roofing and Sheet Metal Company. in Barre. “We’ve had to turn away a lot of roofing work this year. I stopped taking on jobs [for this year] in May, and I already have a heck of a jump on next year.”

While the Vermont Department of Labor’s data track jobs that are filled rather than those that employers would like to have filled, it is clear the trades are expe- riencing a generational shift. “The construction trade workers are above the average age of the workforce,” said DOL Economist Mathew Barewicz. “With a wave of re- tirements coming in the near future, it’s an opportunity for young people to consider participating in the many training and apprenticeship programs the industry is of- fering.”

The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont underscores this reality. CEO Mau- reen Connolly is working with Vermont Technical Col- lege and state officials to expand vocational programs to meet the need—and the opportunity for young people— in the trades. “The educational system currently has ev- eryone pointed toward four-year college programs. This

makes it hard to get students’ attention about the pos- sibility of making a very good living in a trade,” she said. Moreover, Connolly noted that the cost of college these days is leaving graduates with student loan debt that is difficult to pay with the low salaries of entry level posi- tions. By contrast, apprenticeship programs can provide training while working and impart a skill set that will be financially rewarding.

Finding Contractors and Builders

The question for many considering an investment in home improvement is, ‘How do I find a contractor or handy-person who is competent and trustworthy?’

Not so long ago the Yellow Pages and newspaper clas- sifieds were the starting points for such a search. The digital world has upped the ante with HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, which provide useful articles about plan- ning for home improvements, along with listings and consumer reviews of businesses and contractors in your immediate area.

But remember that some of the best contractors might not list with these services because they are busy enough with work coming in by word of mouth. In fact, one suc- cessful and well-regarded remodeler noted that he hasn’t bothered to print new business cards in years—because he hasn’t needed to. Similarly, others have pulled out of the national, digital platforms because the cost of subscribing, usually based on electronic leads forwarded to potential customers, isn’t worth it when your calen- dar is already filled.

Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
An ideal situation is to have a friend or acquaintance who has personal expe- rience with hiring someone for similar work. At the local, social media level, Front Porch Forum, and more recently, Facebook, provide a format for obtaining recommendations for specific services.

As Connolly pointed out, the technol- ogy of building or remodeling is complex. Increasingly, the approach is to hire a general contractor who then manages the needed specialists for the project through subcontracts.

Consumer Protection Legislation

Following the scandal of a now-dis- appeared roofing contractor who bilked several people before leaving Vermont, the Legislature is reviewing a bill (S. 163)

that could require even relatively small businesses to carry insurance and com- mit to signed contracts with customers. Having passed the Senate, the bill will be reviewed by several committees in the House during the coming session, according to Matt Musgrave of the trade group Associated General Contractors of Vermont. Issues remaining to be decided are the level of insurance required and a threshold amount for projects that would require a contract.

Connolly emphasizes that finding a balance in registration and certification requirements is complicated. Consumer protection against fraud by a fly-by-night scam on the one side must also consider the circumstances of a small business that could fail to fulfill the terms of a contract due to a personal injury, for instance.