By Vera Wilson
If you own a home, there’s bound to be a time or two (or 20) when you’ll need to hire a repair person or other professional to undertake a major remodel.
But hiring a contractor when you’re deployed can be challenging. Your duties may make it time-prohibitive to research candidates for the job. If you’re renting out your house, your tenant may need a leaking faucet fixed today — something you could normally do yourself but can’t from 2,000 miles away.
If your house is empty, it seems like the perfect time to tackle that kitchen remodel, so you won’t have to live in the middle of the chaos. But can you pull it off long-distance?
Step one is finding a qualified, insured contractor. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to locate someone, but touching base with friends and family isn’t easy when you’re overseas, so take advantage of social media to reach out to a greater local population for recommendations.
I’ve gotten helpful responses when I post on Nextdoor. Home services websites HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List do a lot of the legwork by actually vetting contractors for you. They’re relatively easy to use, but you’ll need to respond to texts and emails to get an actual quote.
You can also try VeteranOwnedBusiness.com; the site has over 34,000 companies in its directory, and who better than a veteran to understand and accommodate your unique circumstances?
It’s important to know if a licensed contractor is required for your job and if permits will be necessary. Contact your local government — not the contractor — to find out; an unlicensed contractor may guide you down the wrong path. Your municipality’s building department can tell you reliable websites where you can find out if a contractor is licensed and in good standing.
I once had a contractor tell me he had insurance — turns out the insurance was on his truck. If your contractor won’t offer you proof of liability insurance that covers injury to the contractor and any employees on your property, don’t hire the contractor.
Estimates, Managers, and More
Seek out more than one estimate for larger, more complex and expensive projects. But as an absentee owner you won’t be able to meet with potential contractors on-site, and without actually seeing the kitchen, the contractor may find it difficult to give you the most accurate estimate possible.
Ask someone with a house key to meet the contractor at your home and hold a Zoom meeting so you can participate. That way, you can point out the exact window where the draft’s coming from.
Compare all your estimates and leave no question unasked. When the details are finalized, get it on paper. For smaller projects, this level of scrutiny might not be necessary, so use your judgement.
If you’re a landlord, consider hiring a property management firm in your absence. Yes, they’ll take a percentage of your rental income, but they have preferred contractors they can send out to take care of any issue and will meet them at the house. All you have to do is pay the bill.
Another option for absentee owners is a home warranty. Getting a contractor to come out and fix the air conditioning can all be done online, but read the contract carefully so you understand what’s covered and the applicable copays.
Many contractors advertise a military discount while others may have one that's not promoted. It pays to ask: After perusing the website for a national plumbing company and finding no mention of a military discount, I called and they do indeed offer one.
Smaller operations may not have a discount policy in place but just might be open to it — it’s hard to say no to someone in uniform! Five to 10 percent is the norm, but the figure is dependent on where you live and the size and complexity of the project.
Vera Wilson is freelance writer based in North Carolina. She frequently writes on financial topics.