The Need for National Guidelines and Testing in the Home Improvement Industry

Posted on June 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

It is time for Washington to step up and put legislation in place that will force states to better regulate the home improvement industry. Up to now Washington has left the regulation of the home improvement industry up to state regulators, and for whatever reason(s) many states have fallen considerably short.

There are still some states that do not even have contractor licensing in place for home improvements. For some of the states that do have licensing, the license requirements do not include that the applicant demonstrate the ability to do any type of home improvement work. (That is like saying I will issue you a license to cut hair but you don’t have to demonstrate that you know how to cut hair……… ouch!) Then why do states bother issuing licenses if there are no requirements to demonstrate competence? Revenue? Or could it be that they need more consumer complaints for Consumer Affairs and BBB to handle? The unfortunate consequences of this problem are that homeowners are the ones who are paying the price by receiving poor workmanship and a cascade of home improvement problems.

Let’s be honest, the home improvement industry does not seem to attract the most reliable, honest and competent individuals. The lure of a quick buck and the relative ease to “qualify” to do home improvement work, brings many a “character” to your door. When I was a contractor I needed to hire people for a variety of field positions. Most of the people, who I interviewed and sometimes hired, seemed to have the same type of problems with past employers. These problems consisted of substance abuse issues, honesty issues, and reliability issues. The labor pool never seemed to have an over abundance of talent and employability to pick from.

I remember always reading article after article that dealt with the significant manpower shortage in the home improvement industry. The bottom line of each article would always be the same, “If you can find an honest, reliable and competent person to work for you, pull out all the stops to keep them!!!! Do whatever you need to do to keep that person happy because you’ll never know if you will be lucky enough to find someone to take their place.” As an owner, it was a very constant and stressful problem to deal with. You were almost afraid to try and increase project production because you knew you would have to try and find someone to do the additional work. Finding employees was always an adventure, an adventure that I never looked forward to.

For the last 10-15 years the number one problem in the home improvement industry is the lack of manpower. Many contractors are training and hiring minorities to try and solve this major problem.

If you were to talk to your state authorities about what is being done to improve regulations and screening in the home improvement industry, they will probably tell you something is in the works or there is no money for more regulations (testing). I have been hearing this for 30 years. The county in which I live (Suffolk County, New York) still does not require any demonstration of home improvement ability to obtain a home improvement license. The fee has consistently gone up but the requirements have pretty much stayed the same. We are one of the highest taxed counties in the country, so I refuse to believe there is no money to develop and implement a better policing and screening process in the home improvement industry.

The National Association of The Remodeling Industry (NARI) http://www.nari.org is the only national organization that offers certification of home improvement individuals. They have a number of different certifications that one could obtain. To obtain these certifications the applicant needs to demonstrate a variety of knowledge, ranging from good business practices to project knowledge. NARI’s main certification is called – Certified Remodeler (CR). This certification requires the applicant to prepare an extensive matrix or resume of their experience and knowledge as well as obtaining a certain score on an 8-hour exam. There are only approximately 1000 CR’s, out of the hundreds of thousands of home improvement contractors in this country. I earned this certification in 1994 and still proudly hold this certification today. I will admit that obtaining this certification is a time consuming process and does take considerable effort, but it was well worth it. What I also like about this certification is that it has to be renewed every year by demonstrating continued involvement and knowledge in the home improvement industry.

Why then couldn’t Washington mandate some type of screening, nationwide, that all people interested in doing home improvements must be able to “pass” to obtain a license? This license could be used nationwide. Use a screening process that emulates what NARI does for its certifications. You could make the screening as simple as a comprehensive test with multiple choice questions. A test that could be machine scored.

I think an ideal situation for licensing would be to divide up home improvement licensing into sub-licenses. For example, if you were a bathroom contractor you would obtain a license for bathroom home improvements only. This would refine what licensees are qualified to do, rather then issuing one license that could wrongly give the impression that the licensee is capable of doing any type of project.

The reason I think Washington needs to get involved with this problem is because the American public doesn’t have the time to wait for each of the 50 states to come up with a similar solution, individually.

However, if Washington were to step up and mandate a national screening and testing situation, you would still have to address the screening of the people who show up to work on your house. (if they were not the person(s) who was screened and licensed) These people would hopefully be employees of the person who was screened. Is the homeowner then back to square one with not knowing the qualifications of the people working on their house? I tend to think not, because the person who went through the screening and obtained the license would want to keep the license. It is in the best interest of the licensed individual to make sure the project is done correctly. Problems develop when a contractor has too much work and attempts to get it all done by using inexperienced and unqualified help. The lure of completing more work and making more money sometimes leads to his or her business getting “out of control”. This subsequently leads to quality and project completion problems. Employees of licensed and screened contractors need to “qualify” on some level similar to NARI’s lead carpenter certification.

Will any of these desperately needed changes occur any time soon? To be honest, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Washington to step up to the plate and I don’t think your state or local governments will dramatically improve home improvement regulations either.

So what should a homeowner do to protect their home and property? Get the right “tools” and knowledge to be able to protect your home from poor home improvement decisions and situations.

The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM) (http://www.homeimprovementsuccess.com) can give you all the right knowledge and “tools” you need, without spending hours and hours doing research and trying to figure out what to do. This club has a variety of forums (chat room, message board, phone consultations and project estimate-contract evaluations) to answer your questions about how to get great home improvement results. Membership to this club also includes the use of The Home Improvement Success System, which is a step by step home improvement system that shows you exactly what to do and what not to do. This system can be used with any project. The club also includes a 30-day money back guarantee if you are not delighted with being a club member.

If you’re serious about doing a home improvement project and protecting your home, then join The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM). You will be happy you did!

The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM)
http://www.homeimprovementsuccess.com//>

[email protected]
P.O. Box 653
Smithtown, NY 11787
Phone: 631-360-7722
Fax: 631-361-3582

By Hank Jaworowski, CR
Founder and President of The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM)
Author-The Home Improvement Success System

Improve Your Space With These Simple Home Improvement Tips

Posted on June 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

Personal home improvement can be a great way to increase the efficiency of your home life, and even add value to your property. Many people are intimated by the thought of even holding a tool, but there are a variety of do-it-yourself projects that can be undertaken even by a complete novice. Keep reading to find out some of the things you can do to improve your home.

When you are getting ready to deep clean your deck, make sure you have all of your materials ready before hand. Some of the things you will need to get together are a pressure washer, a nice sturdy scrub brush, commercial deck cleaner, a hose, and a hefty broom you can use outdoors.

Home improvement stores are the center of all home improvement projects. Not only do the stores sell everything you need to start a project, the staff tends to be knowledgeable and can help you if you ever get stuck. Many stores also offer classes on how to effectively improve your home yourself.

Home improvement projects that involve changes to the plumbing can sometimes take unexpectedly longer. There are many instances where plumbing changes may require an extensive re-routing that was not identified during the planning phases. You can however plan for these uncertainties ahead of time by purchasing drinking water and making arrangements with neighbors to use their showers and toilets.

If you are renovating the exterior of your home, don’t neglect the garage door. In many homes, the garage door is the biggest single architecture feature of a home as it is viewed from the street. A new garage door or even just a coat of paint on the old door, can really make a difference.

Sealing air leaks is an inexpensive way to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Unsealed cracks and openings are one of the leading causes of heat loss in the average home. Common problem areas include around doors and windows, around pipes, wires and ducts that lead outdoors and around recessed light fixtures. Use caulk to seal small cracks and expanding spray foam for larger gaps and openings.

Carpentry

Exterior window shutters are one the easiest and most cost-effective ways to improve your home’s appearance. If you have carpentry skills, it is very possible to make custom shutters that can be stained or painted to accent your home’s color. For the less handy, prefabricated wood, shutters are attainable at all home-improvement stores and come ready to paint or stain. Shutters are also available in lightweight, recycled plastic in a variety of colors that never need painting.

By following these tips you will be able to increase the market value of your home. This is essential in the current environment in the United States. By adding small touches to your home you can give your property an edge over the competition and sell your real estate much more quickly.

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Reinventing the 312 Home Improvement Loan Program

Posted on June 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

Over the last thirty years the community development field has moved away from its early focus on helping homeowners maintain and improve their properties towards the development of new affordable housing. Fueled by the resources of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) and a confident economy, and in flight from lead remediation requirements for housing rehab, non-profits as well as for profit developers and local governments began to shift towards the promotion of new construction – both rental and homeownership – and away from housing rehab aimed at assisting individual owners.

The time has come to shift back.

Hundreds of thousands of foreclosed properties, declining property values and the loss of home equity, the absence of conventional credit, the need to make older houses energy efficient, opportunities to stimulate the local small construction trades and building supply markets – all of these factors demand that we look again at housing rehabilitation as an important policy option.

We need tools to promote the repair and rehabilitation of our older housing stock. Historically, the federal government played a leadership role in promoting home rehab and we need the Federal government to play this role again. A key role government can play is to authorize a significant amount of funding for the Section 312 Loan Program. We need to revisit this old tool and reinvent it making it relevant to the current situation.

The 312 Loan Program was authorized in the Housing Act of 1964. It provided loans from the Federal government through local municipal governments to home owners and landlords at 3% for a twenty year term. The per unit rehab cost allowed was $27,000, which in the 1970s and 1980s was a significant amount of money. It was used often in Urban Renewal Conservation Areas to assist homeowners in improving their properties and where it had a fairly major impact. It also served as a key component in the Federally Assisted Code Enforcement Program (FACE) to help owners bring their properties into code compliance. And it was the source of financing in the Urban Homesteading Program where vacant properties owned by the Federal government where auctioned off for a dollar.

The 312 Loan Program had some issues. It was cumbersome and time consuming for borrowers. It took a long time to get loans approved and people often deferred work while waiting for approval. People who were savvy enough to use architects, i.e. people of higher incomes, were often the most successful in securing funds. As local governments began to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support housing rehab, 312 became diminished as a tool and fewer funds were allocated to it. While the 312 Loan Program currently exists in the HUD menu of programs, it has no money allocated for it.

This needs to change.

Today we are confronted with a situation that demands a significant response. We as a nation want to overcome the effects of the foreclosure crisis and return more properties to productive use. We want to increase the energy efficiency of residential properties, and we want to stimulate the economy. These efforts are hampered by the absence of capital, but they are also hampered by an anti-government investment ethos on Capitol Hill. Why should government do what the private sector can do? Why bother funding an obscure program, the kind of “legacy program” that HUD in its strategic plan wants to shift its focus from?

Here are ten reasons:

1. It is a stimulus that everyday people in cities and inner ring suburbs can see and understand. While earlier stimulus efforts have created results that people can see, a national home improvement loan program can benefit thousands of citizens directly.

2. It promotes confidence. When someone sees their neighbor down the street put on a new roof or rebuild their porch it makes them feel more confident about the future of the neighborhood and it may lead them to seek to make repairs on their own. We need to put this dynamic in place.

3. It’s simple. Unlike several of the initiatives being developed by HUD that are marching down the same sad path of prior Federal interventions in cities, it is simple and understandable. It helps people and not just developers. It’s not social engineering and it doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. It can effectively be described in thirty seconds.

4. It’s a loan and not a grant. People paid on their 312 loans. Money invested in a national home improvement loan program will get substantially returned.

5. It has a multiplier effect. It creates jobs in the construction industry as well as in the building supply and manufacturing sectors of the economy.

6. The process can be improved. We know more than we did in the 1970s about how to bring products to consumers. With new technologies around developing the scope of work, loan origination and servicing software – and the potential for outsourcing these functions-all are potential ways this program can be more accessible and user friendly. We also know more about marketing and how to effectively promote such a program.

7. A delivery system exists to get this money out. We have a host of institutions like NeighborWorks America organizations, community development corporations, Community Development Financial Institutions, as well as delivery systems that still exist in local governments that can be organized to help citizens access these resources. We also have financial institutions that have been a delivery system for tax-exempt housing bonds that also could be part of a delivery system.

8. It can generate revenue for this delivery system. Charging loan origination and rehab service fees can generate revenue for cities and other providers.

9. It can promote widespread energy conservation. Borrowers could be required to have an energy audit and make changes based on the audit findings. Borrowers who choose to install solar heat could receive an interest rate benefit for their whole project.

10. It is more “shovel ready” than many stimulus efforts. Large public works projects require significant planning. Home improvement projects require planning and bidding out jobs but this process is usually less complex.

A national home improvement loan program based on the 312 Loan Program is not a panacea for urban ills. It is not an anti-poverty program – it is a home improvement program that can benefit low-income as well as other income homeowners – and as such can have a larger constituency.

Can’t the private market do this? Sure, but it isn’t. Capital is not flowing like it once did. Lenders aren’t doing much in the way of home improvement lending and both supply of capital and demand for such capital is down. Equity lines that financed home improvement in the last several decades have dissipated, Demand needs to be stimulated. Providing an attractively priced loan product that is marketed well can stimulate that demand.

So how much would this cost? An initial allocation of $2.5 billion would potentially generate 50,000 loans with an average loan size of $50,000. Fees charged to borrowers for rehab services and origination could produce $100,000,000 – $125,000,000 in revenues throughout the delivery chain. $20,000 in materials purchases on a $50,000 rehab job could provide $1 billion in materials purchases for 50,000 projects, along with various sales tax revenues those purchases generate. This kind of volume would provide work for thousands of contractors, laborers, architects, building suppliers, and manufacturers of building supplies. It would also provide an interest rate return for the Federal Treasury.

For a redesigned 312 Loan Program to be effective in today’s environment it would need a few changes. First, change the name. 312 means nothing to anyone outside government. The name does not encourage one to borrow money. Second, raise the interest rate to 5%, but retain the ability to finance projects at 3% if they meet certain criteria, like the installation of solar energy or the rehab of a foreclosed property. Third, raise the per unit amounts to $57,000 per unit, and $75,000 for the rehab of a vacant property. Fourth, make the loan available in cities and older suburbs with no qualifying income requirements, so that people would not have to be low-income to borrow the funds.

This is a conservative program. It is about conserving what we have – our rich and diverse housing stock – by promoting maintenance and improvement. It is easy to understand. It supports rank and file homeowners and not just developers. It engages all homeowners and is not limited to low income borrowers. While driven by the Federal government it allows for partnerships with local banks and non-profits with consumer lending capacity. It has the potential to stimulate local economies and lessen the cost burdens on municipal governments. But most of all it is a loan and not a grant program. It will return money to the Treasury.

Innovation is not only inventing new things. When we look ahead for change sometimes we ignore what worked in the past. We assume that just because something was done once, its shelf life has expired and can’t be done again. Reinvention is also innovation. Repositioning old products to make sense in a new situation can be just as innovative as inventing complex new programs that look good on paper but don’t deliver. Let’s get real. Let’s keep things simple. Let’s reinvent 312.

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