For two years, Jennifer Flynn has been reaching out to dozens of highly recommended home improvement companies, handymen, painters and others for some projects at her Syracuse, N.Y. home. Many have not shown up for appointments, even after confirming them. Others haven’t returned her calls. Still others come out and promise an estimate, only to ghost her. “I’ll contact them and they’ll either respond they’re too busy or don’t respond at all,” she says.

It’s a frustration shared by many. “It’s harder than ever to get tradesmen to commit to a job because there is so much work out there and they can afford to pick and choose,” says Kimberly Greenwell, a home education expert and host of My Southern Home TV.

The situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. There aren’t enough tradespeople to go around. Inflation has driven up the cost of doing business. And professionals are weary of spending their time and money to give a free estimate to people who are unlikely to actually hire them.

The shortage of skilled tradespeople has been at least a decade in the making, says Chris Egner, the chairman of the board of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “For the last 10 years, few people have chosen to learn a trade, because it wasn’t seen as a viable career option. On top of that, during the pandemic those tradespeople near retirement age left the field. It’s starting to get better as younger people understand skilled tradesmen can earn good money and eventually open their own business, but a 10-year gap takes a long time to rebuild,” he says.

On top of that, costs for materials, labor, insurance and fuel have as much as tripled since 2020. According to Egner, who owns a design, build and remodel firm in Milwaukee, that means businesses determine which jobs maximize profit. A roofer is going to choose a full-blown roof replacement, for example, over a one-hour roof repair. A remodeling company would rather deploy a crew to a home converting an unfinished basement into an bedroom with an en suite bathroom than a job replacing a bathtub with a shower stall. Others set a minimum price before considering a job. In Flynn’s case, one contractor told her they wouldn’t take a job below $500,000.

How to hire a reliable contractor, and the essential questions to ask them

Then there are comparison-shopping consumers just testing the waters, who — to the tradespeople — feel like a waste of time. “I have 50 people calling with zero interest in hiring me. They simply want a free estimate so they can find the cheapest price,” says Alan Archuleta, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council. “Why would I drive to your home and give anything to you for free?” To combat this, Archuleta charges for detailed estimates. These bank-ready proposals range from $300 for a master bath remodel to $5,000 for a home addition. If you hire his company, the proposal fee is credited toward the job.

In the meantime, Flynn’s to-do list keeps growing: Replace a bathroom exhaust fan, cement cap three pipes, remove a broken awning, fix a leaking sink, repair a fireplace flue, redo kitchen cabinets, caulk a portion of roof flashing, unstick three painted windows, repaint the kitchen and more. She isn’t afraid to DIY, but she knows her limitations; tile, cabinets and an acceptable paint job with no drips are not in her skill set. “What do I have to say to get tradesmen to take me seriously?” she wonders. “Is there something I should be saying or not saying? Am I too anxious or not anxious enough?”

Greenwell says a homeowner may need to cast the net as far as possible to find a qualified and reputable company, independent tradesperson or handyperson. Ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, your social media network and members of your faith community. The main question you should ask is not “Are you happy with the work?” but “Would you use them again?” Should you find someone who has a good relationship with a handyperson or tradesperson, have them make an introductory call on your behalf.

If you strike out there, try a local real estate agent. “They are a great resource and typically keep a list of roofers, plumbers, electricians and handymen to recommend to their clients,” Greenwell says. Reach out to apartment managers or your homeowners association, if you belong to one. Ask department managers at local home improvement or hardware stores for recommendations.

The NARI website has a list of members you can search by Zip code and specialty. Those who live in rural areas may need to use the Zip code of the nearest major city and may pay a fee for someone to come a longer distance.

Archuleta also suggests finding a local or state home builders association. Call their office, tell them you are looking for a qualified remodeler and ask if they can give you a name. If the recommended remodeler says the job is too small, ask if they know someone more suited to the task. Another option is the local franchise of a national brand such as those under the Neighborly banner, which owns Mr. Handyman and Mr. Electric, among others.

Once you find prospective tradespeople, share as much information as you can up front. Email images of the project. Use Zoom or FaceTime and walk around your home with your tablet or phone to show them that hole in the wall or broken window. Being willing to have a virtual meeting instead of expecting them to drive to your home for a 5-minute meetup shows that you value their time. If, like Flynn, you have a long list of projects, combine them into one larger job. Time is money for busy tradespeople. A full day or multiple days of work can be more appealing than an hour-long task.

Be open and honest about your project and your budget. If you aren’t sure what the project will cost, ask about similar projects in the area. “Typically, a professional should be able to give you a price range,” says Egner. Once you’ve reviewed your financial situation or secured a line of credit, then you can ask for a more detailed estimate.

Another tip from Archuleta: When you do make contact, say “I’m looking for a qualified remodeler willing to get my home up-to-date, willing to pay for an estimate and want to work with a qualified person. How can we work together?”

“Remember, I’m interviewing you as much as you are interviewing me,” he says.

And don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel, says Greenwell. “That tradesman may not have staff to call you back, so you have to take ownership of your project,” she says. “Don’t be obnoxious, but do follow up, so they know you are serious.”

Finally, in today’s tight market, expect that some tradespeople will be no-shows or ghost you. If that’s the case, be glad you aren’t working with them.