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Getting the right help

Where to turn to find a qualified contractor or do-it-yourself info

By Heather Wood
published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Real Estate section
Sunday, September 9, 2007

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Are you a home-improvement weekend warrior -- or someone who prefers to hire a professional to do those household jobs?

When it comes to chores like painting, building a new fence or installing a flagstone patio, two local businesses are helping homeowners get the support they need to find the right contractor or do-it-yourself service plan.

Leave it to the pros

If the thought of passing through the doors of Home Depot makes you shudder, Joseph Lewis, owner of Wise Improvements LLC, can help.

Lewis, a native Santa Fean and grandchild of renowned local builder Allen Stamm, is no stranger to the construction trade. He got the idea for his homeowner-contractor referral service while working as operations manager at Electric Aid, an electrical contracting company that his father, Eddie Lewis, founded.

"I read about a similar service in Entrepreneur magazine," Lewis said. "A woman was so frustrated with getting quality subcontractors for her own remodel, she decided to start a referral network aimed specifically at existing homeowners and their needs.

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"Having had my own frustrations finding quality contractors, I saw a niche in the market that needed to be filled," he said -- "especially with smaller maintenance and remodel jobs."

Many home construction projects in Santa Fe begin with word-of-mouth referrals.

"If your neighbor refers you to a service provider that doesn't work out, it affects relationships," Lewis said. "Wise Improvements adds follow-through and professionalism to the process."

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Courtesy photos
Project DIY helped homeowner Jack Bermudez consider all the options for a porch addition. Courtesy photo
Project DIY helped homeowner Jack Bermudez consider all the options for a porch addition. The result you see above.

A perfect example of why a homeowner might want to get a knowledgeable third-party endorsement for a subcontractor is the story of the unlicensed roofing contractor scandal featured in the June 14 edition of The New Mexican.

"I do all the research that the homeowner should do," Lewis said. "I check the contractor's licenses, background, etc. It's the due-diligence most homeowners don't have the time or inclination to do, yet it's crucial to getting the desired results."

There are currently 20-plus contractor-members in the Wise Improvements network.

Wise Improvements doesn't charge the homeowner for the referral service, and there's no upfront cost to contractor-members.

"I get paid if I find my contractors work," Lewis said.

The right contractor

Guillermo Nuño of Nuño Construction has been a member of the Wise Improvements network for about a year.

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Guillermo Nuño of Nuño Construction and Joseph Lewis of Wise Improvements LLC evaluate the grade of a washed out driveway. Courtesy photo
Guillermo Nuño of Nuño Construction and Joseph Lewis of Wise Improvements LLC evaluate the grade of a washed out driveway. Lewis helps homeowners find qualified, licensed contractors.

He finds Lewis "fair and easy work with.

We just installed a new culvert and redid a washed out driveway for a client of his," Nuño said. "Joe finds quality clients and jobs for contractors."

Part-time Santa Fe residents Erwin More and Linda Berman were introduced to Lewis when he was in the process of starting the business.

"I was one of his first customers," More said. "Being a part-timer in Santa Fe, it is invaluable to have his service.

Having someone to call and manage things is an enormous help. . . There's a broad range of projects he's overseen for us, and he painstakingly researches the right contractor for the project. Things I don't have time to deal with just get taken care of."

Taking care of projects homeowners haven't got the skills or the time to take on themselves is a big part of his business, Lewis said.

Wise Improvements is "about getting to the projects that you never have time to do," he said. "Sometimes they're simple but you just don't have the skills or resources to do them. And you don't want to open the phone book and make the endless calls and play phone tag, and do the research to find the right contractor. . . That's where we come in.

We connect the right contractor to the homeowner."

While Wise Improvements caters to smaller projects, Lewis can also make referrals for large-scale construction work— even new, ground up construction.

"I review proposals with clients if they have questions before projects start and mediate between contractors and homeowners when necessary," he said. "Wise Improvements is a full-service business in an industry that is often seen as lacking in that area."

Hands-on help

For those who love the satisfaction of doing it themselves but want (or need) a little guidance, a new "do-it-yourself" service may be just the answer.

Anthony Guillen, general manager of Project DIY, grew up in Santa Fe working on construction projects with his dad.

"I've got collectively over 10 years of experience," Guillen said. "My father was an engineer who worked in construction. I worked with him in high school and college on construction sites."

After college, Guillen went to work for Home Depot in the Midwest. That job exposed him to large numbers of people trying to do their own home-improvement projects.

"I learned a lot about the do-it-yourself consumer, their needs, and learned about how to help people manage their own projects," he said.

Guillen's business helps "do-it-yourselfers" get the proper information and project-management support they need to tackle home-improvement projects large and small.

"Like some homeowners, my own experiences in home-improvement projects revealed that I'm fairly knowledgeable, but I don't know everything.

I'm frugal and like the sense of accomplishment you get doing it yourself. But I'd get stuck sometimes and couldn't find the resources to help me do it myself," he admitted. "I'd just have to pay someone else to do it, or scour the Internet or ask friends for help. There wasn't any one resource for the do-it-yourselfer and I saw the potential to fill that need."

The home-improvement jobs Project DIY takes on typically cost over $500. On medium-to-large projects, the company can offer a cost-effective consulting option.

"The clients we help want to tackle a home-improvement project themselves but don't have the all the skills or know-how," Guillen said. "We evaluate the project to see if it's a fit with our services whether it's started or not. What issues are they having? What exactly do they need help with? During the on-site consult, I give them as much information as I can regarding their project -- and (whether) it's worth their time and money (to have us) help them."

Project DIY takes apparently overwhelming projects and breaks them down into smaller, more manageable steps. "The real benefit is that I do the research for the homeowner," Guillen said.

He makes phone calls to colleagues in construction, checks the code handbooks, and creates a project plan with a specific protocol, time line and budget. The materials list "includes the tools and items they will need and where to source them," Guillen said.

Project DIY also provides help with necessary permit requirements.

"It can be frustrating to figure out which one you need and how to get it," he said.

"There are also building codes to decipher. The state of New Mexico, the city of Santa Fe and county of Santa Fe have specific codes in place. They can be pretty cryptic to the average homeowner."

Jack Bermudez, a client of Guillen's, said he had heard about Project DIY and saw an newspaper ad for the service.

"I had a home I was building and got to where I was just about done but felt there was something missing. I was kind of at a loss for what to do next," he said. "I liked what Anthony had to offer. He suggested a specific style of porch, what the benefits were, and how to construct it. He helped monitor the project."

Bermudez is happy with the results of his investment in Project DIY. "I felt like it was cost-effective to use (Guillen)," he said. "He had good suggestions, well-worth my time and money."


Heather Wood is a freelance writer who writes regularly for the Santa Fe New Mexican. She can be reached through her website at www.HeatherWoodFreelance.com.

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