Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB, of Animal Arts, an equine and animal-focused architecture firm based in Colorado, said the first step in budgeting for horse property maintenance is to make a list of the things you want to do with your property, then sort that list by priorities. That way, when you look into pricing and costs, you can more easily sort things into this year’s list or future projects. Then contact the appropriate contractors depending on the project.
For fencing, go to the seller of the desired product. “Get pricing for this project by going first to the seller of the fence (local supply store or national fence company) and ask for information about pricing and installation; they will know the pricing and will have a list of contractors who can do the work,” said Lewis.
“For replacing barn stall fronts or major manufactured items such as barn doors, go to the manufacturer of the product. They can quote a price and may be able to recommend local installers. If they can’t connect you with installers, you may need to hire a skilled handyman,” she said.
“For miscellaneous small projects, get quotes from a handyman. As opposed to large-scale contractors who won’t look at small projects, handymen specialize in miscellaneous issues and can help whip things into shape. Get a handyman referral from word of mouth: friends, neighbors, other barn owners, and the local social networks. Once you find a well-regarded handyman, have him give prices for all the small projects on your list so you can add those to your budget and sort them by priority. If you find a good handyman, don’t let him go! Keep future work lined up so you can keep the balls rolling,” Lewis suggested.
For specialized projects, get price quotes from specialized subcontractors. “Roofing projects should be quoted by roofing subcontractors, and electrical projects should be quoted by electrical subcontractors. Find these people via good referrals and check their qualifications with the Better Business Bureau, price the projects, then sort them by prearranged priorities,” she said.
“For larger projects that involve multiple trades (for example adding a bathroom to the barn), get a quote from one or more general contractors. Get names via referral and check their references, as well as their ratings online and with the local Better Business Bureau, to avoid scams,” said Lewis.
“Once you have collected quotes from the various sources above, your priorities might sort themselves quickly. For example, if you have $20K you can spend this year and three of your priority projects add up to more than that amount, you may want to rethink the priorities, and do two out of the three projects,” she said.
Remember that contractors are extremely busy. Labor shortages are an issue, as there are fewer tradesmen and women coming out of schools, and the construction industry in some cases was decimated by the recession; many locations now cannot keep up with demand,” said Lewis.
It is not unusual to ask for quotes and get no response, or get overinflated prices, or to have your contractor tell you he is months out (sometimes even years out) before he could begin the work. “This is why we recommend the referral method for finding people; often contractors that are overloaded will be more likely to prioritize projects within their already established network, to protect their reputation for good work, as opposed to seeking new opportunities,” said Lewis.
If you can’t get a project done this year, this might also affect your priorities. You could move some other things up the list based on availability of help to do the work.
“If you have to wait a year or two before doing a project, don’t forget to budget for inflation. Contracting work generally inflates at a rate of 4% per year. This means that a project budgeted today may cost 12% more in three years!” she said.
“Give yourself a contingency fund," advised Lewis. "Change orders happen. Perhaps you are doing a roof and your contractor discovers there is a rotten section underneath the old roof that needs replacement. He likely did not budget for that unknown condition and will ask you for an increased amount of money to cover the extra work. This is fair, and it happens on almost all projects. Give yourself an additional amount within your budget (a contingency fund) to cover inevitable surprises. Simple projects will need 5% in addition to the cost of the project for a contingency. Complicated and difficult projects need 10-15%.”
Get professional advice on big projects. “Don’t sign large contracts for work without knowing what you’re doing. A lawyer experienced with construction contracts can have a look at a contract before you sign it and can give general advice. This isn’t as necessary for small projects where your risk is low, but is important for projects where you are spending a lot of money,” said Lewis.
“Finally, have fun! While it’s a lot of work to budget your projects and get them lined up, even small accomplishments can feel very satisfying," noted Lewis.