Tip 5. Use Angie's List
We used a lot of contractors in this recent move. A lot. For almost six months, there were at least two contractor trucks on the property at all times, and some days when I'd pay a visit to the work site, there'd be ten or twelve people working at once.
Like I said, we bought a fixer-upper.
It's hard to find good contractors, especially when you don't know too many people in the area. We turned to a resource I'd had my doubts about, but which worked out really well: Angie's List.
Angie's List is a consumer-vetted contractor database. While, in our area, anyway, it's often somewhat sparsely populated, there are usually two or three contractors listed for any specialty. More to the point, there are contractor reviews, so consumers who had a good experience can share that, and consumers who didn't can share that as well.
With one or two exceptions, we found that all the contractors we used through Angie's List were great. We had one guy who did rather exceptional work, but had some family problems and vanished one day, leaving a project unfinished. Fortunately, it was close enough to the end that we were able to wrap it up anyway.
Now, you should know there are some disadvantages to Angie's List. First, like with Yelp, some subjects of Angie's List (the contractors) hate it with a passion. After all, anyone with a negative review doesn't enjoy it. Angie's List appears to charge contractors for some level of presence on the list, which also ticks off some vendors.
Then there's the amount that Angie's List will hassle you. It's almost comical. Angie's List operators call all the frickin' time. They'll try to upsell you and, in particular, try to get you to rate contractors. I guess this is how they manage to get their customers to do their part in ratings, but after a while, it became almost enraging to get so many calls.
Fortunately, Jason and I both have a solution to this part of the Angie's List equation: Google Voice. If you plan on using Angie's List, get Google Voice and ONLY give the Google Voice number to Naggie's List (oops, I meant Angie's List).
If you do this, you can then block the Angie's List calls on Google Voice and they'll never bother you again.
As an aside, this is a serious problem with the Angie's List model. While I'd normally be a huge proponent of the service, you'll notice I couldn't recommend them without the caveat. Worse, the company won't accept "please don't call me again", which makes dealing with them even more frustrating.
Had I not been able to filter their calls, I would not have renewed their service. Oh, one last thought: Angie's List tiers their pricing based on the size of your community. For us, it was $15 for the year. For someone in New York City, it could well be a hundred bucks or more. Your mileage may vary.
Tip 6. Walls are meant to hold power and CAT5
I'd always lived in rental property, so I never experienced the joy of deciding just what I wanted in my house and where. I'd always wanted quality power in each wall and good networking connections.
In the new house, I got my wish. We had to rewire the electrical system anyway (when you turned anything on, something shorted, and the entire breaker box made a squealing sound before tripping). Since we had to rewire, more power was my mantra.
I put four individual 20 amp circuits in the wall behind my desk and another four dedicated, individual 20 amp circuits in the wall behind the entertainment center. No longer would we ever have the situation of the vacuum cleaner overloading a shared circuit and crashing a computer. Hah!
Even better, I decided I much preferred the rock-solid, reliable speed of a GigE network over WiFi. WiFi worked and all, but once you sent data over a certified GigE cable, man, that's living.
So I had a GigE jack installed in every single wall of the house, including some closets (for servers, of course). With one or two exceptions (walls where they'd actually have to tear down a part of the house to run a jack), I now have a GigE tap in every wall.
Okay, except the bathrooms. My wife drew the line there. For now.
We have a GigE tap in the kitchen, and even one in the garage. We have two in the gym, two in the bedroom, one in every wall of the living room, studio, my office and so forth.
I tied them all together with a 24-port router, and now there's GigE everywhere. I can not begin to tell you the joy of realizing you want to hook up another machine and knowing, yeah, there's a jack for that!
Special kudos and thanks go out to electricians Jerry and Vince who lived in our ceiling for three straight months in the Florida heat, wiring all this up. To this day, I still think Vince gets a look of fear on his face whenever he hears my name.