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Embarking on home improvement and renovation projects can be exciting – and intimidating. To get inspired, you might spend weeks poring over home magazines, making the rounds to home improvement stores, and searching the internet. Or you might spend time going to home shows.

With hundreds of home and garden shows across the U.S., there’s sure to be one near you. If you’re planning a home improvement project, home shows are an ideal place to get ideas, browse through products and visit vendors.

How Can You Make the Most of Attending Home Shows?

First, pick a home show that fits your interests and needs. There are also lawn and garden shows, kitchen and bath shows, green building shows, and home exterior shows you might consider if you are planning a specific project type.

The big advantage of home shows comes with finding hundreds of products and services all under one roof. But as it turns out, that can also be a big disadvantage. With as many as 1,000 vendors, home shows can quickly turn into a marathon if you don’t have an action plan. Before you go, look through the exhibitor list to make a note of vendors you plan to visit.

If you take someone with you, divide the tasks. One of you can ask questions while the other takes notes and collects business cards. If possible, leave the kids at home so you can focus on the business at hand, unless you’re thinking of a project that might be exciting for them, such as a new playground setup.

Home shows are often a good place to meet potential contractors or service people, too. Ask them about their specialties, availability, and how long they’ve been in business. At the same time, try to gather impressions about what it might be like to do business with them.

Don’t be afraid to ask technical questions. Home shows can often be a source of free information from experts. Tips or advice from people working in the industry can help you steer clear of taking a wrong turn or give you an idea of new possibilities or insight into the project’s process or timeline.

Most home shows also offer informative seminars and workshops throughout the event so homeowners can get up to speed on new techniques or technologies.

How Can You Make Sure You Come Prepared?

Do your homework!

Do some thinking about your goals for the show. Are you looking for ideas, gathering a sense of the latest trends, or looking for a contractor?

Don’t go to a home show cold – that will only leave you frustrated and overwhelmed. This may result in you being sold on something that doesn’t quite fit your needs.

Be a smart buyer. Research products online beforehand so you know what colors, sizes, and styles are available. Read up on pricing, materials, and typical installation times, and make a list of questions you plan to ask vendors. If websites provide measurements, check to see if the product in question will fit your space.

Use a map of the showroom floor and chart your route. If your time is limited, prioritize your list of must-visit vendors and a list of “maybe” booths.

What Should You Bring Along?

Bring your paperwork with you. It’s likely you won’t be the only homeowner carrying a clipboard. If you’re remodeling the kitchen and looking for new cabinets, bring along a rough sketch of the space and some cabinet dimensions to provide a starting point. Make a list of what you think you’ll need to complete the project. Vendors can help you fill in the missing details at a later time.

Be prepared to provide accurate information about your house, in particular the area you’re planning on improving. Is it on a slab or crawlspace? What is the square footage? Are there any covenants or zoning restrictions in effect? Do you have extra space in your electric panel?

One of the most useful tools is your smartphone. Snapping pictures of products you like can save you serious time. Post-it notes can also be helpful to keep track of information, and it’s a good idea to jot notes on the vendors’ pamphlets or business cards.

This is obvious, but don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring water and snacks. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and talking, so it’s important to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up.

Since home shows can draw large crowds, it’s helpful to arrive early, or later in the day as the crowd is thinning.

Finally, one thing many home show attendees neglect is follow-up. After the show has closed its doors and left town, take some time to go through the brochures and business cards you’ve collected. Make follow-up calls or visit company websites to further research as you plan your projects and start down the road toward getting started.

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