Need a Gift Idea? Here's a New One....

by Marcus Pickett

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Think home improvement this holiday season. Whether you've got an impossible-to-shop-for relative or a gift list a mile and a half long, this might just be the most ignored area of holiday gift shopping. Of course, there are wine racks and spice racks, bath towels and knick-knacks, but these tired, overused gift ideas are far from the only options when it comes to holiday shopping.

It's the Thought(s) that Counts: Decorators and Designers
Good intentions are one thing, but sometimes the best gifts don't have to take a material form. We're all aware of spa packages, but maybe the best gift is a home improvement consultant. Maybe you have a friend or family member who was planning on a kitchen or bath remodel this year and had to delay the project when the stock market crushed their investment savings. Maybe they can't get a loan from the credit-tightened grip of their banks. As a gift, you can hire an interior designer for them who will create custom remodeling plans to save them money next year when they complete their remodel. Alternately, for more modest needs or for someone who's moving into a new place, hiring an interior decorator that can help brainstorm decorating schemes and problem-solve odd areas of the home.

Luxury Gift Idea: Maybe you know someone who wants to move into a newly built dream home in the next few years. Rather than having to pick from a home builder's catalog, you can hire them an architect this holiday season to create a custom house plan.

Put a Personal Touch on It: Custom-Built Furnishings
One of the best ways to impress or convey your appreciation during the holiday season is to personalize your gift. Sure, you could go to Target, Sears or Lowe's and find the same wood rack or planter box that thousands of other people are going to buy this year, or you could hire a carpenter to custom build these items. A built-in wall shelf, a hexagonal planter box, or some other customized woodworking item will ensure the recipient gets exactly what he or she wants this holiday season.

Luxury Gift Idea: The quality of custom-built cabinets put the stock cabinets of Home Depot, Lowe's, and IKEA to shame. The real advantage of a cabinet maker is the ability to create a cabinet of any shape and dimension. If you have a friend or family member with a small or odd shaped bathroom, hiring a cabinet maker to build a customized bathroom cabinet is can't-miss gift idea.

What the Holidays are Really About: Cleaning Services
No matter what your religious beliefs are, most people can get behind the idea that "Cleanliness is next to godliness." You could hire a maid service, lawn service, window washers, or carpet cleaners to help out with the house cleaning list. You need to be a little careful taking this route to ensure you don't offend anybody, who might think you're judging the cleanliness of their home. If you know the person usually hires a professional or absolutely hates washing windows, this can be a great way to go. You might also hire someone to clean their gutters, one of the most important, commonly overlooked, and least personal pieces of house cleaning.

Luxury Holiday Gift Idea: In addition to hiring a gutter cleaning pro, you might consider buying them gutter covers to reduce the gutter cleaning burden of future years.

Finding Contractors: Make Sure Your Gift isn't Sent Back
The best gift ideas can quickly turn into lumps of coal without the proper planning and execution. If you're going to hire a home improvement contractor for a holiday gift, you need to make sure the person is on the level. Do a background check and get customer referrals. One easy way to do this—your holiday shopping is chaotic enough—is to use an online referral service. These companies do the background check for you and will match you to several qualified contractors in your area.

You might think the logistics of paying for these home improvement "gifts" are a nightmare, but most contractors are more than willing to work with you and create a clearly stated agreement for third-party payment. One easy way to do this is to create a credit with a contractor. That way, if your friend or family member decides to upgrade the project, they can simply pay for the difference.

With a Bow on Top
By talking to these contractors, you can also find materials to wrap up as a present. If you're hiring a carpenter or a designer, for example, you might think about getting photos from the contractor of some of their past projects. You can wrap up these pictures as part of the present and to give the recipient some preliminary ideas for what the gift could turn out to be.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.