Hard to believe, but recessions and construction slowdowns still catch some remodelers by surprise. Others keep their ear to the ground. Tom Avallone, owner of $15 million Cobb Hill Construction, in Concord, N.H., consumes as much business news as he can — The Wall Street Journal, local papers, cable news, trade magazines — to keep up with interest rates, bank activity, and material prices and to get a feel for the mood nationwide. State budgets, Avallone says, are good to monitor for confirmation of a trend, as they lag behind the economy.

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Local indicators are important, too. Avallone tracks real estate numbers — showings, sales of new and existing homes, building permits, land sales — because they are good indicators of how much money is flowing into housing.

He also firmly believes in “working the street,” absorbing whatever he can from conversations with business owners across a wide spectrum of industries. He makes sure to pump construction peers — suppliers, trade partners, and other contractors — for anecdotal evidence. But anyone, from a florist to an up-market restaurateur, can provide insightful information about who is spending money in Concord. The remodeler sits on the board of Concord's chamber of commerce, regularly attending meetings to hear more about the state of local businesses. His chamber of commerce involvement also helps Avallone build relationships with commercial clients, who provide a substantial portion of Cobb Hill Construction's revenue.