Keep a good filing system. You’ll be getting a lot of quotes (a word to the wise: don’t get too many quotes for each job – establish what a reasonable rate for the job at hand is, then settle on a contractor you’re comfortable with. Remember, the cheapest guy isn’t always the best, and neither is the most expensive one, necessarily…). Quotes that require a lot of detail (Framing, Foundation, Drywall, Mechanical, Cabinetry, etc.) should be kept intact.
Make a copy of the original quote, then block out the prices and use that for the new quotes. That way, you’re comparing apples to apples, oranges to oranges. (Word to the wise — Dwight insisted on this going in, although I don’t agree with it. I have found that just asking for a Complete Quote, stating the exact same information, will give me a much better ‘feel’ for the Contractor. You can tell right from the beginning if the guy is trying to pull the wool over your eyes — stay away from this type — it only gets worse. This kind of guy will give you a quote that seems very reasonable, but often leaves out crucial components.
We had a number of situations like this during this Build — the first quote for the Basement — and it was extremely detailed — was $20,000. higher than the other quotes. I know — craaazy! You gotta watch out and stay on your toes! The Cabinetry quotes were all over the board, and the Drywall for the Garage alone varied from $2,500. to $9,500. Our house cost was cut down by at least $40,000., just by shopping around and really reading the quotes.) It’s not fair to get two different quotes and one includes the cement for the foundation and the other is only for the cribbing… asking for a complete quote might eliminate this situation, but being careful from the outset will save you a lot of bother, later.
Sometimes, you may notice that you’ll get very different ‘complete quotes’. We have found that the quote you get is often a ‘forewarner’ of the work you’ll get. If it takes a ridiculous amount of time to even get the quote, and you can’t get the guy to return your phone calls, that’s probably what it’ll be like when he’s actually working for you, if you give him the job. If the quote is sloppy (we call them ‘napkin quotes’, since they’re scribbled out on a napkin from the restaurant, so you have to look through the coffee stains to see the numbers, or on a crumpled up piece of paper!), the workmanship might be careless, too. Keep in mind that prices go up over time, so if the quote is old, it’ll need to be up-dated before any work commences.
Also, mistakes happen, so go over your quote to make sure that it is relatively accurate – you should never be responsible for knowing exactly how many screws will be required for the project (how are you paying for this?! Ha,ha,ha!), but you should check the windows and doors, what’s included in each package, to make sure it’s actually for your house!
Be sure to go over the Check List of every step that must be followed. Missing a step (like permits!) can cost you time and money (jail time in some States, if you haven’t gone through the right authorities to make sure you can build what you want – be especially careful with this if you live in an historical neighborhood).
BE DECISIVE — It’s important to have a clear idea of what you want in your home before you start to build, or even draw. The more you decide early, the fewer distractions and delays that will happen later. This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t make changes throughout the project, but be prepared to make quick decisions on those changes. Fence sitting or being wishy-washy will drive everyone crazy.
Keep in mind that if your contractor asks you more than once or twice about something you haven’t made your mind up on, he’ll probably head off to another job, and you may not see him again for a while! The reality of a contractor’s life is that he’ll have many projects going at the same time, so don’t think he’ll wait around and hold your hand while you decide on a tile… it ain’t gonna happen. Be decisive and clear – you’ll save time and money.
BE NICE — I love the stories from people who say proudly, ‘Yeah, I really ground my contractor down’, and ‘I told my contractor off, this morning. He left, but I think he’s coming back later, today…’ Ha,ha,ha,ha! Those crazy nuts! That’s a great way to get rid of your contractor, and make it very difficult to find another one. Contractors are, for the most part, connected. And maybe a little gossipy… what do you think they talk about while they drink all that coffee?! Ha,ha. Also, if you bring in another contractor to finish another guy’s work, they’ll know immediately that there was conflict on-site, and they may be reluctant to get involved. The bottom line is, be respectful of your contractors as you expect them to be respectful of you. If you do have an issue, meet off-site to discuss the situation and come to a resolution.
Word to the Wise: Normally this is sound advice, but sometimes you will find yourself faced with a crisis that needs to be dealt with head on…like the one we had with our first carpenter. We gave him as many chances as we could before I had to confront him on the job about his work. It was very unpleasant, but I had to let him go — the whole Job was suffering because of this one guy.
The real key, even in this case, is that we knew we had Trevor (our favorite Carpenter!) waiting in the wings before we said anything to the first guy… better safe than sorry!
BE REALISTIC — Set a time frame that is reasonable. When you’re starting from scratch, it takes weeks or months for many stages. The plans and blueprints can easily take 3 months or more, depending on how elaborate your plans are. The actual building process is quite quick if you have planned everything out in advance, but you should still allot at least 3 – 8 months for the building process. Then be prepared for another couple of months if things go wrong. It’s been known to happen! Have a back up plan for where you will live if you have a specific move-out date in your current home so you won’t be panicked if your new house isn’t even at lock-up stage and the moving van is at your door!
Remember, again, that you’re are probably not your contractor’s only client, so you may or may not be at the top of his priority list. (Calling him at home at 6:00a.m. every day will not put you higher on the list, just so you know – we’ve had people try that!) Keep this in mind when you have a short time frame – it’s amazing how much easier it is to schmooze when you’re desperate!
One more thing – I notice that there’s a lot of crappy advice out there on ‘How to Find a Contractor’. 359 Thousand Easy Questions to Ask a Builder. Puh-leeease. Like they’re gonna respond well to that! Gimme a break! Do these people know any contractors?! You need basic information – How much is it? Are you available? When will you be available? Can you recommend any other trades? Keep it simple. Meet face-to-face. Go see some of his previous work. Don’t annoy people from 10 years ago who had work done by the contractor. Would you like someone calling you? Asking a million stupid questions will raise a red flag for the contractor that this potential client is more likely to be a potential pain in the shirt. Contractors are (generally speaking) so busy that they don’t need the hassle. Also, if the contractor has a group of sub-trades that he regularly works with, it’ll be waaay easier to keep track of everyone once the project gets underway, which will make the whole thing much easier all round.
BE FLEXIBLE –No. This does not mean bending over backwards for your contractor (although, truth be told, they might like to see that …ha,ha). It just means that if your significant other really, really, reallllly wants Sand Beige, and you have your heart set on Evening Taupe (yes, it’s practically the same shade, but couples often have major disagreements over tiny, tiny issues), go with whatever gets you in the house. Maybe you can choose the five foot tall gargoyles for the top of the fireplace, then let there be a compromise. ‘Okay, you go two shades up on the colour and I’ll give up on the gargoyles on the mantel …’ Voila! You’ve got what you wanted! (Don’t try this little ploy if your spouse actually likes indoor gargoyles!)
Building a house (or any other joint effort that involves hammers and paint) can be very trying on a relationship. Be sure to work out problems as they arise – letting things stew will not make the project easier. Reassure each other when necessary, then randomly after that! Keep your eye on the prize — you’ll both love the house when it’s done. Hey, you can use your Air Miles Credit Card when you’re buying the million things you need to build the house, that way you’ll have accumulated enough points to take a well deserved break at the end of the job! Hawaii, here we come!
BE POSITIVE — Keeping a positive attitude always helps the situation. Chances are pretty high that you’ll encounter difficulties, or things that you hadn’t anticipated. Don’t spiral downwards – it won’t help. Stay focussed; find a solution. Have you ever talked to someone who is always spinning a negative tale? Can you get away from them fast enough?! Ugh. Nothing worse. You want to maintain a positive outlook on the whole thing. You’ll be surprised by how that affects everyone around the construction site. (Oh, yeah. Don’t be a pest, either. Visit from time to time, but ‘supervising’ professionals is totally annoying and will slow up the work. They’re there to build, not teach, so you can ask the odd question and make nice comments, but that’s about it – the less said, the better. You can bring treats and cold drinks, though – everyone will love that!) Also, to the untrained eye, a project might appear to be 10% done when in reality it is 80% completed, so uninformed comments from the peanut gallery will not be appreciated. People work best when they’re praised, appreciated, and fairly paid. (Okay, here’s my last little addition-make sure you pay your contractor. Seems simple, but it makes a big difference on future work – either different work or maintenance on the current work.) Good stuff to keep in mind when you’re at the building site.