Contractor Confessions

A remodeling or construction project can be both exciting and intimidating. A lot goes into the first steps of the process—deciding on plans and materials, setting a budget and timeline and, most importantly, choosing a contractor who will execute your project and make your vision a reality. Most remodeling and construction projects take at least four to six weeks to complete. The timeline will vary based on the size of your job, the contractors working on the job and availability of supplies. Hiring a general contractor to oversee the job and provide professional expertise and experience will save you money and make the experience far less stressful.

A general contractor ensures projects run smoothly. His role is to supervise the process, manage subcontractors, purchase supplies and materials, and keep everything moving on schedule. He’s there to answer your questions and solve any problems. Many homeowners try to take on the role of general contractor and coordinate subcontractors on their own, even performing some of the work themselves. This can lead to significant frustration, and lost time and money. Robert Foreman, President of Premier Building & Renovations Corp., recalls a kitchen renovation job involving an enterprising customer who decided to save on the electrical work and install his own high-hats ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the customer did not take into account the depth of the fixtures. His new lights would have been partially obscured by cabinets and crown molding, so they had to be moved before the kitchen installation could continue.

Choosing and hiring the right general contractor can seem a daunting task, but if you do some research, ask friends and family for recommendations, and trust your instincts, you’re likely to find an honest and trustworthy match for any job. It is a good idea to get three bids from general contractors on your project and to thoroughly interview and check each for their experience, knowledge and ability to communicate. When submitting a bid, a contractor should provide a list of supplies and labor charges up front, on paper. If you are narrowing down potential contractors, make sure to call their references and, if possible, visit a completed project or current job site.

On a full remodeling project or large construction job, the work crew is generally made up of at least seven subcontractors, ranging from roofers and electricians to carpenters and painters. Jobs must be done in a certain order. If a subcontractor arrives at a job site that is not ready for his phase, you will still be charged, even if no work can be done. A general contractor maintains a master schedule to avoid unnecessary visits and will gauge when each subcontractor should show up. Competent general contractors use reliable subcontractors, ultimately decreasing costs.

Good contractors know how to do it all and they have also seen it all. Steven DiMare, CEO of Unified Window Systems, Inc. relates a favorite story: A homeowner in the Five Towns called him about a new construction. The home’s exterior had been completely finished and the interior had been sheetrocked, but the owner was doing most of the work himself. In a heavy rain a few days earlier, the lower portion of sheetrock on every outside wall was soaked and so was all the insulation under the sheetrock. “As we walked outside, I immediately noticed that the customer had installed regular horizontal siding vertically, because his wife liked the way it looked. He had done everything else perfectly, because he had sided houses before. He just didn’t realize that installing it vertically would cause a problem. All of the weep holes in the siding, which are functional when it is installed horizontally, had allowed rain to enter the home freely, as if he had shot thousands of BB holes into his brand new house. We had to change all the siding on the house, which meant in the end, it cost him double to get the job done properly.”

Typically, general contractors also order supplies and materials for each project. Some homeowners can be enticed by the low costs and ease of purchasing materials online. A word to the wise: Be very cautious about this. While the internet offers new shopping opportunities for building materials, purchasing construction supplies online can create unforeseen hassles and end up costing more. It is usually better to trust your general contractor to procure and deliver the needed materials.

imageIf you’ve done your research and have chosen a reputable seller (online or off) with excellent product reviews, it is still important to have your general contractor check the supplies and make sure they meet standards and correct specifications. Lorraine Schulz, owner and president of Summit Remodeling in Wantagh, has seen many customers try to lower construction costs by purchasing materials online. In an attempt to cut costs, one customer purchased an exterior door on Craigslist, but received the door without the appropriate frame. This delayed the job, cost the customer unnecessarily and left them with useless supplies. Schulz explains that in the case of materials and supplies, letting the general contractor take control and responsibility is the best move.

Experienced contractors are familiar with supplies and the quality of their materials. They’re also likely to have relationships with manufacturers and lumberyards. At Summit Remodeling, Schulz and her partner, vice president Patrick Tracey, have been using the same manufacturers for years precisely because they have seen consistency in the quality. Tracey says, “Big names work hard to keep quality,” so you’re better off trusting the professionals and not compromising.

Even in landscaping, a do-it-yourself staple, it is worth considering a landscape design/build firm, particularly when hardscaping is involved and understanding elevations is important. Bryce Insalaco, a design consultant with Island Associates, recalls a project for which the customer had installed his own patio pavers, but didn’t know to plan and engineer for run-off. The pavers pitched toward the house and as a result, the first big rain after installation flooded the newly-finished basement and ruined brand-new flooring. Island Associates was then called in to reinstall the patio.

Investing in a reputable general contractor for a home remodel or construction is a choice that you’ll benefit from throughout your entire project and in the future. Once the project is completed, you’ll feel confident knowing your home was built to last and wear gracefully, even when the rains come.