Who Ya Gonna Call?

Did our recent days of really cold weather get you thinking about ways to make your home more energy efficient? Now that it’s warmer, are you looking at other home improvement ideas? Maybe you’ve started thinking about that kitchen remodel. Or maybe planning that room addition. Maybe you want to start on that garage/workshop/studio you’ve been dreaming of. Or maybe this is the year you’re going to build your new home. Are you going to do it yourself, or call a handyman, a subcontractor, a trade contractor, a general contractor, or a builder? Let’s make this easy and suppose there is no way you have the time to do this project yourself. You really can’t go down to the big box retailers and ask what a room addition costs or even special order one. Well, you could, but you would get funny looks. So before you start looking for someone, you have to figure out who is going to do the work.

Some projects decide for themselves. If you are going to be building a new home, you will need a builder or general contractor (GC). In residential construction, builders operate as general contractors. A general contractor is responsible for the management of vendors and trade contractors and for the day-to-day oversight of the construction site. In addition, the GC must keep communication between the involved parties open and clear throughout the project.

Next let’s talk about that room addition she wants or that garage/workshop/studio he wants. A project that size would still require you to talk to a builder, because of the number of different specialized trades or sub contractors that would be needed. Before starting a job, the builder must first visit the site and assess the project. Based on this visit, on research with trades and vendors, and on years of experience, the contractor will generate a price, also called an “estimate.” The general contractor considers the cost of material and labor to provide the owner with an approximate price for the project. Your set of contract documents with a builder could include the contract agreement with a set of specifications, the budget, plans, engineered plans, surveys, and permits.

Ok, so now what about that kitchen remodel or maybe just replacing the cabinets, and the countertops, and moving the sink and dishwasher and the stovetop, maybe buy a new fridge? Here is where it gets tricky. A couple of things will help you decide how to proceed with your project. Take a look at the project and try to break it down into as many different tasks as you can. Will the cabinet maker remove and dispose of the old cabinets? Is an electrician needed to move outlets and install new lighting? What about repairing the sheetrock and painting? Maybe a plumber is needed to redo the drain system and reroute the water supply lines. You might want to call a subcontractor or trades contractor direct. Now you would be taking on the role of the general contractor. A subcontractor or trades contractor is an individual or business that signs a contract to perform part or all of the obligations of the project. The incentive to hire subcontractors is either to reduce costs or to mitigate project risks. Much of the construction industry has gone the way of the medical industry – specialization. Most trade contractors in residential construction prefer to work only with general contractors. A builder relies on trades to build new homes and complete remodel projects. To a trade contractor, a builder represents better management of the project, expedited payments, and future business. In return, the general contractor receives favorable pricing the homeowner may not receive working directly with the trades. Yes, this savings might be passed on, but don’t forget the GC needs to be compensated for project management, overhead, and the ability to make a profit.

A handyman, increasingly known as a handyperson or handywoman, is a person skilled at a wide range of repairs, typically around the home. These tasks may include trade skills, repair work, maintenance work, both interior and exterior, and are sometimes described as "odd jobs” or "fix-up tasks,” and include light plumbing jobs such as fixing a leaky toilet or light electric jobs such as changing a light fixture. A lot of projects can be completed by a handyperson.

Once you have decided on the right person for the job, the next step is finding them. Of course you are going to Google for them and take your chances on the internet. You could look in the Yellow Pages, newspaper, or local weekly and monthly magazines. Ask a friend or neighbor, or go to the suppliers where the trade contractor you are looking for shops and ask for a referral. Do yourself a really big favor and ask for references and call them. The great thing about working with a GC is they have already done their homework. A builder will interview a trade contractor to find out if they are right for the project. A smart GC will check their references, look at their work, check with their suppliers, make sure they have the right insurance, employee contracts, discuss warranty coverage, supervise their work, schedule inspections, and remit payments.

So then you just get three bids for everything, throw out the highest and the lowest one, and go with the middle bid, right? WRONG!! Next month we’ll talk about why bidding out a project doesn’t always get you the best value. Stay tuned.