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1999 Owner-Builder Interview Part 4

Can I have a copy of your schedule?

2. We set some goals, that was the schedule.
4. Yes
6. Loosey goosey.
7. Didn't have one.
9. No written one. Had a close-in date. We keep amending.
10. No.
11. Had many. Had to be really flexible.
12. No.
14. Yes, but now in my head.

Were there any schedule items that took you a lot longer or shorter than you thought they would?

2. Drywall we couldn't get him to show up, and I went to another contractor. Check the Small Business Bureau before selecting a guy. Then file a complaint if something comes up. We will send him a certified letter that he owes me money. We will file charges of theft by deception.
4. No
6. I had the foundation put in by subs, when they got around to it. The same for the well and septic. Electric took time. You get put on a list to get your power brought in. Time to order certain materials.
7. Concrete and footings drug on, and framing because of order problems on beams.
10. Because of weather.
11. To complete the work, all of them took longer from start to finish than I thought. Nothing ever starts when it's planned, so it wasn't duration it was schedule.
12. Everything took longer. Second set of painters were very quick. Brick in two weeks was phenomenal. Drywall went up pretty fast. First painter was amazingly slow. Three weeks to prep it. We had to rent heaters because it voids the warranty on the furnace.
13. My problem was that I didn't watch it close enough. By not looking at it as close as I could it started to drag. Sheetrock was finished after the first coat of paint, saw there was some not good enough. Nail pops. Seams. The better the rocker, the more likely to use screwguns.
16. People didn't show up. Plumber was fast. He was week and a half for rough. Finish took a couple of days. Had a helper.

Did you use a designer, architect, stock plan?

1. I have done it all, I have modified a stock plan, Now I do my own. (I am an engineer)
2. We used a service from Minnesota that sells a package deal.
5. We drew them, and had a designer set them on paper.
6. I found a plan I liked, and moved the walls a bit. I found it in a plan book.
7. I took a stock plan to a draftsman for modification.
8. We did our own
9. Dale Booth.
10. Stock plan with adaptations. Couple of hundred bucks. Go to L&T Construction.
11. Designed myself. The draftsman just fulfilled what I said.
12. School students.
13. It was unique. I paid $2,000 and I got a set of plans. Quirky developer situation. This was almost like to keep him happy. $500 for some additional design work.

14. Self
16. Architect. $800.

What are the three best things you did?

1. Established a computerized budget, which leads you to a schedule, use the album to keep you from waiting on a particular fixture you wanted. Have them write a mission statement that they pull out the night that they are crying.
2. Tried to keep money in the community but wasn't afraid to go outside of it. People with local reputations.
5. Worked with them instead of
6. New kind of chinking made the house tight, everything went very well. Used my inspector extensively. Found some bargains in advance. Doing log homes makes sense.
7. Hired a good framer, had a good design, getting finished in a timely manner.
9. Choosing right materials, doing a basement, cost is so cheap, put your utilities down there, washer and dryer in garage.
10. Some of the work myself, avoid paying contractor, rolling the gain over from sale of previous. The goal is to build the equity and not pay taxes.
11. Wood floor, generalling, my retaining wall - it cost $7,000 because they made a mistake, not to lose money, but just the pump trucks cost $2,500. They cut a deal to save the budget. I knew it was good, and I got it in writing. Since I was the general, these people wanted to do all the things. But by finding separate subs, I found the best deal.
12. Studied out floorplans beforehand, granite counters, even though stressful, it was good to work with my husband as a team.
13. Working closely with the people, (relationships) interaction with the lumber supplier, getting out and taking a hands on interest.
14. Excellent location, excellent layout, best quality framing and trade work. Handpicking trades like I did.
15. The apartment complex was good. High profit. I supervised the whole thing. The more time you spend, more attention, the better the project, better outcome, profitability, satisfaction.
16. Designed our own the way we wanted, I watched closely and caught many things. I spent time on site every day. Full basement.

The three worst things that you did?

1. Hired an inexperienced concrete finisher, tried to do my own roof.
2. Hired a friend I felt like would pay for things that he did in the past. ( Drywall guy) not showing up, after I gave him money for materials. He spent it on his bills. He probably has Caller-ID because he never answered his phone when I called. I finally replaced him..
5. Not keeping up with the wiring part. That was more than I expected
6. Bugs like log homes. You have to treat the logs. Cedar is great, but very expensive. I built on a hill. Icy driveway. The trees keep the sun from melting off the driveway.
7. Hiring someone as a favor to someone, not spending as much on some things as I should have, like concrete, would develop specs next time.
8. Didn't finish the yard up, didn't doze off the back, screwed up the garage floors, they don't slope.
9. Started too early. Should have waited, they passed an impact fee for next year, and we beat it. Should have had more cash first. The function is perfect though.
10. Just design flaws, inadequate space too small rooms, I wouldn't use anybody I wasn't completely familiar with.
11. Painting myself. Blew a lot of money on excavation. Went over by double. Had 12-13 dump trucks of gravel. We went down three feet too many.
12. Should have planned better in advance, lining up subs and our spreadsheet. More detail oriented in advance. You are under the gun to figure out windows, for example, in two days. Some poor subcontractor choices. Better references.
13. Lack of real scheduling. Lack of prior planning, too many changes.
14. Stressed out and brought it home, lost my patience,
16. I should have made a written contract. Should have waited on moving from my old house.

What is a good way to get discounts on lumber?

1. Being recognized as a member of the association. You have access to other builders prices, and they know it. Go for service, quality.
5. Go talk to the dealer, and shop around
7. Buy in winter
9. Try to avoid using it. 2X4's for sill plate, and for windows and doors.
I drew the plans, an architect recertified them, and had to have a licensed builder. 2,800 South carolina, this beach required a licensed contractor. County rule, and there were codes. I bought all the materials. Did some of the sub contractors. I saved some money. The problem is the time it takes. If you have the time to run the subs down, get the materials, make sure they're going to be there. I spent 20-25 hours a week for 2-3 months on just that. House took seven months. We added a lot of stuff to the house. I saved $10-20 thousand, about 5% just on purchasing. We used southern pine lumber here. You used douglas fir out there, I'll bet. I used cypress on the inside, and for moldings. As paneling with cathedral ceiling paneling 1X6 V joint. Put one coat of Minwax on that. You upgrade more than otherwise, and you enjoy it more. Subs are undependable.e. You call them up and then call them late at night and wake them up and then up at 6:00 and call them again.

3/4" OSB over floor trusses. Plywood delaminates and warps. Use Hardiplank for roof. Cementitious. 5/8 plywood and then Hardiplank $110 a square. Forever. To get discounts on lumber, take it to four different places, and then go back and make them an offer. In a couple of week period. Make him an offer. Like the way you buy a car. Do it the dame for your gypsum, your roofing, millwork, doors, windows, if you've got the time. You've got to have a good take-off. Specify the brand of shingles, say, offer a little less. Get a salesman, then call him back. "That's all I got in the budget, can you do that." The industry has a lot of negotiating going on. Take the time. Most of our framing packages are 8-12% margin. Have them price it by item, and you do the extensions.

Big savings in doors and windows. That's where the margins are. Go with vinyl window. Composite door for exterior. Thermatru has one. Fiberglas is the one I like. That you can shop for in advance. Don't go just with price. Look at quality. Get the best you can. Don't use the wood windows. Vinyl is better. Lumber best time to buy is usually late fall. Or midsummer. There are market reports, but not always the best way to track. July is not bad. Or November. People want to get rid of some inventory. You can use my name, but don't identify my company.

Charlie Roberts - Lumberyards, Inc. Tucson, AZ - cost of lumber is the same for owners as builders in this market because it is so competitive. Tucson, AZ and $.85 per mile each way. We ship to Salt Lake all the time. On the long hauls we find an independent trucker for $1.25 one way. We may be right at your low price. Go to Denver, and 1,000 miles away. Fax your list of materials out, and ask everybody for a bid. And get the one you are most comfortable with, but you won't be able to return and get credit back.

The builder wants to keep preferred customer status with the lumberyard, wants his volume to be high. For that reason, he may be willing to place your order at his prices. Spiffing is an incentive program between yard and builder to increase the size of business from last year. Get trips to Las Vegas, tools, cash incentives, fools for free, gift certificates., and maybe lower prices. Sometimes the yard calls wholesale distributors on behalf of a contractor and says, I have this great customer, what can you do for him. On a specific. It pays to get on the phone, get out the yellow pages, if the yard bought at the right time, you can get a good bid, due to volatility. Less flatlining in the marketplace due to Canadian Lumber quotas, federal timber sales being taken off the market, and other things that make the market race and cool. Domestic producers who own their own stumpage, and that Canadian is subsidized by the crown, it's unfair competition. In B.C. for example, employment is number one, and they may subsidize sales to protect employment.

Waves of things like five percent duty, going on and off, unions in Canada going on strike, quota thing set unprecedented prices for wood products because it added $100 per thousand for every shipment above their allotment. This has raised lumber prices dramatically in specialty products especially. If you have a resale number, you can actually buy from a wholesaler. Or from a wholesale distribution center.

11. I went to them and said, I built one, this is my second, there will be more, give me a strong contractor's discount. Not a one time guy, talked to owner.
12. Don't know. Buy your package in one place. Not piecemeal.
13. Shopping. In our case, we paid more, and we got the best lumber, and incredible service. He put some stuff in his pickup when we ran out and rant them over. He talked me into TJI's.
14. Bid out four companies on it. All four will be close, but I spent $16,000 and had as low as $14,000. Took it to good guy, and they matched it. 84 Lumber.
15. Most have a scale for discounts, but by shopping around you could negotiate a better discount than you qualify for. If they see an opportunity to get your business that they might not get otherwise, they will give you the deal. You have to make serious inquiries about discounts. Volume helps a lot. Promptness in payment helps you negotiate better. That's a tool.
16. I didn't buy it. Wooden I beams in basement cost me $10,000.

How about cabinets?

1. There are a couple of companies who make knock-down cabinets in a box, and you glue it together and stain it and varnish it. Spray finish.
5. Go to the showrooms, and when they change out, you might buy them from them for 15% on the dollar.
6. Went to a store that had a sale on. Used to have a cabinet maker do that, and these were stock, with good fronts, but cardboard backs and sides, and they don't wear well. Get real wood inside and in back.
7. Stick with factory cabinet, and a kitchen where things fit, not too bizarre a design.
8. Shop
9. Close-outs.
Charlie Roberts on cabinets: I'd go to a cabinet shop that sold me what I wanted at my price. You can do it at the price of prefabs made out of plywood. Not custom. Watch for 1/8" end panels or backs, when should be 1/4 to 3/4 inch plywood. Custom out of a cabinet shop made locally to your specifications. Modular cabinet you get a box 24" and there are lots of difference in the cabinet. I recommend going to a couple of cabinet shops and get low priced customs. You can get them bid from long distance. Out to the most competitive markets. Ask for pricing. We have Riviera cabinets in our house. $10,000 for my house. I have cherry tone over alder. Just for kitchen. Not always is cheapest price the best deal. My philosophy is to treat people as I would like to be treated.

Visually inspect people's equipment and their operation. If they present a good picture, and they are truthful and keep their word, and how they offer recommendations, and decide how you are comfortable with them. Then do business with them.
11. Guy from Payson charged me only $5,500
12. Shop. Look at hardware, color consistency, guarantees.
13. Shopping. I found that the custom, independent guys are as cheap or as cheaper than stock cabinets. Home Depot was more expensive than this guy. Custom fit, hidden hinges, since we are going to paint them, he gave us MDF, and takes paint better than hardwood door. Half inch plywood boxes, and hardwood trim. No edges showing.
14. You could go custom and pay an arm and a leg. We found beautiful ones at Home Depot. Washed oak. Saved $2,000 beautiful. They get them from a mill that makes hundreds. I've never had a problem.
15. There's less opportunity here, there is so much labor involved. But back to lumber, you may feel you know and understand it, but something may be missing. If you buy a lot of products somewhere. If they think you are a run of the mill customer, they don't have much to gain by discussing discount with you. O-B's aren''t ideal because they run into problems, and don't pay on time. If you have your own money in the bank, you are different. You have to convince them of that.
16. I had two people quote me to make at $10,000. Went to Lowe's and Home Depot. Glass doors, paid $3,000 for it all. Doors are oak, shelving is veneered, spindles on top. And I can add or change at any time. I did most of the install.

Any problems with the inspector?

1. Only because sometimes I am at the edge of the envelope and have to educate them. Talk to them respectfully. They have a liability. They have a responsibility. Open communication. Acknowledge their role.
5. No
6. He helped me and showed me how to do things. Asked him questions every time he came out.
7. None
8. None
9. No.
12. Had a really good inspector. Both of us were there for him, and we had Jim Slider come over who knew the inspector, and he gave him his guarantee that we would have remaining items done and he gave us a certificate of occupancy in advance.
13. No, had a good time with all those guys. Occasionally got turned down, they had some good ideas. Add electrical boxes, had to have a special band around them. He explained to me the quick way to do it.
14. No. Maybe do a little bracing.
15. Things have tightened up, they scrutinize O-B more than general contractor deals. That's a drawback.
16. Tempered glass. He was very impressed with the electrical work, said it was the clean. Nice, straight, bundled together, way I bent it, it didn''t criss cross.

Where did you get good help and advice?

1. Homebuilders association. And visit early with the inspectors. Ask inspectors for good plumbers, electricians, etc..
5. Nowhere - I was in the lumber business.
6. Had a friend who was a builder and a carpenter, but he sometimes gave me bad advice. I went and found many decent general construction and handyman books. I watched other people working. ASk friends in the trades. But you have to be motivated, and have common sense.
7. From friends in the business, and other owner-builders. Watching other projects, and asking questions of people on the job. Sometimes a lender may know the good subs.
15. Best way to glean knowledge is to visit a lot of projects and talk to a lot of people. Watch and ask, It's free.
16. Banker. Contractor friend. I then wired his house. He got things for me at discount. Used his name to get price break on lighting.

What did you find to be the top five biggest expenses in the budget? How much, and how to cut back?

5. Cabinets, custom molding, normally the lumber is less than your labor. On a 3,000 sq foot house framing lumber would be about $3 a square foot. One thing if you don't have to go by the code, maybe you could use southern yellow pine. You probably used number 2 grade, you might use 2X10 might cost you $20. I could sell you one for $10 as a number 3.
6. Lumber, foundation, windows, cabinets, septic, and well.
7. Lumber for framing, framing labor, siding, sheetrock, flooring.
8. Windows, lumber package, HVAC, cabinets, flooring.
9. K-C panels walls and roof, basement concrete, energrid blocks, steel, HVAC, floor coverings, plumbing.
13. Decks, cabinetry, lumber, bathroom fixtures,
16. Framing, wood floors, plumbing, appliances,

Did you find a wide range in the prices you were bid for different things? What are some examples? (i.e. sheetrock $700 - $2,300 Framing $12,250 - $27,000)

1. Yes, there's always somebody trying to get in who is cheap, and that can hurt you, there's the guy who has work booked a year in advance, and his price reflects that, and there is the middle of the road guy. He should not allow you to back him down much in price, because he would have to cut corners. If he comes at you high and then comes down, you have to wonder about the character issue.
2. Don't necessarily take the low bidder.
7. Plumbing, one at $5,400 up to another bid at $9,200. You have to be careful of what they are including, and what level of quality each component is. Framing labor, concrete labor. Varied 30% I took the $5,400 but I had to do a few things to get it up to snuff. And he held me back in time on inspections.
9. On heat pump, I had one at $8,000 next were around $5,000. Concrete was same way, around $10,000 vs. $7,000 all licensed guys.
11. Cabinets $5,550 - $8,000 Sheetrock $3,000 vs. $5,500. Framing $8,000 vs. $13,000 But I paid a bit more for materials.
12. Carpeting. Sometimes you could get the same carpeting for a lot cheaper. We paid $22 with install and pad, but we heard from $18-35 or $40. Same density. The $18 wasn't as good, maybe. Whichever sub you are talking to, says you can skimp in other areas, but in his area, you couldn't skimp. Miniblinds - Cost around $2,000 to do whole house, plantations were double. Levolor is pricier, and has less paint.
13. Yes. The range, and interesting, even plumbing houses, one might have a good deal on toilets, but high on faucets. You have to mix and match.
14. Siding $4,500 vs. $9,000. A/c $6000, 9,000 , 10,000 for very same thing. Electrical $5,200 $8,000 $9,000 Took the $8,000 $5,200 not good references.
15. You find a wide range because there are those who don't want the job much. But if you see three of the same type of guys you have lost out. If you start to see the wide range you know you are getting somewhere. Guys with good reputations and plenty of work to do bid high.
16. Not really.

How big was your punch list? How much time did it take you to finish it out?

1. Not much. Fixtures, trim, that's all. We are still going along at our leisure.
6. We went gradually, live in one room til the next was finished.
7. Ten items. Three months.
8. Yes but not much
11. Much less than the first time. Only a couple of things. Water pressure adjustments.
12. There still is.
13. I didn't really have one, there is still some going on.
14. Not big. I made trades punch out for final check. Minor stuff I took care of.
15. With good attention to detail you don't have much. Because I was on the job, I had very little complaint by the time the job was finished.
16. Little things like finishing wallpapering.

Did you get a bad surprise on property taxes?

2. We have the basement to finish, but I'm not going to do that until after the assessor is done.
6. Not until it was finished. $900 now. Out in the boonies, and no paved road until three years ago.
7. No, I was in same neighborhood.
8. This year.
11. No.
12. They haven't refigured ours yet.
13. I knew what it would be.
14. Yeah. First year only land taxes. Florida $600-$700. Now it's $1,600 $1,700 We got CO in March and land taxes due in January. If you move in after January 1, you pay land only that year. Most counties go by the C.O. date. You are paying taxes on a livable shelter, so if they don't give you a C.O. it's not livable.
15. No, because, and this is changing. Assessments generally behind, not carefully done. Mine are lower than I expected. They are up to date on land, that's easy to do. On houses, they don't apparently get intimately involved with building departments who know true values. They have formulas based on the size of the house. They don't take into account the higher quality. They tend to go under what it is worth. They use averages, it's on the low end.
16. No, it wasn't bad.

What about utility costs?

6. Electric is $80 in the summer. Everything is electric here, but still.
7. Was more expensive to heat, because I didn't have as much passive solar with this wraparound porch design.
8. Not bad, had efficient equipment, good windows, good insulation.
11. It was okay.
12. Good.
13. Good surprise.
14. Heating was different than florida.
16. Good surprise.

They say that a marriage that survives building a house will survive anything. Any comments?

1. A couple of times, I got so mad at my wife, I walked home from the site, about three miles. We were renting a small apartment for the duration of construction, and I felt closed in by the whole process.
7. True.
8. Not as bad as having five kids.
9. Don't know how to deal with it, don't sweat the small stuff. Try to divide the tasks. In that area, you are boss.
11. We got married in spite of having done it together. You lose site of the big picture because the house seems all encompassing. You need to shake hands in the beginning and say "No matter what, let's be friends at the end." Shannon wanted to go out with friends, I needed her.
12. Pick your battles and learn to cooperate. Divide the tasks and accept the other person's work.
13. It worked okay, she made selections of color and such, we were engaged. Relaxed attitude makes that work.
14. It's true. Will stress you out. Hopefully they'll stand behind.
15. It's not so hard on the marriage, more on individuals. It's a joint venture, you work together, and get closer. Being a policeman is hard on a marriage.
16. I agree with that 100%. I was getting pretty mean because I was aggravated. I did all the running around.

Other Suggestions?

Get Certificates showing that they have workman's comp, and an insurance bond against unworkmanlike performance, and tax papers. Check the Better Business, check references, go see their work - on your own, speak to the people, get for all the mechanicals and all of the subs. Kevin Kelly, NH (603) 742- 5243 and same number fax. I had problems with framer and roofer, and had to eat the costs. It was difficult for me to be on-site because it cost me about $500 in productivity when I was away and not supervising my office workers. March 28, 1997.
14. If you want to do some of your own air conditioning work, you should know that three years ago, there was a problem perceived with the depletion of the ozone layer. You have to be certified if you work with this. Has to be taken in front of a proctor. It's a gimmick. You get a book through ACACA American Contractors Air Conditioning Association. 35 page book, read for 45 minutes and you will pass. e.g. "What was the first refrigerator gas used in 1940?" "How do you dispose of freon canisters once they are empty?": a. blow up b. throw in dump c. release pressure and take to a metal recycler. Answer is C... I could take the test. They may not let you buy air conditioning units because they are charged with freon. Wiegold Air Conditioning. In Naples Florida was dedicated to service. You get a unit installed, and you call with a noise, they will be there that day to answer your concerns. 113 Bennington Way Greer So. Carolina 29650.

To set up with a wholesaler, the state may require them to only sell to licensed contractors. You can at least buy at list price, though, because they ignore it. They will sell to you at about contractor prices, and you say you need a price quote on the following items. They ask if you have an account set up and you just say you'll pay cash. Just say you are building a house. Counter people. I deal with the salesmen on the lumber packages. They do the take offs. I have the plumber and the electrician and HVAC guy give me a material list. They don't object. You pick one who is good at their trade. No beginners and trainees. Go to a small contractor, usually owners and individuals. I say, forget it, and you just want labor only, you are getting wholesale plumbing prices. They like not having to come up with the money to buy materials anyway.

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