Why pay a contractor? – Build your own home
You’ve heard the stories before…
- The contractor made 100 grand on the job and I never saw him!
- The job took a year longer than planned…
- The job cost twice as much as the original budget…Where are my sub contractors?
Why not cut out the contractor and keep all the money for yourself? Good idea but can you handle the truth
One of the primary jobs of the general contractor (GC) or homebuilder is to manage the sub contractors. A sub contractor (see partial list below) is defined as someone who contracts with the GC – like a plumber – while the general contractor contracts with the owner. Therefore, the GC’s contract with the owner is the main contract and the GC’s contract with the plumber is a “sub” contract. A typical custom home can easily have over 100 sub contractors, and one of the primary jobs of a contractor is to oversee all of these independent businesses.
So what makes a good homebuilder?
A good homebuilder has strong relationships with sub contractors and suppliers that may have evolved over many years. That relationship involves a level of trust, understanding and expectation. Have you ever hired someone for any kind of work? It takes a while to figure out that person’s strengths and weaknesses. The same is true for homebuilders. Managing multiple sub contractors means coordinating the schedule, overseeing the proper materials and installation, contracting, and paying each sub contractor.
Sure, a “non-professional” can hire sub contractors and buy materials but it’s going to be harder for someone to comprehend all the aspects of the construction process the same way a professional does.
I could probably learn how to do brain surgery too! But I’m not sure you would want to be my first patient!!!
According to Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to reach the level of expert.
- Expert – 10,000 hours – that means 250 weeks @ 40 hours or 5 years.
- Technician – 5,000 hours to be very accomplished
- Advanced – 2,000 hours you become pretty good
- Layperson – has little or no practice in a field
And we are not just talking about expertise in hundreds of different construction trades and techniques, but also the Building Code, local rules and regulations, human relations, management, legal issues, safety, and political savvy.
Flow of work
Ever hear of a construction job that took longer than it was supposed to?? Unfortunately it seems to be the practice not the exception.. Did you see the movie “The Money Pit” (a must see if you haven’t!)? “Two weeks” is the answer to every question about how long it will take. Obviously, some smarmy contractors are at fault here. However, the client also has a responsibility to bear. The number one reason jobs slow down (assuming an attentive and professional builder is running them) is lack of appropriate information. The plans aren’t specified properly. The owner hasn’t finalized a decision.
When the flow of work is mismanaged or changed, it can have a devastating effect on a job. The longer a job takes the more it costs – interest cost, overhead and rental costs to name a few. A well run job requires a good “helmsman” steering the way. Changes are inevitable in a custom home but the fewer the better. Good planning helps a huge amount, but when there is a change, the contractor needs to steer the appropriate change through design, permitting (if necessary), pricing, scheduling and execution to get the job back on track.
Sub contractors work differently than general contractors and it is important to understand this relationship. A sub may have 5, 10 or 20 jobs going on at a time and if a job changes or isn’t ready when the sub is told to be there, it wastes time (time is money) for the sub. Inexperienced contractors fall into the trap of not having the job prepared or the appropriate specifications or materials available.
In addition to overseeing the flow of work, a good contractor has a solid understanding of all phases of construction and (hopefully) design. The contractor needs to know everything from what makes a good foundation installation – items such as clearance to rebar – to the particular type and quality of a piece of wood – quarter sawn, rift cut, hard or soft. What makes a quality tile installation or retaining wall waterproofing system. The practices change in different parts of the country and different climates.
The contractor must understand the ever-changing building codes and regulations. He also needs to maintain a safe job site and insure all sub contractors follow the same practices.
Certainly building a home is not brain surgery, but just like every other profession, it looks easier than it is. If you want to take on building your own home there are many good books available to help you get started. In addition, research other ways to build such as getting the assistance of a builder as a consultant or hiring an experienced building supervisor. Whichever way you go – learn what you can ahead of time. Even if you hire a contractor, you will still be heavily involved and making 1,000’s of decisions to get the custom home you want.
Partial List of Sub Contractors
- Asbestos Abatement
- Backhoe and Bobcat
- Bee’s Nest Removal
- Chimney Sweep
- Concrete Resurfacing
- Concrete Coring
- Concrete Pilings
- Concrete Retaining Walls
- Framing Carpentry
- Finish Carpentry
- Fireplace Masonry
- Fire Sprinkler
- Garage Doors
- Handyman – Repair
- Hardwood Flooring
- HVAC – Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning
- Hot Tubs
- Interior Design
- Spray Foam
- Kitchen Design
- Lab Testing – Mold Testing
- Landscape Maintenance
- Landscape – Tree Service
- Lumber Supplier
- Low Voltage
- Audio Visual
- House Control Systems
- Moving and Storage
- Native American Monitor
- Oil Tanks
- Painting – Decorative
- Pest Removal
- Radon Gas
- Retaining Walls
- Roof Trusses
- Seismic Retrofitting
- Sheet Metal
- Specialty Items
- Secret Rooms
- Wine Cellars
- Solar Electric
- Solar Thermal
- Stone Fabricators
- Trash and Hauling
- Windows and Door Supply