Being Your Own Contractor
Are you tired or your cramped, dark kitchen? Has your bathroom seen better days? Do you need an extra bedroom or more space? When it comes to getting what you want do you automatically hire a contractor or are you toying with the idea of doing the work yourself and acting as your own contractor?
You really aren’t required to hire a contractor to make improvements to your own property. The law allows you to do it yourself. However, keep in mind that every community has its own set of rules regarding owner-builders. For example, we know of one community that doesn’t allow owner-builders to do their own electrical work. In this community a licensed electrical contractor must do the work. For specifics, you should check with your local building department or permit office before hanging your construction company shingle out in front of your home.
As an owner-builder you may not need to have a contractor’s license, but you are expected to get a building permit where required and to comply with all applicable building codes and ordinances. Many people believe that getting a building permit is like sending an engraved invitation to the tax assessor. In reality, if an assessment is made, it is usually on the improvements and NOT an assessment of your entire property. In addition, the usually small assessment is a FRACTION of what most people would otherwise pay in increased property taxes should they elect to move rather than improve.
Our experience as builders for nearly thirty years is that a building inspector can prove to be your closest ally. Remember: the cheapest correction cost is the one that is found BEFORE the project is complete – not AFTER. Bear in mind that a building inspector is NOT a job supervisor. His job is to make sure that the work performed meets minimum building code. We like to consider the building inspector as a quality control manager. We have saved thousands over the years as a result of building official assistance.
The building inspector is there to insure that the structure is safe and sound — not only for you and your family, but for your neighbors and your community. This may be of particular importance to you when it is your neighbor who is doing the remodel. It also is essential to note that a project can be dismantled later if it is found that a permit was not issued for the work. The discovery of this condition often occurs when a pre-sale home inspection is performed. Yikes!
In reality, being your own remodeling contractor can be a truly exciting and gratifying experience. As an owner-builder you are guaranteed complete control over every aspect of your project and exactly how it will be built – right down to the very last detail. As the contractor you decide on construction methods, materials, assembly techniques, project scheduling, budget management, hiring and firing, payroll, pickups and deliveries, safety meetings and equipment – you name it. You get to be in charge of exactly what’s going on every single moment – every step of the way.
By the same token, as the contractor, there is no one else to blame when things go wrong. When you become your own contractor you must instantly assume several important responsibilities. Many that you might not know existed. For example: when it comes to injury claims, you might well be treated as an employer. When someone is injured while working on your property you ultimately may be held responsible. Have you looked into the worker’s compensation laws in your state lately? Check your homeowner’s insurance policy and consult your insurance agent and be certain that you have the proper coverage and plenty of it.
We aren’t trying to frighten you. Millions of home improvements have been successfully performed by owner-builders. We of all people truly know about the especially satisfying feeling associated with – “doing it yourself.” We simply want to make sure that you are aware of the responsibilities that accompany the task. Only then, as an informed consumer, can you weigh your potential for risk against your potential for return.
Successful owner-builders generally have an abnormally strong desire to save money. They thrive on what others consider difficult challenges. And they are known to revel in the recognition that follows. One couple even admitted to us that they felt that as owner-builders they had become one with their home. Possible financial rewards coupled with the pleasure of personal involvement are achievements that should not cloud an owner-builder’s normally good judgment.
There are questions that must be answered before calculating how much money you will actually save by doing it yourself. Time off work means lost wages. Not knowing which subcontractor is responsible for what portion of which task can put the project on a collision course with failure. And what if one of the subcontractors you hire accidentally causes a fire? The experts say that an owner-builder can expect to save about ten-percent of the construction cost. This considers the cost to repair mistakes that are normally made by a novice and lost wages (figured at $10 per hour). The greater your personal earning power the less potential for profit.
Plan to spend lots of time off work. And keep in mind that time off work means lost income. The down side is that you may have to take more time off than you expected. So, how much time does it really take to manage a home improvement? We don’t think that anyone knows exactly. But the answer “full time” has always worked for us. A well organized remodeling contractor will assign one or more management employees – all with varying degrees of management authority – to each project contracted.
Also, know when more than one trade is needed to complete a task. For example: a central, gas-fired furnace is installed by four contractors. A plumber installs the gas line, an electrician provides power to the unit and the heating contractor does the ducting and installs the furnace. Who do you think installs the thermostat line? Even though it is an electric connection, the heating contractor usually runs the thermostat wire. And who do you think cuts through the floor for the heat register locations? You got it. Contractor number four – the carpenter. Will a heating contractor do it all? Sometimes yes, sometimes not. These are the kinds of questions that you need to ask every person who will work on your project.
The best advice that we can offer anyone who is considering acting as an owner-builder is to do as much advance research as possible by reading one or more of the excellent books available on the subject. In addition, talk with people who have done it themselves for some first-hand feedback. Only then will you be able to determine whether you should replace the Blackberry on your hip for a tape measure.
For more home improvement tips and information search our website or call our listener line any time at 1-800-737-2474! All you need to do is leave your name, telephone number and your question.