Go To Planshouse Home Page

Products guide, homebuilding advice & houseplans.

Home Search thousands of house plans Best Selling house plans House plans - our editors' picks Building Products Guide Homebuilding Tips & How-To Advice About Planshouse.com
HOME Homebuilding Tips Getting Ready To Build

Eight tips on serving as your own contractor

Issues to consider before diving into the contracting pool

Acting as the contractor on your own home can be an effective method for lowering costs and assuring quality. But beware--the unsuspecting and unprepared may wind up enduring long delays, mounting expenses and sleepless nights. Here are eight issues to consider before diving into the contracting pool.

acting as your own contractor

Whether or not you have the time to do your own contracting should be your first, and most important, consideration. "Being your own contractor is a full-time job," states Brad Johnson, president of the Minnesota Society of the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD). "If you don't have the time for it, don't do it." Being a contractor involves duties like gathering bids and proposals, contacting subcontractors, working with financial institutions and developing detailed work schedules. Tom Montgomery, president of Plan-It Consulting, a Minneapolis-based company that specializes in consulting building companies, states that "there are roughly 30 to 40 different home-building categories that require subcontractors. The contractor will have to get three or four bids from subcontractors for each separate category. It takes a lot of time."

It helps if you've got the kind of job that allows the flexibility to maneuver your schedule, since you may be called away to the job site at any time, or have to meet with subs or inspectors during the day. If you don't--if you're stuck at work from nine to five Monday through Friday--you can expect to spend your evenings and weekends doing your contracting work.

Timing is another vital factor. The delicate coordination and scheduling of jobs is perhaps the predominant function of a contractor. One subcontractor's work will often need to be finished and inspected before the next subcontractor can begin his or her part of the job. Or a portion of one sub's work will have to be completed before another sub can then do their part--the two may play this little subcontracting chess game all the way to inspection day. It's the role of the contractor to make sure that the timing throughout the building process is appropriate and that deadlines are met. One poorly planned step can send your project careening down some tangled and troublesome path, and it may take weeks to recover.

To manage the timing of the various--often overlapping--projects, Johnson recommends charting them in detail. You can mold the mayhem into a more logical, understandable process by making a list of every contracting task and every subcontractor, and creating a clear timeline and completion date for each function. Organize everything as thoroughly as you can and you'll be rewarded with a building project that cruises along as peacefully as possible from start to finish.

One advantage an experienced contractor has is that he/she has probably been around the business long enough to know who (and who not) to trust. If you're a contracting neophyte, you have several resources at your disposal, the first of which should be the subcontractors themselves. Each subcontractor should be able to readily provide a list of referrals. If they're unable to do so, you may want to eliminate them from consideration. Do yourself a favor and investigate the referrals given. Other useful resources include the Better Business Bureau, your local Builder's Association and various trade associations.

A further advantage that an experienced contractor may have over the beginner is in understanding quality. An experienced contractor will not only understand the nuances of the contracting process but will also be able to judge the quality of workmanship being done by the subcontractors. All subcontractors, you'll find, are not created equal. Some are used to doing their work for relatively low-cost builders; the quality of their work, as a result, can be lower. Other subs, however, work for higher-priced builders, and the quality of their work (as well as their price tag) will reflect it. Understanding quality is knowing whether a sub's framing techniques are sound, or whether the placement of outlets in a room is ergonomically wise, and so on. If you're not sure of your ability to recognize quality, start seeking knowledge and information wherever you can. Which leads us directly to tip number six.

The more you educate yourself about contracting, the contracting process and the world of home building, the better off you'll be. Your pursuit of knowledge should include talking to experienced folks in the building industry, as well as making several trips to the library or bookstore. There are many books and guides designed to ease your way through the contracting process. Some of the information you'll find helpful, some you won't. But at this point, remember: you're looking for any useful advice you can possibly find, so read as much as possible.

As, most likely, a tiny voice in the building world, you may sometimes find it difficult to get the undivided attention of your subs. It's quite possible that they have bigger builders demanding their time (they, too, have financial considerations).

So how do you get the most out of your subs? "Be persistent with them," Johnson advises. "Use whatever leverage you have." Being persistent with your subcontractors lets them know that you're focused on your project and that you're expecting them to be focused on it, too. Patience is also a home-building virtue, and in the construction world it's often a virtue that's forced upon us, not chosen. It's rare for a project to go from start to finish without a glitch or delay. "In a perfect world," Montgomery states, "a home can be built in six weeks. On average, though, it takes about ten weeks. In a worst-case scenario, it could be anywhere from twelve to fifteen weeks."

At the very least, patience will help you control your blood pressure (not to mention your sanity) throughout the construction process.

Not quite enough time for contracting your own home? Not yet comfortable with the whole process? There is a middle ground for those of you who don't want to shoulder all of the work and responsibility that's involved, but still desire the emotional and monetary rewards of being intimately involved in building your own home.

A "construction consultant" is someone who guides you through the process. If you're somewhat unfamiliar with the building process, a construction consultant may be just the thing for you. Knowing whether or not a bid is unreasonably high, workmanship is satisfactory or the time allocated for completing a job is too short are areas where an experienced contractor can provide a great benefit to a less experienced one. Using a consultant is also far less expensive than a full-time general contractor.

So what can contracting your own home do for you? It may result in savings of up to 20% of the cost of your home. However, Montgomery recommends looking with caution at such numbers. "If you're just doing it to save money, chances are you won't. The industry will beat you up." Unless you're committed to thoroughly learning the industry and its labyrinthine ways, you may be unable to avoid the many snares and trap doors that exist. On the positive side, though, is the pure satisfaction of overseeing the building of your very own home--perhaps your most prized and personal possession. With a little homework, you can make sure it's the high-quality, low-cost home you've always dreamed of.

House Plans Home Page Search thousands of house plans Best Selling house plans Editor's picks for house plans Building Products House plan and homebuilding how-to About Planshouse

Here at Planshouse.com, we live and play in the Eastern mountains of the U.S. and Canada. We like interesting building products and fine furnishings. The sites we publish reflect these passions:

Furniture reviews and a directory of furniture manufacturers and suppliers - FurniturePlanners.com A guide to Eastern campgrounds, parks and ski resorts - EasternTrails.com The Building Products Guide - Reviews, supplier listings & buying guides.
Copyright 2002 - 2009, Ken & Deb Holmes.   All Rights Reserved.