GUESS WHAT!?! WE FINALLY CLOSED ON THE JENNY-MIKE HOUSE!!! WOO-HOO!! It’s only 6 months late! But more importantly IT IS FINISHED!
To be honest with you, it has been THE most trying project to date. I am so so so thankful to have it done and behind me. I learned a tremendous amount in this process and I really want to share it with you in hopes that you can learn from my mistakes in choosing a general contractor and ultimately not make them yourself! In the end I am happy with my creation, because it is just that. My Creation! It just took way too much blood, sweat and tears (not to mention WAY MORE MONEY THAN DESERVED) to get here. I know that the process could’ve been made PROFOUNDLY easier, had I taken the following steps prior to the breaking of ground. Hopefully, what I have learned, I can help my future clients avoid! So there’s my “half-full” attitude!!
How To Choose A Contractor
The way I see it you have two options when choosing a general contractor…
Your first, and of course, most preferable option is one of the Tom Selleck variety. Tom is what I will refer to throughout this post as the more positive side of your options as far as a general contractor. Doesn’t he look easy to get along with, and more importantly, trustworthy and professional? Truth be told, I picked Tom Selleck, because he sort of reminds me of my favorite General Contractor ever! Paul West is in Midland Texas. I love Paul like a father. He is the best at what he does. Only aiming to please his costumer in his custom work. More on “Tom” in a minute.
Stilwell Angel. Remember Stilwell Angel (as his mother called him) from the movie “A League Of Their Own”? The consummate brat. Only thinking of himself and only controlled by chocolate bars, he was the character you wanted to discipline. You cheered when Madonna chased him out of the bus with a baseball bat! Well, unfortunately, Stilwell Angel, all too often, physically grows up, but never mentally does.
We’ve all had to deal with adult children at some point in our lives. Dealing with adult children is, I’m afraid, to be expected in life. The situation, however, is quickly escalated to AWFUL when you not only have to deal with Stilwell as an adult, you also have to pay Stilwell. Trust me, by the end, you are almost willing to pay WHATEVER amount JUST to rid yourself of this “adult Stilwell”. So, How can you do everything in your power from having to work with Stilwell?
Of course, these are over-generalizations, but I believe it is helpful in expressing to you the stress that could be knocking on your front door if you don’t take the preliminary steps seriously. Also, I’d like to say that just for easy reading purposes I will recall to the potential general contractor in the masculine person. Hope West is Paul’s daughter and was his sidekick. She was probably more in charge of my personal project than Paul was. I love them both so much! So let’s dig in!
Step 1 – Asking around
You’ve decided to build a house and you are super excited and eager to get started! The first thing you need to internalize is DO NOT GET IN A HURRY! If you are absolutely needing a house by a deadline, do not build. You will always regret a hurried custom build. It always takes longer than expected, but more importantly rushing through the selection of your general contractor could potentially heap mounds of stress on your shoulders in the end that no time is worth.
But, let’s pretend for the purposes of this post, that you are prepared to take your time and do it right and you are ready to find a general. Ask all of your friends, colleagues, clients, employers, employees and anyone whose home you admire. Ask how their process went. How much stress was personally involved for them? How much input did they have in the process/finish-out of the home? Find out what the going rate per square foot is in your area.
I know some of these questions may seem quite redundant, however, unfortunately some builders call themselves “custom” home builders, and may even have the word “Custom” in their title, but when the rubber meets the road, they are in fact NOT custom home builders. In the end this kind of general could end up costing you more than the best and most respected general contractor in your area. Again ask LOTS of questions. It’s worth the time and effort on the front side of your project.
I personally have found just a few short conversations can QUICKLY narrow down your contractor search and save loads of heartache.
Step 2 - On-Site Visits
Let’s assume, after asking around, you’ve narrowed your selection of General Contractors. The next step toward determining which contractor you will ultimately choose, is to contact these contractors and ask to see a few of their builds.
Seeing more than one is important, because in seeing 3 or 4 you can quickly get a sense of just how “custom” this particular contractor is.
The “Cookie Cutter” is the opposite of “Custom”
If, for instance the homes you see are very similar in finish out, such as the same cabinets, tile, trim, doors, rock, brick, windows and even similar floor plans (the Cookie Cutter), there is a good chance this contractor is not, after all, so custom. This is a red flag for sure. Now, you may really like the way these homes look and feel you would be more than pleased to have a home that strongly resembles these. In which case, strongly consider the amount per square foot this contractor is suggesting and line it up with what you are willing to pay for a home that is not as unique as a true custom home. This is, of course a personal preference and in the end there is no hard and fast right or wrong but more a test to determine what you, personally, will feel good about upon completion of your project.
Step 3 - Satisfaction Guaranteed
This is where you do all you can to find out if your potential contractor leans more toward a “Tom Selleck” Type of personality or a “Stilwell”. Now remember, when the contractor gives you references, they are (as anyone would) going to send you in the direction of their most satisfied customer.
Perhaps their best-friend, Mother-In-Law, God-Parent… Anyone who will ONLY sing their praises. This is natural. I would never tell anyone they could learn all they wanted about me by calling Fill In The Blank (My worst enemy). This is why Step 1 is so very vital. However, sometimes step 1 is not all that possible. For instance, if you are new in the town and you wish to build. Perhaps you don’t know many people yet, and therefore don’t have a large pool of people to choose from when it comes to local builder info.
There are other precautionary measures that you can take. Google the builder! In this day and age, if someone had trouble with a contractor, you could potentially find evidence online fairly easily.
However, even better than just doing a name search, go to your local “Better Business Bureau” chapter.
If a builder is certified with the BBB (and they should be) you can find out quickly if there are any existing complaints concerning them or their company. I will never use a contractor, again, that has even one negative complaint. If the contractor practices good customer service, there is very little room for such a complaint.
Step 4 - Interview
Finally, interview the contractor, yourself. You can find out so much about a person just through conversation. It’s easy to pick up on behaviors that may demonstrate a lack of integrity. Say for instance, he wants to meet with you in a grocery store parking lot to discuss your building plans. Meanwhile his wife “just happens” to drive by to check on his whereabouts during said meeting. This should raise a red flag regarding integrity.
Things to remember in your meeting:
If the contractor uses an abundance of “I’s” in your initial meeting, in what can only be described as him attempting to repeatedly “toot his own horn”, he more than likely leans more toward a “Stilwell” personality type than a “Tom”. RUN AWAY. This type of person is ultimately too selfish and narcissistic (as children can be) to assume any responsibility at “the end of the day” and should be discarded as a finalist in your search.
Does he seem to be a good listener? If you find that he is often interrupting you rather than hearing your sentences to the end, I can assure you, this behavior will only get worse. It’s also very hard to give any input in a true “custom” build, if the contractor doesn’t ever listen to you. In the end, you will be kicking yourself for choosing “Stilwell” because your custom build will quickly become a full-time job and not an enjoyable one. Imagine a job in which your employees didn’t listen to a single thing you asked of them?
Trust me when I say, YOU WILL BE PULLING YOUR HAIR OUT BY THE END!!
Step 5 - The Contract
When your contractor has met all of the above criteria, and a contract is drawn up, I suggest as much detail per room as possible. For instance; flooring, walls (paint, wall-paper, etc), hardware in bathrooms, lighting in each room, ceiling design, etc. This will eliminate a lot of frustration for you and the contractor. That being said, I firmly believe that if you follow the previous steps and he has made it to this point, “Tom”, more than likely, possesses the integrity to do what he verbally says, he will do within the agreed-upon price per square foot. Stilwell, On the other hand, will change his verbal agreement to suit him as often as he sees fit. And remember! If you try to argue with “Stilwell-Angel”, you risk hurting his feelings and having to endure his temper-tantrums.
It’s simply and literally not worth it.
Notice things such as who will be responsible for closing expenses. The title insurance (which is a substantial amount), is typically the responsibility of the seller rather than the buyer. And if your general contractor has made it to this point, he is a “Tom” and Tom’s typically compose a fair contract. In my area, I have learned there are only 2 builders who expect the buyer to incur the costs of the title insurance. So it seems a fairly uncommon phenomenon, but seems to prove true to character.
So, here’s where my dealings with said contractor end. PRAISE THE LORD!! Now, I will look to what lies ahead! Please, stay tuned! I CAN’T WAIT to show you what I’ve got cooking (literally and figuratively) inside the Jenny-Mike house! Soon! Very Soon!