My buddy knew the deal for the house was a good one and never hesitated when deciding to put an offer in on the house.
He did just that.
I wrote the offer up along with the contract for doing all the demolition, construction and remodeling work.
The documents were clear, and concise in addition to being easy to understand.
I called the owner’s son-in-law to inform him that the purchase agreement would be sent overnight in the mail. I asked him to get back to me as soon as possible after reviewing them with his attorney. He understood that we were dealing with a tight time line.
My buddy put the purchase agreements in the mail. It was a setback to learn that there was no Saturday delivery in the rural area where the owner lived. We had intended on starting the demolition process early Saturday morning in order to the completion of the project before I left on my annual two week hunting trip.
When I spoke to the Son- In –Law about no Saturday delivery in his area, he wasn’t surprised.
I explained that the delay could cause an extra month or better to the closing of the house. He knew that we had structured the purchase agreement in such a way that the remodeling would be done before any mortgage company issued a mortgage on the property. The house was inhabitable due to its condition. It would never pass code inspections or any mortgage appraisal necessary to secure financing.
I had read him the purchase agreement word-for-word and informed him that it was signed with a check for the earnest money enclosed and on its way.
He had already obtained his mother-in-law’s agreement to the terms and sale price on Friday night. She was so elated that I had bought the house and was going to refurbish and resell to someone whom she knew used to live in the neighborhood.
All I needed was the keys to get in the house and start the demo. Every day was critical.
When I plan a house renovation project my estimates have to be accurate and my schedules right on the money. This keeps the project moving forward, and on budget.
I pride myself for doing projects on time on budget. I am well known as an honest straightforward person who keeps his word. My word and a handshake is a contract to me.
No exceptions. None!
David, the son-in-law knew this and said, “Dusty, I know and trust you! I gave the lady across the street from the house a set of keys as she has been keeping an eye on the place. I’ll arrange for her to give you the keys so you can get in right away.”
I called my buddy and my business partner in the construction business and told them we would start the project Saturday morning at 8:00 am sharp.
I didn’t sleep well the night before we were to start the project. Even though I have done several of these projects I still get both excited and nervous. I always wonder what I have inadvertently left out in my bid or what unplanned expenses I will find awaiting me as I get into this project. It’s inevitable and expected.
The trick is to be as prepared as possible for them with a contingency fund that allows for the unexpected. The other key to dealing with this is to determine what needs to be done, put a plan in place as soon as you can, then move on.
It’s a matter of taking control and not letting the problem control me. Often, those who are new to remodeling, or doing their own project, let themselves become overwhelmed or discouraged and the end result is a derailed or greatly extended project. Frustration seems to do more to derail projects than anything else, including money issues which are a large factor.
Often I’ve found that a lack of support and good information, or simply being in over ones head without having the required resources is another barrier to finishing a project on time and within budget. Sometimes, all that is required is to ask the right questions of the right people but pride frequently gets in the way.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help; in fact it is honorable. None of us can know everything, or are born with the skills to do the tasks which others spend years perfecting.
I have found that that through networking or simply asking, reading, researching or observing someone else do something, I often go away thinking, “ I can do that”.
For the most part, most people are very helpful. Just ask. There seems to be a little teacher in all of us.
If the person you ask isn’t forthcoming, don’t stress. Just move on; someone else will be glad to help.
Long ago I realized that I would never live long enough to make all the mistakes and learn all the trades. However, that doesn’t stop me from learning something new every day and on every project.
I am a visual, hands-on learner. For me, this is the best way to learn; to watch and take part. Hands on, if you will.
Once I have tried a task, I like to read more about it. By doing this, I learn shortcuts, tricks, and hints from the advice people have to offer. I am then able to apply what I have learned, add what seems to fit or make sense from the things that I have culled from others and simply discard the rest of the information I find less helpful. It really is that simple.
My two helpers showed up early, I could almost feel the excitement of getting the project started. We stopped to eat breakfast. I took the time to do an overview of the project. I also composed a list of tools that that I needed to be taken to the house.
Several years ago some friends got together and bought me a little red wagon as a “gag” gift for my birthday. They always said I was like a kid in a sand box when I was in my shop or working on a house project.
I promptly put the wagon to use as my “mobile” tool carrier. In later years I used it in for taking my elderly male basset hound on daily walks. His bad arthritic hips kept him from making it under his own steam.
The sight of me pulling one basset hound in the wagon while walking two others was an open introduction to meet many of my neighbors. I was referred to as the “basset hound brigade”. It seemed every one had to come out to the street and bring the dogs a treat.
I often wondered if my male basset hound just wanting treats simply figured out the soft spots of humans and was coning us all about his hip. He was, after all, a smart dog.
I have some simple but rigid rules that I follow when I do a remodeling project. I have learned a number of these the hard way. They say experience is the best teacher.
Boy, they weren’t kidding.
I find one area of the house that I can use as a staging area for all my tools. The rule is simple. When you need a tool you go get it from that area and only that area. When done you return it to that area.
This way, everyone knows where the tools are and if they aren’t there then someone is using them. It also makes it easy at the end of the day to take a quick visual inventory to see that all the tools are back.
It is very easy when doing demolition work, or when amongst the chaotic atmosphere of construction, for someone else pick up one of your tools thinking that it was theirs.
Consequently, I developed another rule, I spray paint every tool I have my “color” which is a very bright florescent pink. That allows me to easily identify my tools and keep them distinct from any other subcontractors who might be sharing the job site with me.
It is amazing how few tools went missing after I started doing this. Funny how others don’t find hot pink to be their color of choice. Works for me! I could care less about the color I’m more concerned about my tools remaining with me and being around when I need them.
I have also learned to bring only what I will use and need. Granted, this list has become very extensive and I have been fortunate over the years to be able to buy and assemble a compete set of tools only to be used on off site projects. None of my main shop tools are allowed off site.
This rule grew out of the frustration of going to use a tool in my shop only to find it missing or it dull, sometimes broken from the abuse they are subjected to on the job site.
We arrive at the job site and quickly do a visual overview of what needs to be done and who’s going to be responsible for what.
Even though in this case the homeowner a journeyman electrician is going to be helping with all phases, it’s important that he’s on same page as us. I always make it clear in advance who is in charge of what part of the project. When we get to the electrical work then I follow his lead.
Someone has to take responsibly for each phase of the project. Without this clearly spelled out and understood, I have found the project is subject to the high likelihood of costly mistakes. In addition, it’s a prescription for lost time.
In construction and remolding there is an order in which things need to be complete. Any deviation or departure from this can have a major ripple effect on the project.
One truth that I have come to know and understand well is, lost time will not be made up, it’s lost forever.
This becomes very important when the crunch-time comes such as when closing or inspections are set up and the work isn’t done to meet these deadlines. Where this can really hurt is when a subcontractor is scheduled but an earlier delay means the site is not ready. More often than not, the ripple effect is enormous because the contractor has other clients and appointments that have to be keep and rescheduling becomes a real nightmare. There is nothing more frustrating that to be at a dead stop with the project waiting for another subcontractor or inspector because of something done or not done that could have prevented this from occurring.
Of course, these things are going to happen. The trick is to look ahead and anticipate what needs to be done, keeping a watchful eye on the schedule and adjusting when you can.
There is a simple name for all this – organization!
It’s a matter of experience, it’s a skill learned over time. It is essential to stay within budget and on time. It’s the biggest contributor to the bottom line.
In this era of and harsh competition, it is very easy for a good job to go “south” in a hurry. Regardless whether the work is done to earn living or by a owner/builder working on his own home, time is money. It is important to keep the project moving forward. So many projects never get finished because of costly mistakes, loss of interest, frustration, or lack of funds. Most all of this is preventable.
Having a realistic schedule is important. Staying on schedule and moving forward will assure that one stays interested in the project. It seems that if one start letting up, before long the project just starts dragging. In turn, this usually leads to a loss of enthusiasm. Other priorities seem to take president, and the conclusion of the project is interminably delayed.
The plan of attack was to start demolition in the basement. The existing bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom were a disaster. They were not built to code. They were crumbling or rotting and mold was present. The rooms were well over forty years old and had outlived their useful life.
The simplest solution was to demolish all these rooms and take everything back to the bare walls.
We began in the back bedrooms that were in the basement. The walls that separated the rooms were only two by two’s. The wiring was inadequate. Mold was everywhere and the rooms were small and dark.
The new plan was to demolish the basement and to build back only one legal bedroom with an egress window and closet along with a new three quarter bathroom. The other area simply would be closed off until some day when the budget allowed for finishing off some sort of family or recreation room.
The utility room had to be rebuilt replacing the plumbing with a complete new electrical service installed.
This was in the budget and part of the plan. These items were a large part of the approximately twenty eight thousand dollars set aside for this remodeling project.
The heating system was one variable that had not been determined. We could not fully access our needs until the basement demolition work was completed. The existing heat system was hot water heat with a newer boiler that had been installed less than ten years earlier, and had seen limited use. We were unsure what condition the pipes and radiators were in and until the demo was completed we couldn’t make a final decision.
This was one of the budget considerations for which contingencies had been set aside. From the beginning, I was convinced that the whole system would have to be replaced. One compelling reason for this was the fact that the homeowner wanted central air conditioning. The cost of adding a unit from top down was more money than to replace the heating system with forced air, central air, and new ductwork built and installed.
The logistics of installing an air conditioning system in the unfinished area above the living space would have been complicated and expensive. One oblivious difficulty was to cut vent and ductwork through the existing beautiful old plaster ceilings and walls with unique cove work.
All of these things had been taken in account when the first offer was put in and the budget presented to the home owner. These were going to be choices he had to make. I had prepared bids with costs for each one of these choices. It was up to him to select which options he wanted.
That is the beauty of having everything in writing in advance with hard costs and a clear understanding.
No surprises, no mystery or disagreements later. None of this, “Oh you didn’t tell me that … or I can’t afford this” when the project is torn apart and wide open.
It is funny how, to this day, I see the same things start to happen early on in a project. For example, it’s always exciting to tear something down with all the adrenaline running high. However this cannot only be unsafe it can cause a lot of extra work and often non-budgeted costs that aren’t necessary.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and just start wrecking things. It’s all junk and has to be demoed right?
What good does it do to just tear out the walls and leave the debris to stumble over or nails stick out to step on.
You have to keep it organized and work smarter not harder.
After my two helpers got going at it for a few minutes they had a small pile of demolition debris that they were already tripping over with wires still connected, dust still lingering and sweat running down their faces.
I said, “Now what? You going to file for unemployment?”
Of course they new I was being sarcastic.
However this was a teaching moment. I pointed out that they just created a safety hazard with the nails and pile of debris blocking the door. The mess they had created would have to be untangled and hauled up the basement stairs to the dumpster outside.
Teaching moment! I pointed out that if they had taken the doors off the hinges and cut the opening out first in a organized way, not only would they have more room to move the rest of the debris from the other walls in the room, they would have gained some light.
Also, if one did the demolition while the other one hauled away the debris, this would result in a cleaner job site and reduce the risk of injury.
I also reminded them this was the first hour of a very long day. They needed to pace themselves. I suggested they take turns carrying the removed material upstairs and pointed to the two large plastic garbage cans that I supplied for this purpose. If they filled these up and helped each other carry them out, this would result in fewer trips and a job more quickly completed.
I also suggested they take the two buy two and two by four studs, lay those on a tarp and when they had several placed on the tarp simply each take an end carrying the tarp up rather than only two at a time.
Normally, I like to handle something only once. For instance, if I am removing demolition debris, I like to be able to throw it directly into a dumpster and be done with it. It makes no sense to me to move it to a pile outside then have to move it from the pile into the container. From my perspective, this seems like twice the work.
However, I made a conscious decision not to do this for two reasons. First and foremost, I was unable to secure a dumpster with the delivery dates I wanted. Too many times I have ordered a dumpster for a job site having it delivered a day or two in advance only to arrive at the job site finding it half full of everything from sofas to old TVs and other neighborhood junk.
I now plan so I use the whole dumpster right away or as in this case pile it up, then spend the time to move the debris into the dumpster when I have enough to fill it and have the dumpster picked up right away.
Although, this requires more work, the cost of a dumpsters outweighs the expense of labor to move the material from a pile into the dumpster. I have found no shortage of either enterprising young adults or day labors willing to work for cash. At $400.00 to hire a dumpster that ends up being filled with neighborhood refuge material that often costs a lot more to dispose of because it can’t be mixed with demolition material, this is the best solution. This is using resources wisely, and cost effetely.
Every part of the job needs to be done with thought. Mismanagement inefficiencies with cost overruns will kill a project as quickly as unexpected and non-budgeted surprises. Every phase of the project needs close attention and management. It’s important to exploit labor strengths to their best advantage even if they it’s family or friends. Use them wisely. This alone will pay significant dividends.
Before each day started, every member of my team knew what had to be done that day.
We all knew exactly what had to be completed for the project to move forward. The deadline on this project was tight because I was going out west for my annual two week hunting trip. The project had to be completed before I left. This only left thirty days. Not a lot of time for the scope of this project. Certainly, I couldn’t afford to lose any time.
Another huge motivator was the fact that my agreement stated that I would carry the project until closing. Having up to thirty thousand dollars of your own money stuck in a project makes you very aware of deadlines.
This meant I had to pay for all materials and labor and complete the project before I earned a penny.
The scope of this project was extensive and at this point included several phases such as, the complete demolition of the exiting basement, a new electrical upgrade and service, extensive plumbing upgrades, a new remodeled upstairs bathroom, and wallpaper removal and painting of every room. Several floor covering had to be replaced. These ranged from carpet to tile. Part of this project was refinishing nearly 1200 square feet of hardwood floors.
There was substantial work that needed to be done on the outside such as the entire old fence torn out and replaced with a new six foot wood fence enclosing the yard.
Additionally, in the basement we had to frame and build a new bathroom and bedroom with an outside egress window cut in and installed. All the wiring, sheet rock, painting, duck work and floor covering also had to be done. Considering we all had full time jobs with only weekends and evenings to do the work, we had a lot of work cut out for us and very little time to complete it.
Our hands would be full for a month. Being well organized was essential in order to complete this project. Although adequate but limited, the budget was very tight, allowing for very few cost overruns and certainly no unnecessary expenditures.
Everyone had to be on the same page every day. No exceptions. This was my responsibility. I take this very seriously. However you still have to keep the working environment fun and productive. This is always a challenge.
I certainly have learned a few things along the way. The more I do the more I learn. Every job is always just a little bit different and serves, not only as a new teacher, but as an opportunity to apply what I have learned from other jobs. The short term for this is; applied and learned experience.
Soon things fall into place and the crew develops a rhythmic pace. That is my job to keep this pace and theme throughout the remodeling project.
Our agreement was simple for all my labor hours and those of my business partners, we would charge only what we had paid him for his electrical services he provided us on our other projects. In other words, our labor rate would be paid at the same rate he was paid.
My overall fee for finding and negotiating the price and preparing the purchase agreements along with managing and taking the lead role in construction would be a set fee of seven thousand dollars.
Compared to what my standard fee would be, this fee was reduced for several reasons.
I am a firm believer that no one in business should ever give away their services or work.
Let me explain why. In my opinion, the best way to ruin a good friendship or spoil a family relationship or cause unnecessary stress is to put yourself in a situation in which someone stands to gain on the fruits of your efforts without fair compensation. In other words had I not found the house, and prepared the purchase agreement without a commission involved plus agreed to do all the contracting work at a much reduced price, he stood to gain a significance increase of equity.
These types of one-sided arrangements tend to end badly with a lot of resentment. The fact remains he would have had to hire someone to do all the work at considerably higher prices.
This highlights why I insist on written agreements regardless be they relatives, friends or whomever. This way, there are no surprises, and everything is out in the open and up front. Both parties know what the expectations are and what the outcome will be.
One advantage with doing this is that when crunch-time comes and you are being pushed to the limit, you can simply remember you agreed to this arrangement. It is very hard when you have been putting in all you have, for nothing in return and you’re being pushed by the owner of the project to finish it on time and within budget. I can’t think of a better recipe for resentment than this scenario.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned in life is have to work for what you get and you get what you work for. It is entirely a different arrangement and your personal choice if at the end of a project you say “no charge” or tear the contract up and choose to give your services away. This is your own decision and choice. I have done this often but still used the written agreement to guide the process.
One other compelling reason for some charge is doing your craft or trade free is to cheapen the profession.
It also seems the more you do for friends or family the more they expect; and why shouldn’t they? After all, it seems your time or trade isn’t worth anything because you don’t charge anything for the work you do.
Again if you choose to do it for free after you have completed the work at least you have set a base line price for your craft and trade.
If someone balks at what you would charge, that usually is the first sign of what is to come. Project costs frequently go over and beyond budgets. This fact causes more misunderstandings, hard feeling, and lawsuits than any one other single factor in a project.
Why not reduce the risk of this happening and address the problem in advance with the client and enter into a written agreement? This way, if the project turns sour, at least you have a starting point to begin to work out the problems.
There is one word for this – business. Conduct your affairs like you mean it.
After two exhausting days of steady and hard demolition work, we reached out goal.
The old basement was completely demolished and ready for the next phase of construction.
We could now assess what additional work needed to be done.
One thing became evident. We needed to replace the water heater. This came to light when it was discovered that the water heater had been leaking but this was hidden by a wall in the bathroom. In turn, over time this leak had caused a lot of the mold to form in the wall. It also became clear that we had a problem much larger than just the water heater and the potential for thousands of dollars in non-budgeted expense.
What we found was a very serious and potentially dangerous condition. The short term outlook was not good. The long term fix was being summed up in a word.
copyright all rights reserved D. Jerzak Dec 22 007