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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Be remodel's boss and save money

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer


Right now it seems frugality is back in fashion.

Everyone is giving tips on how to save money and make your dollar stretch further.

Even when it comes to remodeling there are ways to save and stretch your dollar.

While we don't necessarily recommend it to everyone, several of our clients choose to save money by serving as their own general contractor.

As the GC, you would hire subcontractors, manage the schedule and oversee the construction job. This is a good option for someone who is detail-oriented, knows exactly what they want and has more time than money. The handy man (or woman) with a good understanding of construction and how all the parts of the house work is best suited to be their own general contractor.

Knowing professionals in the industry also comes in handy when you are taking on the general's job.

You pay a general contractor the big bucks because he already knows which subcontractors are reputable and which ones you should run from screaming.

As the manager, your biggest responsibility is hiring the subcontractors who will do the work.

Start with the usual suspects. Who do you know who had some work done on their house? Who did they use? Was it done on time and within budget?

Drive around neighborhoods you like and find out who's doing work there. Talk to subcontractors you've already vetted. If your carpenter recommends an electrician he works with frequently (and it's not his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law), that's a solid lead.

Once you get names, you want to learn all you can. Google them. Get a long list of references and talk to them. Examine past work in person. Arrange to meet them on a current job site.

Once you get a handful of subcontractors you like (three to five), start penciling in what your picks will charge to do each job. And remember that the low bidder doesn't necessarily do the best work.

One of our clients, Rob Andrus, remodeled houses as a hobby for 15 plus years before he decided to tackle his own major remodeling project.

His dad and two brothers make their living as professional contractors. With his knack for construction and a little advice from his brothers, he decided being his own general contractor would be a good way to save money on the construction costs.

Some professionals say you can cut as much as 40 percent of the cost of your job, especially if you do some of the work yourself, while others believe 10 percent to 20 percent is more realistic.

Andrus figures he was able to save $50,000 on the entire job by doing most of the finishing work himself.

"You save the most on labor costs," he says. "Well, take framing. A framer wants $30 an hour and you get two guys in there that adds up quick." But while you save money on labor, you have to remember as a do-it-yourselfer you will pay more for materials than a licensed general contractor.

Another point to consider: Do you want subcontractors to buy the supplies or do you want to do it yourself? There is no set answer, and the standard practice can vary with the professional, the trade and even the area of the country.

As a semi-retiree, Andrus was prepared to make remodeling his home his full-time job, but he was a little surprised.

"It is a lot more work than you would expect," he says. Sadly, he wasn't so lucky with a few of his subcontractor choices. "They just left work undone that I expected they would finish," he says. "You have to know how everything is supposed to work so you can manage the crew that is doing it. And in my case, finish the work that wasn't completely finished."

You can see that being your own general contractor is a huge commitment and is certainly not for everyone.

Along with (hopefully) saving money, you can generally plan on your project taking considerably longer with you in charge.

You should definitely try this approach out on a smaller project to see if your skills and personality are suited to such a demanding undertaking. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at ask@renovationdesigngroup.com.

© 2009 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.


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