Is it them or me? Looking for builder blues.

IbewyeJuly 18, 2013

We are currently looking for a builder for our home and so far I've been surprised at the difficulty we've been having, so I'm seeking some help to make sure what I'm asking from a builder isn't the problem.

We've contacted 10-12 builders so far asking for estimates on simply rough framing our home. Exterior walls, interior walls, windows, doors, siding and roof. Site work and foundation will be in place. Here's where I have some questions that may be a factor:

1-My father owns and operates a smaller franchise lumber co and will be able to save us a considerable amount on materials, so naturally I've told builders that we would be supplying all materials necessary and can provide a material list if needed. I'm wondering if by not being able to markup up or place an allowance on material that they may be reluctant to wanna build?

2-when we had our home designed we kept simplicity in mind, I had hoped that we would save money by keeping the footprint small, the house shape simple (minimal corners, no juts, no dormers) and the roof with only a few gabled ends (and using all trusses). I hear people say that builders just take square footage and apply a dollar amount to it and that's how they figure the estimate. In my opinion a home with cathedral ceilings, multiple window types (size and shape) and crazy roof lines would much more labor intensive to build than a home that lacked any of those features. So am I crazy to think that this should be considered when builder provides estimate?

3-I'm disturbed at how many builders cry poverty over the winter months but in the busy summer months don't seem willing to return a phone call regarding building a home. Am I the only one?

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Specifically, what problems are you having?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 9:24PM
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A builder provides a service for a fee that includes a profit. When you ask for only part of that service the project becomes less profitable. If you rather delivered inadequate materials they would be stuck with it. And why would they not adjust to the difference in demand between seasons; it's a market place.

A contractor who estimates only by an assumed average s.f. costs won't be in business for long. It is silly to assume that is how they arrive at a price. You need to better understand what contractors do for a living and how they do it instead of making so many self-serving assumptions and using so many unfair characterizations.

I don't find it odd that none of them wants to do the job.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:27PM
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I'm experiencing 2 problems at the moment.

1-Is actually getting builders to follow through with giving an estimate. We've taken the time to look them up and get them a set of prints which (at $30.00 for full size copies ) can be pricey, but after 2 weeks we are having to hunt them down for an estimate. So I'm curious to find out if others had similar problems seeking a builder?

2-If the lack of response from builders may be due in part to my conditions that we will provide the material, and will be acting as general contractors. I know some builders use their purchasing power to make a dollar when they provide the material, so are some builders going to be reluctant to even want o build home,or raise the price in their estimate to offset the costs

3-I've heard arguments that when a builder bids a home they simply just take the price per sq ft (ex.150.00) and multiply by sq ft (ex.3000) which would be $450,000. Is it wrong to assume that a builder should factor in when a one home is much simpler to build than another of the same size?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:42PM
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What area of the country are you in? I'm in rural Western Washington where construction is rebounding, contributing to the problems I had in finding some people to bid on our house project. Also, some people prefer to not travel this any rate, I don't think what you are asking is unrealistic. Many of our subs pass along their contractor discount to us - they aren't losing any profit by our supplying some/all of our materials. To the contrary, the subs that have come on board with us have been more than helpful and willing to work with us.

Can you email them a copy of your blueprints for their estimate? Or meet them some place - a coffee shop or whatever - so you can talk to them about the project and they can look at the plans there? I never gave them a set of blueprints; they asked, but seemed to understand that I couldn't give a set to everyone that asked.

Finding subs was frustrating but also interesting.

This post was edited by gladys1924 on Thu, Jul 18, 13 at 22:53

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:44PM
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Around here builder=general contractor. If you're going to be acting as general contractor, what do you need the builder for?

As general contractor, you would need to find the subs, collect bids from them, and determine the total price based on that.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:49PM
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ditto what zone4 said. Ride around where houses are being built in your area and talk/meet the subs that are doing the work. Subs 'build' the house, a GC is just a coordinator.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:58PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Terminology is important here. If you are assuming the GC role, you should be looking for a framing crew, not a "builder". You need to have the ability to break the build down into the parts that need quotes, solicit and evaluate those quotes, and be able to do quality control on the work done. That's what a general contractor (builder) does.

If you want to act as GC, you need to act like one and assume all of the risk and hire your own individual carpenters to frame the house under your direction and quit trying to find someone else to do it. You've already seen how far that has gotten you. That's like ordering a pizza for delivery and then you show up at the joint with your own sausage to personally place it on the dough and put it in the oven yourself and take it home. And then want to pay only $4 because you're supplying your special sausage. Making pizza doesn't work that way, and neither does building houses.

If you don't want the responsibility for supervising the framing and getting that right, then maybe you really don't want to be the general on the job.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:06PM
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Ditto to what the others have said re: terminology. Although sometimes you can find a sub that will serve as quasi coordinator. Our main sub is going to do the scheduling of other subs for us - serve as on site supervisor for us, since he is there so much anyhow. But my dh and I are the official general contractors. We are paying the super *some*, but not as much as if he were the actual gc. We interviewed/hired the subs, we do the financial paperwork, and answer questions from the super.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:08PM
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Ok Just going to stick to my original thoughts.

Break up the parts that you want quoted. Framing + Windows/doors, Roofing, Siding. Then tackle each individually. You want to be your own contractor to maximize your cost savings. I found framers to quote our build. Actually found the framer we used by visiting a nearby house that was under construction (Amish). The framer may know someone to refer you to for the other parts or if they are slow will take them on themselves.

I only gave the final framer the larger copies of the blueprints. All bidding was done on small 8.5x11 prints.

Good Luck.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 7:47AM
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You are contacting builders and saying here are my uncomplicated, box-house plans, I will supply all the materials and just want you to build the shell. Right?

This simply isn't what builders do. You are asking them to assume a lot of liability for a few pennies. For someone who apparently has lots of experience in the industry, you seem very confused.

The problem with the builders, as I see it, is that they aren't being upfront about telling you to take a hike.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 8:21AM
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Have you tried calling for estimates and letting the subs call the shots? You know, ask the framer, plumber, etc to tell you where they would like the materials to come from. Yes, I know that you can get a discount from your dad's lumber yard, but the subs can also save you money by providing materials for you (sharing their discount with you), etc. Give them some freedom to do their job as they see fit - and it might work out well in the end.

FWIW, our plumber sub referred us to one of several plumbing supply warehouses that he has accounts with; he is passing along his discount to us (big savings). But he doesn't require us to get stuff there; that was an option. So for a few things, we're using our own sources.

If you are going to gc this thing yourself, remember: you are not (attempting) to hire a builder. YOU are the builder, the general contractor. You are hiring a subcontractor to do the framing, the electrical, etc. Maybe it sounds like I'm quibbling over semantics, but you need to be able to clearly tell your subcontractors what you are getting bids for.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 8:49AM
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To answer your question, it's you. :) And how and what you are asking for. You're using the incorrect terminology first of all. And second of all, you're not leaving them any meat on the bone for them to want the job even if you contacted a "regular" framing crew.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 9:31AM
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To the original questions:

If providing a firm fixed price, a builder is assuming risk. He must be competitive yet profitable. Unless your project is almost identical to one of his past projects, 2 weeks is not enough time for busy and successful builders, suppliers, and subs to figure--for their respective portions of your project--how much/many of every different piece goes into building your house and equipment & labor cost to get it done. There are some shortcuts to this, but generally it's never as simple as a square foot cost. It only cost you $30 to give them a set of documents but it can cost the builder hundreds of dollars (more for larger and more complex projects) in time to provide an estimate they have confidence in. I think if you haven't met with the builders and assessed compatibility of personalities and expectations then you might want to approach them now. Show them it's worth their time by giving some of yours. They need to know they have a decent chance at the work and that you are a reasonable person. You should consider cutting some from your list based on interviews or further research, before setting a new date for proposals. Unless there's not a lot of work to go around, if I were one of these builders and I got any sense that I was one of 10 (and chances are good that some of these builders use some of the same suppliers and subs) or just picked out of a phone book I would not bid unless I put a "what do I have to lose" big safe and profitable number out there that didn't take much time or many phone calls to put together. Renovator's posts are right on the mark. Understanding how everyone else in the process does their job (and puts food on the table) will help you to have realistic expectations and to know when someone is doing the job poorly vs. well.

If you really want to provide all materials, you'll need to be responsible for correct ordering, quality control, that delivery is timely, that they are stored appropriately and securely, and that you are insured against loss. At this point you're solidly in GC territory, so you might as well act as the GC, and I can see why builders wouldn't want this arrangement. You can still hire someone to manage construction, scheduling subs and such, but without a GC instead of having a single point of responsibility and one warranty, if something goes wrong, it's among you, the suppliers, and all of the subcontractors to find a solution.

Architects, engineers, and construction professionals do this every day. You can pay them in money and save your time for other things, or do some of these things that legally don't require license yourself and pay in your time and maybe save some money for other things. Quality is variable in any of these scenarios.

Good luck with the project, let us know how things go.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 10:50AM
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I have built two homes myself and I have worked for a builder for over 10 years and my husband has his own business as a sub for the building industry.

Building snobs? How about people that know what they are talking about and spend lots of time offering their expertise and experience for free. Realistic and grounded in not rude.

I can tell you right now that the good subs and builders do not have time to bid jobs and answer questions from uninformed new clients that have not done their homework. It does not matter how rude you think people here are you will save yourself time, money and stress by reading the the posts of these generous people. The right builder or sub has already written you off because you did not take the time to educate yourself before jumping into something that you can mess up really badly on.

I am the first person who talks to all those uninformed clients at our company. I can tell in four or five easy questions if I will even have my boss bother to talk to them. Do yourself a favor and soak in all that these rude people are willing to share.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 10:51AM
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We are at a similar stage in the building process, 4 builders are working on bids for us at this time. We also took great pains to design a home that minimized construction costs in order to keep costs down. It is frustrating not knowing how these design choices are impacting the bid when you are given a general square foot amount. But, I do realize that the builder is at a disadvantage when asked to give an estimate without having all of the material choices specified. You end up with multiple bids that were made with different assumptions on the grade of each component in the build. Also, different methods used by different builders make the comparison of bids not an apples-to-apples comparison. We found that some builders we talked to are family businesses and their reputation is on the line in our community. They use certain methods to build a quality house that they can be proud of and this may be different than other builders that are bidding. They spend considerable time on the bid knowing that we may choose another builder with a lower bid, even though they know (and we may not) that the other builder may be cutting corners or building a lesser quality home. So I totally understand that they would rather give a square foot range. However, I want to see how the simplicity of our design and our modest finishes impact the cost to build our home. That's why we narrowed down the builders to 4 and got to really know them, their processes and reputation before asking for a bid. We determined each of them would be a good fit for our situation and asked for a general range based on our floor plan and level of finishes to give us an idea if we could afford the plan we designed. When we then asked for an actual bid for the project, we specified finishes, products, and many other details to make it somewhat easier to compare their bids. In the end, though, it will not be an apples-to-apples comparison. We will look at the overall breakdown and decide which one we feel will work best for us even if they are not the low bidder.

I agree with jennybc and gladys that you could be the GC and hire one of subs as a consultant/supervisor of the project. We did consider doing this as well. We are providing the well, septic, power, and excavating/site prep work, so we are looking at basically hiring for the building only. One person we have worked with in the past on a remodeling project offered to provide this coordinator-type service. In the end, we decided to go with a builder to handle the whole thing since that is their specialty and this is such a huge investment for us.

Don't know if this helps, but I do know what you are going through.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 11:42AM
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I think the fact no one is calling you back is telling you something.

You asked, "is it them or me?"

I'm not trying to be mean...but the fact no one is calling you back tells you something. Add that to the feedback you've gotten here from people who know what they are talking about....and you've got your answer.

I don't know what I'm talking about (ha-ha), but to me it sounds like you're trying to do something that cuts too far into the profit margins for people. You are asking them to do something that falls outside the building norm - without much (if any?) incentive for them.

I applaud your efforts to try to build your home in the most cost-effective manner possible. But if no one wants to play the game by your rules.....what are you going to do?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Also as the economy picks up and more work becomes available contractors will weed out the jobs that they feel may be a pain in the ass in favor of project that they have control over the whole magilla and make money.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 1:03PM
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Sure. We handled the site prep/foundation; our site supervisor is coordinating the rest. Although we are still heavily involved in the rest of the work - the super is handling electric, for instance, but the electric guy is coming today to discuss his work. Dh and I will be there for that discussion. Having a super takes some of the pressure off of us, and we can ask him questions so we don't look dumb for the subs! We are still heavily involved, though. I'm doing this GC work basically 8 hours a day, 5-6 hours a day. When I'm not at the building site, I'm on call the rest of the time - I keep the phone charged.

Despite what some here may say, being your own GC is doable by the average layperson. But you will need to educate yourself about the trades, etc as much as possible, and plan on being flexible to work best with the subs.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 1:32PM
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The value of dadereni's free advice cannot be calculated; it is invaluable.

The mistake many homeowners make is to think of building a home the same way they think of buying consumer goods. You are not going shopping; you are trying to form a relationship with a builder that will eventually be defined by a written contract that both of you will sign so you must make the project attractive to the builder as well as to you. That is done by documenting the project thoroughly (sometimes a tough task for someone untrained to do so) and carefully defining the roles of those privy to the contract.

What I see here is not just a lack of understanding of the roles of the participants but a set of specious assumptions based on that lack of understanding. Willful ignorance is the ultimate arrogance.

When a general contractor builds a house he/she is responsible for the entire project, not just certain aspects of it. If that were true he/she would be a sub-contractor to the owner who would be the general contractor. Then the owner is the person responsible for all aspects of the work. I can think of no reason for a successful general contractor to accept such a lesser role.

Demean professional if you wish but it would be shear folly to think that they have not seen more avoidable mistakes then you have and that they can help you. There is no substitute for experience in such a complex endeavor.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 2:26PM
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Sophie Wheeler

"hire one of your main subs - someone who has also functioned as a GC - to be a consultant to you."

Why would anyone want someone who has failed at being a GC to assume a supervisory role on a build that you are ultimately responsible for? If they are a sub, then they don't have the skills needed to be a successful GC. It's your name on the permits and that's who the stop work orders go to if something is done incorrectly and the job has to be shut down. If your "supervisor" orders 40K worth of windows incorrectly, then you get to use those windows. He's not responsible for double checking to see if they are correct. You are.

The whole point of a GC is that someone is assuming the responsibility for the entire project. The buck stops with you. Always. Be SURE you know how deep that cuts before you offer up any non standard relationships with trades that aren't qualified to be GC's.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 4:08PM
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Actually, our sub/supervisor hasn't failed at anything. He is a qualified GC and normally takes on the role. But he does offer to function as a consultant in some cases. It has been working out really well. He doesn't order anything, except the supplies that he uses. WE ordered the windows, etc.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 5:39PM
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You've already gotten a dozen responses from professionals on your end that speak VERY loudly here about your abilities as GC. Good luck. You're going to need it.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 10:16AM
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Try the JLC forum. Everyone there must be a construction professional but they are more interested in solving problems than listening to homeowner complaints.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 2:55PM
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Green Designs. Your statement by itself is exactly what I feel is the problem around here.
When you say I've received help from a dozen professionals, can you name them? Do you know them? Would you recommend them to a friend? If I open a new GW named Renovator9 and declare I'm a professional, am I?
When you say they "speak loudly of my GC skills". Do they know my GC skills? How would yet know what I do by day? If you knew the type of construction projects I was involved in on a day to day basis, where I coordinate with 9-10 different trades, prints that are 60-70 pages with spec books that come in 3 binders? I've met deadlines that would cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in production costs daily. So did I ask once if I should be GC? No.
I'm plenty capable of handling having my house built by a couple qualified local tradesmen. . Will I be able to handle the dreadful scenario that the plumber and the tin-knocker are both planning on using the same space? Probably from my phone during my lunch break.
The problem with some of the professionals on here is that they've put themselves on a pedestal in which anyone who asks an opinion shall not questions thy answer. I realized this when Renovator8 continued suggesting I hire a qualified architect, meanwhile the architect who I had all along brings enough experience and credentials to the table that I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote the books Renovator8 recites from.
In closing.5he GW is a useful website but it lacks the credentials neccessary to justify anyone actually following the advice given because so and so said so. I've learned alot on here and plan on learning even more, but I won't be warned or censored without explanation. I guess when they check the specs they'll see that there's no violation and if so-show me.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 3:31PM
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The only book I quote here is the international Building Code written by voting members of the International Code Council.

Tell me the books your architect has written so I can check them out. I don't doubt he is an architect if you say he is but It was painfully obvious that he didn't know much about Greek Revival architecture. Have you forgotten how much help I gave you in that regard or for your stair? If you raise the level of your knowledge you will find no one is on a pedestal.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 5:11PM
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No, I said you had already received responses from professionals on your end, as in no response to your request for bids. Just the law of averages alone dictates that you'd receive some kind of pie in the sky bid from at least half. That none bothered speaks volumes.

Yes, it reflects on your organizational and communication issues as a GC of the build. Speaking demeaningly of the pros on here who have tried to help you to understand where you may be lacking perhaps illustrates why you've gotten zero responses.

Simplified, a good GC is a people person and manages conflict, not instigates it. Since that doesn't appear to be your strong suit, your build will be more difficult and expensive for you than if you were. Figure out how to change people's perception of you.

So, what can you do to increase the response of the pros that you despise? Perhaps hide your derision better? Perhaps agree to pay them their accustomed profit margin, or even more, for the PITA factor? Perhaps engage a GC who speaks their language and knows how to talk to them? And you WILL have to do several of those things if you want your project to move forward. Unless you are planning to build the entire thing yourself with only your own two hands.

You will be MUCH more sorely tested on a build than an internet kerfluffle. You'll have much more emotional involvement once things start to become reality rather than paper. Start practicing how to apologize and build a consensus. That's what a good manager would do, even if he didn't think he was at fault.

Fault on a build is ultimately less important than the solution to the problem at hand.

If you can't figure out how to turn this post around, well, as I said, good luck.

This post was edited by GreenDesigns on Sat, Jul 20, 13 at 18:37

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 6:12PM
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I am sorry you got some sort of warning from GW. That is puzzling.

There are definitely lots of pros on this board. It is obvious by their intelligent comments and advice that comes from a wealth of experience and education.

As to your question,

July around here is insane and very difficult to get any sub to make the effort to prepare a detailed bid or even return a call. I would assume your area may be the same. What if you reduced the job that you wanted them to quote on? Call your Dad's lumberyard and ask for a name of a good framer. Then call the framer and ask them to quote on framing the house and installing doors and windows. The more jobs you add to the task the more of a pain it will be to quote ( e.g. omit roofing, siding). Obviously, you will need to get a roofer to follow quickly on their heels. Tell them you will supply all windows, doors and lumber.

We did just what I described above. However, our framing was done in November, so they were hungry for the work (yet getting a framer who was available was trickier than most subs). In the end the framing company worked as a team with a roofing company so we were able to get a roofer scheduled on the heels of the framing and paid him separately. The roofer came just before Christmas as a favour to the team of framers.

Good luck and don't get discouraged.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 7:25PM
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To the OP,

Your father owns a lumberyard. My experiences with most smaller lumberyards indicates there is usually a core group of builders / subs that frequent such yards. Surely someone at the yard can help?

Add to that the extensive experience you have with complex projects, wow, I can't believe this thing isn't already built!

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 11:19PM
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