I hope you can help. I'll try to keep it short & to the point.
We have a VERY small old house and are planning to remodel. Plans are
drawn & submitted - we await the permits and variance from the town,
should have all of it in (I hope) 7-9 months. Scope of job: almost
complete demo of the crap we live in now to add a second floor w/ 3 BRs,
new kitchen, expand current living area. Lots of walls to be torn out,
stairways moved- basically adding about 1000 feet of space to our tiny
My husband thinks he can act as the "project manager" and coordinate &
hire all the tradesmen that have to come in and do their part. His
motivation is to save money by cutting out the GC . I say this is
impossible for him to do for this huge renovation, and I can think of a
thousand reasons why he shouldn't. But heck- I'm "just a woman" & dont
know about these things-(rolling my eyes) Whadaya' think? - And no, he
is NOT a handy guy. PLEASE help me smack some reality into his head!
Unless your husband is a construction trade (and I'm guessing he's not),
instances like this are exactly why someone invented the old adages,
"Penny wise and pound foolish" and "Pay me now or pay me later," IMO.
We're planning a project just like yours. I'm not a handy guy, and I
wouldn't DREAM of not having a GC as the project manager. Not just
because I'm not a handy guy, but because I'm not a *construction* guy.
Contractors and subs are notorious for cutting corners and other
assorted horrors, and actual professionals have been known to misread
blueprints and misunderstand something, so there's always the very real
peril that one screw-up could cause some very real code problems. Having
a GC as project manager to catch these things *as* they happen instead
of having the town building inspector find them *after* they've happened
(and cost you even more money to rip everything out and re-do it to
spec/code) is money well spent.
And unless your husband in unemployed or retired where he can be on-site
at all times, is he ready for the almost daily flood of phone calls to
his work -- or having to leave work often for hours at a stretch?
There's a lot of ongoing management involved in even "small" projects
like yours. Sure, a buck's a buck, but pain and suffering have their own
costs. And if he doesn't have an ulcer now, he'll be a candidate for one
if he insists on being your own project manager.
Just my two and a half cents.
*IF* your husband knows construction, and more importantly knows which subs do
good work/are reliable, it's possible to save up to 20% on the cost of
Meanwhile back in reality . . .very few people have the knowledge base to GC a
project. A GC's rake from a project varies, usually as a percentage of cost or
a time-and-materials. A design-build firm's rake is higher since they tack on
their percentage to every aspect of the construction, materials, labor charges,
IF your husband is at all skilled and his time is not worth more $$-wise than
paying the GC he'd probably save more money on doing sweat equity stuff like
hanging drywall, painting, trim work, etc.
I know folks who have saved many $$ by combining sweat equity with GC'ing but I
know many more who have paid more (as high as a 30% premium, not including lost
income) by acting as their own GC simply because they didn't know what they
Not knowing you or your husband I can't tell whether you're accurately
assessing his skills or if you're the type of spouse who automatically devalues
the partner's abilities.
As a reality check I suggest you sit down with a good GC and have him/her go
over the initial tear-down phase. Have your husband independently price out
the work once he knows what's involved then compare it with what the GC could
Assuming the two prices to be ballpark factor in quality-of-life issues -
missed deadlines, subs who quit, etc. Very few subs quit on a good GC due to
the need to maintain a good business relationship, but when a tradesman is
dealing with a one-shot customer there's no incentive to remain on a job when
the relationship gets strained. And it will - I know builders/GCs personally
and I've seen them cuss out the sub one day only to be back on a good footing
the next. Ask your husband if he's comfortable calling a plumber a "dumb
M-F'ing a$$h*le" when a soldered joint fails the pressure test or the inspector
fails a run of drain for insufficient fall.
True, you do not know either of us so let me assure you I am not "the
type of spouse who automatically devalues the parters ability". In
fact, to the exent that I have quite accurately assesed his skills and
witnessed his lack thereof, it compels me to support my argument against
him doing the job himself by seeking advice in this forum.
Thank you, some of your points are well taken.
Whoa, sorry if that one line got taken the wrong way but I had to say it. I
hope I and the others gave you enough ammo to help your husband convince
himself that he's not up to handling the project, which I gather is the real
BTW, it helps to quote all or part of the message to which you are replying so
we can follow the thread and clarify our advice if necessary.
Our renovation was a small job compared to yours. We added a large
addition to our kitchen this way. However, for us it worked best as a
two person operation. At the time, my wife was home with our young
children. I was working full time, but I did have the flexibility to
come home for short times during the day, and I work very close to
home. Neither of us have any building experience. I drew up the plans,
got them approved, and obtained the permits. My wife with technical
pre-prompting from me, did all the cold calling to find the
contractors, schedule them to come out, and give us bids. My job at
that point was to come home when they were supposed to appear and talk
with them. This was only for the exterior work - foundation, framing,
siding, stone work and roof. I did all the interior work myself. When
the work started, I would leave my wife instructions for the
contractor, and often a set of "watch points" that she was supposed to
monitor to make sure things were done the way I had discussed with the
contractor. If there were problems, I would either talk to the
contractor over the phone or come home to find out what was wrong. She
also set up the schedules with the county inspectors.
It worked for us, but there were arguments when she got something
wrong when explaining things to a contractor, or she did not think I
was prepared. She was also not ecstatic about the length of time it
took me to finish the interior.
We also were very lucky. There were no springs found when the new
basement/foundation was excavated. The soil was undisturbed. There
was no plumbing involved, so scheduling was straightforward. The
weather even cooperated. We also were extremely fortunate to have
picked good responsible contractors who knew their stuff.
I woud do it again, but I am not sure my wife would.
On Sat, 24 Jan 2004 02:22:24 -0500 (EST), email@example.com (nancy
Radio Control Aircraft/Paintball Physics/Paintball for 40+
Talk to friends and acquaintances to see if any of them have or know
someone who has acted as their own GC on a major renovation and then
ask that person if they would do it again.
It is so fraught with problems that it is worse than a minefield in
Kabul. Sub-Contractors are notoriously unreliable. They often have
drinking and drug problems along with major family (marriage)
problems. They will NOT show up when they promise which puts their
phase of the project behind schedule and delays the other
sub-contractors being able to do their part who will charge you for
the delay because they refused other work to do you job and now they
have a day or a week delay and they are not getting paid.
There is a whole field of specialized law dealing with construction
contracts that the average person knows little or nothing about.
Liens, Holdbacks, Performance Guarantees, etc., etc., etc.. You don't
want to go there!
Find a good, honest, reliable General Contractor that has been in
business in your area for many years and get several references and
check them out diligently and let the General Contractor deal with the
sub-contractors. He knows how to do it. Or, do what I would do, sell
your present house and buy another one more suitable to your needs - a
lot less headaches. If you do go ahead on your own, I would recommend
you buy some shares in one of the companies which makes headache
pills - Advil, Anacin, etc..
Friends, recently did what you describe through a design/build architect.
I think one of the things you are paying for is the rolodex that the good
General contractor has. The project in general moved very well mainly
because of the talent pool the architect could draw on. Amazingly, this
did not come with a substantial cost premium (roughly a dollar a square
foot with lots of money going to hardwood floors and numerous premium
windows/patio doors etc. ).
On Sat, 24 Jan 2004 02:22:24 -0500 (EST), firstname.lastname@example.org (nancy
Most people who do this are in an older, inner city neighbourhood that
is being re-developed. I assume this applies to you.
Have you considered bulldozing the current house and building a new
infill? The advantage is that you get a "cleaner" floor plan, and of
course, a new house. It may not be as much more expensive as you
I'm a GC. I add an average of 3% to what a project will cost you.
(I'd mark up costs by 22 to 25% on a project like yours -- but I get
materials and subtrades much cheaper than you can -- so on average,
I'm not a huge burden).
It's not a huge renovation -- it's a fairly common one. But GC ing a
reno or addition is, in many ways, more difficult than GCing new
You pay a GC because 1) he knows exactly what he is doing 2) he has
regular subtrades he can count on 3) he knows what to buy and how
much to pay 4) he's full time -- available to the job as required.
Time is as critical to a project like yours as is cost. You have to
live somewhere while the work is being done.
Personally, I share your doubts about your husband's ability to save
money and I have strong doubts about whether he can keep the project
on a decent timeline.
But, I'm often wrong.
We actualy live in a lovely suburban neighborhood with a great school
system about 30 miles east of NYC. The reason we chose to remodel
instead of buldozing or moving is because we have a fairly large piece
of property on a small & quiet dead end street. We do have living
arragements for when the job begins. Thanks for your input.
~ I hope you can help. I'll try to keep it short & to the point.
~ We have a VERY small old house and are planning to remodel. Plans are
~ drawn & submitted - we await the permits and variance from the town,
~ should have all of it in (I hope) 7-9 months. Scope of job: almost
~ complete demo of the crap we live in now to add a second floor w/ 3 BRs,
~ new kitchen, expand current living area. Lots of walls to be torn out,
~ stairways moved- basically adding about 1000 feet of space to our tiny
~ My husband thinks he can act as the "project manager" and coordinate &
~ hire all the tradesmen that have to come in and do their part. His
~ motivation is to save money by cutting out the GC . I say this is
~ impossible for him to do for this huge renovation, and I can think of a
~ thousand reasons why he shouldn't.
Unless the trades don't have enough work in your area (unlikely),
it's not a good idea. It probably won't save you a cent, will
undoubtedly take you longer, and will likely not be as well built.
Good experienced renovation contractors have a stable of subs they
call on. They know which subs are reasonably priced, reliable, and
easy to manage. That's what they'll look for since they want the job
to be easy and profitable. They won't necessarily take the cheapest
subs since they know the real cost includes the price AND the cost of
solving problems. Without that stable of subs, you're really in a
pickle. You won't have a clue who is good and who isn't, and you'll
be the last person on the subs' list of priorities. They'll expect
you to do ONE job in your lifetime, whereas a GC will have them back
job after job after job if they deliver. Who do you think they'll
try to please?
Renovation contractors and subs almost always over-commit when things
are busy. They juggle jobs by showing up periodically and making a
little progress. They are able to make more money by taking on more
jobs than they can handle at once, then working a little on each one
of them. It allows them to nail down more work, but at the expense
of the homeowners, who end up having to wait a lot longer than
promised. You're probably going to experience some of this even with
a GC, but it will be a lot worse without one. This will make your
project take much longer -- even twice as much as you initially
A major renovation may take longer than building a whole new house.
We're building a new home after demolishing ours last July. It will
be complete in 4 weeks -- 7 months in all, and only a month late.
Our neighbours a few houses away decided on a major renovation which
they started 2 weeks before we demolished our old house. Their home
won't be complete for at least 3 months.
If your hubby is still determined to go ahead with this despite his
inexperience, he ought to have his head examined.
Out of curiosity what is the rough cost of demolition? Roughly what was
the scale of the house removed? How long did this phase take?
If you prefer to reply offline, I can be reached at email@example.com
~ > A major renovation may take longer than building a whole new house.
~ > We're building a new home after demolishing ours last July. It will
~ > be complete in 4 weeks -- 7 months in all, and only a month late.
~ > Our neighbours a few houses away decided on a major renovation which
~ > they started 2 weeks before we demolished our old house. Their home
~ > won't be complete for at least 3 months.
~ > Rick
~ Out of curiosity what is the rough cost of demolition? Roughly what was
~ the scale of the house removed? How long did this phase take?
After we moved out it took 5 days to line up a salvage contractor,
and he paid us just under $1,000 for what he took. We could have got
more if we did it ourselves and held a demolition sale, but we didn't
think it would be worth the time.
The services (water, sewer, power, gas) had to be shut off and
capped. That cost $1,300 and was done over a period of a week.
Next, drywall removal took 1 day after several days of waiting around
for the crew to arrive. Removing and hauling away the drywall cost
$3,500. Demolishing the house and full concrete foundation took 1
day and cost $1,500. Total elapsed time, including waiting between
steps, was less than 2 weeks. The house was a 50-year old wood frame
structure, 2,200 s.f., with cedar siding and a full concrete
Thanks for the information. You mention removal and hauling away the
drywall cost $3500. Why does drywall need special treatment?
Was there a charge for hauling away everything else or was this covered
in the $1500 you quote.
I have also heard of people donating the entire house to Habitat for
Humanity (they can only move a few kinds of structures and usually mainly
salvage a lot of stuff).
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