What to expect when building a home, from a contractor’s perspective
Building a home is a major undertaking that involves several moving parts, but an experienced contractor can guide the homeowner through each step of the process and make it feel more manageable. The contractor can also help the client embark on the project with the right mindset and develop realistic expectations about when the house will be ready and how much it will cost.
“A contractor is comparable to a conductor in an orchestra,” said Roy Olsen, a contractor and the owner of Norseman Construction.
The contractor coordinates the responsibilities and schedules of everyone involved in the project from the plumbers to the painters, prevents the costs from exceeding the price agreed upon in the contract, and ensures that the building codes are in order.
That’s why — not surprisingly — it’s important for the homebuilder and the contractor to get along, right off the bat. Their relationship affects the timeliness, cost and quality of the finished product.
A lack of trust between the two parties can lead to a breakdown in communication and, ultimately, construction mistakes or misunderstandings.
“Communication keeps the builder on course and reassures the owner that everything is progressing smoothly. It keeps the builder informed, so he’s not getting blindsided, and the owner’s not getting blindsided either,” said Olsen. “They don’t have to be friends, and they don’t have to get together for a beer, but they have to have a mutual respect for one another.”
What’s your budget?
When it comes to envisioning the home of their dreams, clients should make two lists: a list of what they need and a list of what they want, said Olsen.
For example: the person may need a three-bedroom house to accommodate their family and want a massive entertainment room along with walk-in closets, but their budget won’t cover all of those things. They must be willing to compromise, he said.
Stephen Fleishmann, a contractor and the owner of Titan Construction, believes homebuilders should set their budgetary goals at the very beginning of the process and also decide how they want the house to look in terms of style.
“The first thing we recommend folks to do is pick the site. With their budget in mind, they should decide how much can they spend on land and construction,” said Fleishmann. “Once they make those choices, then the next step is going to be for them to pick an architect or a draftsman and then work on the design.”
When homebuilders reach the point where they’re ready to sign a contract, they should jot down the types of materials and hardware they’d like to use. Written agreements can be used for reference down the road.
“Builders — I’ll talk for myself — hate to hear: ‘But that’s not what I meant,’” said Olsen. “Make sure you spell things out as much as possible and put it in writing. It tends to do away with misunderstandings.”
Fleishmann will visit with the homeowner, listen to what sort of finishes and details they have in mind, and then present the person with an estimate of how much it will cost to build the house.
“The price can fluctuate — not during construction per se, but before construction — based on their choices of finishes,” said Fleishmann. “So if the contractor did a good job of bidding the plans, and the homeowner did a good job of describing what they’re looking for, then hopefully the bid will be pretty accurate to what the project is going to cost.”
When’s the deadline?
If the client is trying to have their home built by a certain time, they should make sure the contractor is available and able to meet their deadline.
“There are busy contractors out there that may turn around and say: ‘I can get to you in a few months.’ If (the client) can’t deal with that, they’re going to second-guess everything,” said Olsen.
Olsen also stressed the importance of patience, because building a home usually takes longer than the homeowner expects. Bad weather is often the culprit.
“Can you imagine putting your foundation down during a blizzard? I’ve been there,” said Olsen, who at one point worked in the northern part of the country.
In New Orleans, he notes, rainstorms are difficult to predict — especially during the summer — and can throw builders off schedule.
But even if the weather cooperates, clients should expect delays.
“There are so many different personalities, and so many different steps in the process,” said Fleishmann. “You have to be prepared to spend a good year, year-and-a-half of your life, focused on building a house.”
The New Orleans Education League of the Construction Industry (NOEL) is a non-profit that, with the support of the HBAGNO and funding from the Jefferson Parish Department of Community Development (JPDCD), runs programs like Jefferson Joining Forces and the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program that help elderly and low-income homeowners remedy blight in and around their homes.
An unintended consequence of beautification missions across the city is that elderly, disabled and/or low-income residents are cited for code violations which they don’t have the means to fix. This population of homeowners struggle to maintain the quality of their homes, inside and out. Because they aren’t in a physical condition to maintain their houses and cannot afford outside help, their homes are often left to erode. That is why NOEL and JPDCD have made it their mission to help bring homes up to code for those who are unable to do it themselves.
NOEL’s Jefferson Joining Forces and Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Programs have combined to help over 50 low income home owners rehabilitate their residences. These projects range in scope and cost from minor soffit and fascia repair for $2,000, up to full home rehabilitation projects on some of the more serious projects with costs of up to $60,000. All repairs are completed at no cost to the home owner, while being bid out to local, licensed contractors. So, in addition to providing a service to community members in need, it is also a valuable source of income to hardworking builders and remodelers.
NOEL also works closely with local parish criminal courts to administer a Re-Entry Jobs Program. The main focus of this program is to act as a liaison between participants recently released from prison, and the services needed to help them succeed in their new life. These services include things like jobs, transportation, legal assistance, housing and more.