Build Your Own House

Hiring Contractors

Summary: How to hire contractors, work with contractors, and pay contractors.

Scheduling Your contractors or subcontractors (subs)

Try to schedule your subs to fit into the sequence of events outlined in Chapter 8. This won’t always be possible, and one subcontractor can hold up the process. This is why you should check their references and ask whether their previous work has been completed on time. Reliability is as important as quality and in some cases more so.

Working with Subs

If you get along well with everyone at all times, you may not need to read the next few paragraphs. But if you occasionally run into conflicts, read them carefully. The fault — sometimes — may be yours.

At this point you’ve selected your subcontractors. You’ve checked them out and are satisfied that they are honest, trustworthy, and experts in their fields.

Now let them work. Don’t try to supervise every blow of a hammer or the placement of every stud. These guys are professionals and they know more about their trades than you do, and probably, if they came to you well recommended, they take pride in their work. Let them do it.

And, more emphatically, don’t try to tell your subcontractors their jobs just because you have read this book and a few others. You’ll get good work out of your subs if they understand that you realize they know their jobs, and you’re depending on them for good advice and quality work.

When a subcontractor’s work is completed, when the work looks good, and when the relevant inspections have checked out, make sure to pay the contracted amount promptly. A hearty thank you is also in order. Subcontractors who get treated right throughout the job and afterward will do a better job for you, and they’ll come back when you build your next house. And you will build another.

Paying Your Subcontractors

When you sign your contract with your carpenter, you will agree on a contract price for the work. It is usually based on X number of dollars per square foot of heated area and X number of dollars per square foot of under roof, such as in the garage. Prices will vary with the area, unions, and the complexity of the job.

Never pay a subcontractor for work not done, for work that is incomplete, or for an unsatisfactory job. Never pay a Subcontractor in advance. Paying in advance destroys incentive to get your job done ahead of other jobs. Paying in advance could result in a financial loss to you if the subcontractor is incapacitated in some manner. I don’t know anybody who gets paid in advance in any job field. If the subcontractor says he (or she) needs money to get materials, etc., find somebody else.

Work out a schedule of payment with your carpenter. The carpenter and some of the other subs may require draws, or partial payments, as work progresses. This should be discussed before work begins. Don’t be shy about it. They are accustomed to discussing such matters.

It is all right to pay a draw, but never pay for more than the work already done. If, for example, your carpenter says he is 50 percent finished framing, but he has only framed the floors, walls and hasn’t finished the ceiling joists, roof framing, sheathing, or bridging, he isn’t 50 percent complete. He is nearer 40 percent complete. Pay him no more than 40 percent of his contract price (bid).

Plumbers and electricians usually get 60 percent of the total contract price when their rough-in work has been completed and inspected. Heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning rough-in payments depend on the installation of equipment such as furnaces. If payment is just for duct work and some low-voltage wiring, 20 percent of the total should suffice. If a furnace had to be installed during rough-in, add another 10 percent. Work out the arrangement with the sub before he starts. Subcontractors almost always would like to get more money up front than they have in the job. Be sure there is enough money left in the total bid to complete the job if one of your subs goes broke while you are still building. It has happened. You don’t want to be stuck paying more to complete his job. You’ll be covered better if you don’t overpay him on his rough-in.

Brick masons and painters are about the only other subcontractors who will require a draw in progress. You will have to use your best judgment as to how much of the job is done. Again, don’t get ahead of them in paying.

I seem to be saying the only way you’ll get your subcontractors to complete the job is if you owe them money. In some cases that is true, but in others it is only partially true. Some subcontractors would finish regardless. Often the issue is that subcontractors have more than one job going at one time, and your main objective is to get your job finished before one that was started after yours.

Make sure building inspections by your county or city are completed and the work is approved before you make any payments at any phase of construction, other than partial draws. This is your assurance that the job has been done, and done properly.

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