Wednesday, February 10, 2010

General Contractor Run-Down

And I don't mean, as in run em down with my car cause I'm so damn annoyed with em!

Over the past couple of weeks I've been emailing general contractors in the area that I have positive reviews on the Berkeley Parents Network.

I basically sent them all the same letter with a PDF copy of the plan set attached. The letter is copied below.

Hello,
Got your contact info from the Berkeley Parents Network.
We have just finished the design phase of a house remodel consisting of remodeling the top floor of our Victorian into a master suite, laundry room, and guest bedroom with bath, and a kitchen remodel.

I’ve included a PDF version of the permit docs for your perusal. I’d appreciate it if you could take a look at them and then let me know if this would be the kind of project you are interested in doing.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,
Daniel Neumansky

I sent that letter out to 10 different GC's three of which I knew from the first go-round where we decided on Winans Construction (much to our now dismay).

Here's a summary of the interactions I've had with these GC's who are attempting to get my business.

1. Fancy-pants green build firm #1: Actually I feel kinda bad about these guys as they are nice peeps and I sorta forgot how super high-end they are with high-end overhead... They actually printed out the plan set and thought about it and came over to the house to talk to me where-in within 5 minutes it was obvious to all of us that we couldn't afford them.

2. No-so-fancy-pants design build firm #2. This place advertises itself as a green-design-build firm. But.....after talking to them the only green building experience they have is sorting their dumpsters for recycling!!! Ha! Oh, and the design part of it....not so much, they have an architect they like to work with and recommend. I don't really see this as a design-build firm ya know? So, after two miss-leading marketing ploys I was not getting a good feeling about these people. Then, after they said they'd do up an estimate from the plans they emailed me back and said, 'Well no, we want $500 to do a detailed estimate!!!' WOW! business must be booming for these guys no? For the weasely marketing they get a big NO from us.

3. Slightly less fancy builder: This is the last person from the first go-round. I hit it off with this guy pretty well when he came to look at the house originally and we've been emailing since about radiant heating stuff. I sent him the plans 3 weeks ago and have not heard anything back... not encouraging.

These new guys below are from the pool of, 'We're a small shop where we do 90% of the work ourselves and have much smaller overhead.'

4. The Russian with the Gold Card: This guy showed up with-out printing out the set of plans for himself so I gave him a set from my own stash... He really didn't want to talk much kinda quickly ran through the house and was gone....he has a ton of good reviews so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Got his bid back in a couple of weeks and he was the lowest of the bunch ~$150,000!!!

Hurray!!!! I thought, we can afford to redo the house!!! But then I looked at his bid and noticed that he didn't include a lot of stuff and the stuff he did include was super cheap home-despot type of junk like 4" MDF baseboard!! Like that garbage would ever cross our threshold. If I was playing devils-advocate I could say that he was trying to artificially lower his bid to get the sale then screw me later on with change orders...this guy gets a big fat NO also.

5. Mr. Friendly: His sister lives down the street from us and he's done several remodels in Alameda already. He was nice and affable on the phone and listened to all the stuff I said during our walk through. He did bitch a little bit too much about how much he paid to get the plans printed out. He got screwed over by printing out the plans at kinko's (never ever go to kinko's to print out architectural drawings go to a real print shop it'll be like 1/4 the cost literally) and was hoping to pass the screw-ing off to me...

Mr. Friendly got back to me with a b.s. per square foot quote (which I told him I was not going to except no way no how) of $350,000....still better than the $550,000 Winans Construction was going to charge me. Cheaper is better for us of course but I had absolutely no confidence in his # because he barely spent any time coming up with it... for not listening to me and trying to pass off a b.s. bid as a real one this guy gets a big fat hells-NO.

6. The Pretty Boy: This guy had lots of positive recommendations and has done several remodels very similar to ours. He has a small crew where they do almost all the work themselves and they love to do cabinet work in house. He said that they could do all the cabinet work themselves instead of bringing in a cabinet sub. I like this idea as then he will be responsible for the whole she-bang. He printed out the plans himself, came over on time and listened to everything I had to say. We got along pretty well, I like his body of work. One thing that was kinda cheesy was that he tried to impress me about how he used to work on an HGTV show as 'the carpenter'. Which of course us being the veterans of two reality shows about us and our friends I was not super impressed... He got back to me relatively quickly with a reasonably detailed (but not enough) bid included all the cabinet work that he could understand from the plans (I've since found the cabinet schedule and sent it to him) of ~$279,000!!!

Okay, now we're talking! Looks like he took the time to do a 'real' bid and I have a much higher confidence in his number...but really, we were hoping that it would come in closer to $200,000. One really strange thing, is that his number is almost exactly what the remodeling cost vs value report says the average price for our job should be!?!?!?!? Weird huh? I never told him about the blog. Wonder if he found it and saw that number and made it work??? Hmmmmm....

7. The Tattooed Man: This guy if from a very young firm where they've never done anything as big as our job. They've done all the individual pieces of our job but never one-big-all-in-one thing like what we've got going on here. He does have plenty of experience doing jobs bigger than ours when he was working under another GC so he's got the experience. I have to admit this lack of experience is an issue for me...

He came over on time, took his shoes off, and had the plans printed out and marked up already with questions. I liked that he had actually spent time looking at the plans beforehand. We hit it off pretty well and I like the way he is thinking about doing it. It obvious to me that he is really thinking about the most intelligent way to do things.

He got back to me with a reasonably detailed quote of ~$297,000...higher than pretty boy's but within the same range.

Conclusion: We've decided that we've narrowed it down to Pretty Boy and The Tattooed Man. We like them both and think we could work with them both.

Our plan now is to check their references more thoroughly and go see their work for ourselves so we can see just how good they really are.

If they both check-out in that respect we plan to offer to pay them to write-up a super detailed broken out scope of work type bid so that we can compare apples to apples on their bids.

Right now Tattooed Man is higher but I can't be sure that he's not including more in his bid that Pretty Boy. My suspicion is that Tattooed Man might be including more roof framing in his bid.

So, that's where we're at, looks like we can get the house redone for slightly less than $300,000.

We'd greatly prefer to have that number be $200k but this looks like a fantasy we're going to have to let go of. Least its still not at $550k right?

One thing this process has really brought to the fore front is how bad the set of plans from Winans Construction are. They are so incomplete that there will be a fuzziness to the numbers until I get a real bid set of plans done....I'm feeling kinda bad about this as in a sense I've wasted these GC's time with plans that are less than ideal.

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