Archive for the ‘contractors’ Category

Status of the Remodel Economy, November 2009

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Here's the view from my corner of the world: East TN, Western NC, and North GA.

Things are slow, but the quality tradesmen who had diverse sources of work are still active. Remodel contractors and kitchen showrooms seem to be mostly holding on and likely to be able to do so for some time to come.

The picture seems gloomier for businessmen who had made large investments into the remodel economy. Two cases in point:

  • The largest high-end custom cabinet shop in my area is way, way down. I personally know that “critical” core people have been laid off, which sounds like desperation. I also know that there is debt from key equipment purchases over the past few years, so there's a possibility of them going under.
  • Granite (etc.) countertop guys are in a tough spot because of the investment required to do this at a high quality level (less attractive alternatives include having it cut in China and waiting 13 weeks to get it). I spoke with a major player who has operations reaching 150 miles in all directions and he painted this picture for me:
    • He invested 2.5 million USD in a CNC (probably including a laser templater?) cutting system sometime in 2007.
    • To fund his debt, he must run minimum of approx 900 sq ft of stone per week, this has forced him to expand his territory, sometimes leading to jobs where transport costs overwhelm profits.
    • He says that every month “a few stone guys go down and a few more pop up”
    • A major competitor of his is now facing prison time for trying to hide/sell assets in the midst of bankruptcy

Summary: For those who made major investments on the assumption that things would continue at the pace of 2005 and before, the only way to stay afloat is to expand. But this can only happen if the field of competitors thins, and that doesn't seem to be happening yet. Unless the economy turns quickly, it seems that a lot more players will have to close shop. But will they be the bigger ones or the smaller ones?

Thou Shalt Pour the Driveway First

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Okay, okay, I know I'm writing about new construction again. Sorry.

And I'm sure I've just offended .018% of my readers by refering to concrete as something which is “poured” rather than “placed”.

In any case, on with the article…

False Economy Case #917 – Installing hardwood floors before the driveway has been poured.

The Rationale – “We want to wait as long as possible to pour the driveway so that it will stay nice and clean looking. All that driveway maneuvering will leave your slab with some embarrasing 'tire hickeys', and some construction workers have vehicles that leak oil.”

The Voice of Experience – In theory, this is a great idea. In practice, you'll get a rainfall (or painters who clean their brushes out on the proposed driveway area, leaving a large swamp) which makes the soil/gravel mixture start to stick to the feet of the tradesmen. 3-5% of them will notice this and spend 30 seconds wiping their shoes. The rest will stomp through the house with their stylish “gravel soles” and you know the rest. Protecting the floor under these conditions becomes a very stressful undertaking with a low success rate.

Would you rather have a pristine driveway or pristine floors?

Get it (all) in Writing

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

My work takes me into many homes each year, and I rub shoulders with lots of General Contractors, tradesmen, and homeowners. This past week, a homeowner succinctly stated one of the most common remodel complaints. It went like this:

“I invested countless hours of my time in discussing various issues and problems at the beginning of the project. We made decisions about what was going to happen at various stages. I assumed they (designers, contractor, foreman) were keeping notes. But as the project rolled out, again and again I would have to stop things and remind them of the original plan. It became incumbent upon me to catch all these things or they weren't going to get caught.”

GCs and their on-site representatives are notoriously bad at keeping good records. Kitchen designers are usually a lot better. In this particular situation, the kitchen designer was no longer employed by the cabinet provider, left nearly no notes, and could not be reached by the homeowner. So yes, it was a mess. But sometimes it feels as if most jobs are a mess. There's always some excuse or special situation.

Here's the bottom line for the homeowner: Get it in writing.

Let me propose a little test that should help to ensure you against some of the ineptitude which lays in wait for you. Keep your own quick list of the things discussed between you and the GC/designer during the pre-bid stage. Then, before you surrender a down payment, ask to see their list of those details. If anything is missing, consider it a bad omen. You're just asking for misery if you accept a bid from someone who isn't keeping good records. You deserve better. Keep looking.

General Contracting — a Promising Field for Women?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

I recently heard it said that, in another 20 years, we will see a vast number of Hispanic General Contractors due to the fact that they will have a natural connection with the vast majority of subcontractors, who will increasingly be Hispanic. One weakness of this prediction is that it's unclear whether there will be many Hispanic GCs who can make a genuine connection with the typical homeowner.

Time will tell.

But here is my prediction: We will see a much greater number of female GCs in 20 years. Here's why: (more…)

Why Remodeling is More Stressful for the Wife

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Great insight from Jeff Opdyke:

So I see this experience as a lesson learned: When it comes to remodeling — and our kitchen is next — never equate your spouse's silence with acceptance. Your passion about a project may overwhelm your partner into submission.

Another really huge point brought out by Amy Opdyke is that nearly all of the “enforcement” fell on her shoulders.

Not only did she have to deal with workers in the house each day, deal with the short-notice questions of preference that came up, take innumerable trips out for small parts and whatnots, but worst of all she had to… (more…)

Bid Errors Found After Making Kitchen/Job Down Payment

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

How do you handle this situation:

You tell the kitchen designer what you want and s/he gives you a bid. The price is great! You do your best to check over everything on the bid, but you're not familiar with all the terminology and how to interpret the drawings, so you end up assuming the best and writing the down payment check.

Then you get that sick feeling in your stomach when (more…)

Motivating Tradesmen

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Friday I started a kitchen installation in an industrial building that was being turned into a residence. Very cool. I'll try to put up a case study video of the project before long.

Anyway, the mastermind of the project showed up mid-morning. He was in his 60's and had the bearing of someone who had been around construction for many years. (more…)

Yes, Call them Back

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Okay, so it's been a month since your project was complete.

They finished the checklist, and you cut them the last check. The General Contractor (GC) drove away and you breathed a big sigh of relief and exhaustion.

But about two weeks later you noticed a problem.


“Workers are Smoking on the Site of my Remodel or New Home. What do I do?”

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Today I was installing a kitchen in a lovely new custom home across town.

At some point I became aware of cigarette smoke coming from the painters. Sure enough, some of them were smoking.

Now, I don't know the homeowners very well, but I feel that I know them well enough to know that they don't smoke. Yet I noticed that, when they visited the house today to check on progress, they didn't say anything about the smoking. Why not? Isn't it a well-established fact that smoke lingers in the porous materials of a house, meaning that the house will have a hint of smoke residual from the month-or-two of construction crew smoking? (more…)