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If You're Thinking About Contracting Your Own Home...Advice from Hometime's Dean Johnson and Robin Hartl

Educate yourself. There are no hard and fast rules to contracting a house since every house is different, but there is a general order of events and procedures. Read as much as you can. Talk to builders, architects, inspectors, and people who have successfully contracted their own homes.

You must understand how the different trades interrelate so you can schedule the job. You need to know enough about the work being done to monitor the quality and pace of your subcontractors' work.

You must understand the specs for all products being used to build the house. For instance, after the vinyl flooring is installed is no time to figure out that the manufacturer's warranty requires a different underlayment than you had installed.

Quit your day job. Okay, that may not be possible, but it's ideal. At the very least, try to arrange a leave of absence or some flex time. Contracting a house is a full-time job; you really should be on site and available to the subs at least four hours a day. It works best if you can take a leave of absence from work and just focus on planning the job, then building the house. Otherwise, you're really looking at having two full-time jobs, and likely not doing either one well.

Get organized. You will be managing the construction schedule, arranging financing, purchasing insurance, bidding subs, ordering materials, and collecting more paperwork than you ever thought possible. Don't even think about contracting your own house if you aren't good at tracking details.

Polish your communication skills. You will spend most of each day on the phone if you are doing the job right. You have to keep all the subs informed of schedule changes, schedule and confirm delivery of materials, keep the bank apprised of progress, schedule inspections, put out a few fires, and then do it all over again, day after day.

You must establish clear lines of communication with the subs so you and they are clear about what work is to be done, how, and when. There will be scheduling conflicts and there will be snafus. You must be able to speak honestly and frankly with the subs to clear up all problems as they arise.

Be honest with yourself. If you don't understand the construction process thoroughly, if you have a short supply of time or money, if you lack organization, troubleshooting, or communication skills, then think twice about contracting your own home.

If you really want to be involved in the building of your house and aren't prepared to serve as the contractor, a better option is to take on some of the construction labor yourself. There are many builders who will negotiate a price based on the homeowner taking on tasks such as daily site clean-up or painting.

Be realistic in your expectations. Understand that self-contracting is not likely to save you a whole lot of money. Best case is you can save 20 to 25 percent; the reality is you will probably burn through those savings by making mistakes scheduling the work and ordering materials.

What you should expect is headaches. You will have a hard time hiring subs and then getting them to show up on schedule. There's no malice here on the part of the subs, it's just that the builder who called them two weeks before your job was scheduled to start can offer them repeat work—you can't.

Why bother? Because you like a challenge. Because you are fascinated by the construction process. Because you want to be intimately involved in the creation of your home.


Reprinted with permission of Hometime®. For further information about building and renovation, tune in to Hometime or visit © Hometime 1997, all rights reserved.