Armchair Builder

For the Owner Builder: Seven Things to Never Say to Your Subcontractor

Owner Builder Armchair Builder is all about helping the owner builder save money on their building projects.  In addition to helping you save money, we also like to help protect you from the unscrupulous people in the building industry.  I don’t want to give the impression that all people in the building industry are bad…quite the contrary.  The majority of the companies out there are good, hard working people but you still need to protect yourself as an owner builder.  Check out this previous post if your not entirely sure what we mean by owner builder.

Whether you’re building a new home or repairing your existing one, there are certain things you never want to say to your subcontractor (a.k.a. company doing work on your home).  Having dealt with carpenters, roofers, painters…etc. for years as a builder, I have learned a few things.  I thought I would share a few of those things here to help protect you as an owner builder.  Hopefully, these will help you avoid some of the possible problems and horror stories we hear about.

So, here are the most important items to never say to your subcontractor as an owner builder…

  1. Do you need a deposit?
  2. I’m here all the time…so show up whenever you can.
  3. Let me know the cost when you’re done.
  4. I don’t know anything about [insert your problem here].
  5. Don’t worry about the mess, I’ll clean up.
  6. Just get it done…I don’t care how you do it.
  7. Go ahead and use the driveway if it makes your job easier.
Let’s discuss these a little bit more…again, our goal here is to help protect you as the owner builder.
Do you need a deposit?  I’m not a fan of the deposit.  The only time I think a deposit makes sense is if the particular job you are hiring for will take longer than a month.  In that case, progress payments are necessary for the company’s payroll.  If a subcontractor is pushing for a deposit for material, offer to purchase the material yourself.  See if you can go down to the supply company and pay and sign for the material.  That way it is yours…just in case the sub never shows up…you still have your material.  Be sure the company delivers the material to your home, not the subcontractor.  If they still insist on a material deposit, ask them what their terms are with the supplier.  A good subcontractor will have terms of 15 to 30 days.  Which means they don’t pay for the material until two to four weeks after delivery.  If the company must pay upfront for material, this could be a sign of financial problems.
I’m here all the time so show up whenever you can.  Unless you are getting a discount for this show up whenever project, I would make them give you a day and time.  Even if you are retired, it can get old waiting around for a repair company to show up.  You don’t want to become a prisoner in your own home.
Let me know the cost when you’re done.  This one can get ugly.  This is like writing a check and leaving the amount blank.  If you don’t agree on a price before hand (and in writing of course), you have a legal issue on your hands.  Of course there are some repair items that require diagnosis before a price can be given.  Make sure you agree on an hourly rate for these and be sure to make note of the start and end time.  I would also be there to make sure work is progressing.  If a job has a fixed task and you know the scope of the project…insist on a fixed price estimate.
I don’t know anything about [insert your problem here].  Modesty is a great virtue…but not when hiring subcontractors.  Be sure to read up on the work you want to have done and learn as much as possible before talking to potential subcontractors.  The more you know, the better off you’ll be.  Stop by Armchair Builder and ask if you can’t find the answer to a question.  After all, we specialize and take pride in helping owner builders get them most for their money.  One other thought…You don’t want to end up as a homeowner on an episode of Dateline.
Don’t worry about the mess…I’ll clean up.  A professional company will clean up their own mess.  But if after negotiating the lowest price, you decide to ask what it would save you if you cleaned up, then go for it.  Some skilled trades make $50-$100 per hour depending on your location.  In this case, it might save you a few bucks to clean up yourself as the owner builder.
Just get it done.  I don’t care about the process.  After leaning as much as you can about what needs to be done as an owner builder, make sure you and your subcontractor are on the same page about how the work will be done.  This should also be in writing…it’s called a scope of work (we offer these at our ESTORE).  For example, let’s say you want the trim painted for your new office.  And you decide it would look best to spray the trim with an airless sprayer to avoid brush marks.  If this is what you want, make sure you get it in writing in your owner builder scopes of work.
Go ahead and use the driveway if it makes your job easier.  I never let subcontractors park on my driveways.  Why?  Because their trucks might leak (car fluids can eat through asphalt or stain concrete).  And most driveways were not designed for more than passenger cars or pickups.  So if there is a delivery of material…the truck should stay on the street to prevent cracking of your driveway.
As an owner builder, you can protect yourself against the shady companies out there.  Just make sure you follow these tips…and always, always, always get a contract in writing describing the work (scope of work including material specs), price, schedule and warranty provided. This is by no means a comprehensive list but it should help get you closer to your goals of saving money and getting the job done right as an owner builder.  Stop by our main site for more detailed info on saving money and protecting yourself as an owner builder.

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