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The House Gut Vol. 2 – Finding the right contractor

by Prince Of Petworth February 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm 16 Comments

The House Gut is a new series written by HumaneFoodie. She lives in NoMa. You can read the first installment of The House Gut here.

Finding the right contractor for your job

And you thought that finding a date in this city was hard? Try finding a contractor.
But before you even get to that phase, do you even want to buy it?
After we put in an offer on the house (New Series – The House Gut), we could still rescind the offer based on the inspection or even later if thefinancing (or appraisal) didn’t work out. But before getting a mortgage, we had to be sure the house was in no worse shape than it appeared.

We first had it inspected.

In a 35-page report emailed two days after a (four-hour) walkthrough with Cliff from Capitol Hill Home Inspection (recommended by our agent), we read through all that had to be done:

  • Upgrade electric and plumbing and get a new HVAC system
  • Tuck point the outside brick and fix chimney
  • Put on a new roof and fix up the garage (although it does look very Frank Gehry-esque)
  • Fix rotting front porch and floor joists, deteriorated walls, and other items
  • Put new insulation in throughout the house
  • Deal with the lead paint, asbestos and termite damage
  • Completely renovate the basement

Scary stuff, especially for people who had never been through anything like this. But we had to think about the big things we wanted to do on top of the needed renovations and do another walkthrough – this time with a general contractor (GC).

A “first-time walkthrough” with a GC is standard practice. It is good for a potential homeowner, who will get an idea of what a job will cost, and it is good for the GC, who may have just landed some business, for s/he might get hired to do the job down the road.
We gave the contractor an idea about what we wanted to do (from bottom to top):

  • Make the basement a livable space with a living area, bedroom, and full bathroom
  • Open/remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room
  • Renovate the upstairs bathroom and add a second bathroom upstairs (where the sleeping porch was)
  • Add a closet to the back bedroom
  • Re-do the garage
  • Build a second floor porch and put in solar panels on the roof
  • Oh, and all the other stuff listed above needed to make the house habitable.

Continues after the jump.

The GC came back with a bid we could work with, so we decided to move forward with buying the house.

A month later, we were homeowners in need of a contractor.
For my husband and me, there were four main factors in choosing our “Goldilocks” contractor:

  1. Cost
  2. Timeline (The sooner the better—we would be paying rent while renovating)
  3. Willingness to salvage materials and make the house as energy efficient as possible
  4. Happy to work with an architect (who happens to be my mother)

Going about finding a contractor.

I had heard horror stories, ranging from contractors “disappearing” and leaving projects half-finished to shoddy jobs that cost a fortune. After spending far too much time trolling through Angie’s List for just the right GC for our job, we realized that word of mouth was the way to go. Too many GCs had great reviews except for that one where they did something egregious, like electrocuted someone (by accident).

Armed with copies of the renovation plans that my mother had drawn, we ended up interviewing three GCs: one recommended by our real-estate agent, one recommended by a friend, and one from an unsolicited recommendation on my husband’s work message board.
Getting the bids.

We did an individual 90-minute walkthrough of the house with each of the prospective GCs and (several weeks later) got the three bids.  And while they all probably would have done a good job, we ended up picking the one who met our four criteria best:

  1. Cost. (Interestingly, the three bids were all within a few percentage points of each other but contained dramatically different levels of detail and itemization. Going back and forth with the GCs on detailing the scope of work was also really helpful, as it showed how they would communicate with us during the process.)
  2. His estimate for finishing the job was two months. (Hold your tongues, PoPville friends. We know, we know… )

    ***Full disclosure: We very much like our contractor, and his team is still doing some finishing touches on the job. And now we know–just like everyone else who has ever undergone a house renovation– that for some odd cosmic reason, no job is ever finished on time. For this house, there were several surprises lurking behind the walls and under the floors, and of course, a few change orders. ***

  3. He had specific ideas and recommendations on how to get recycled and salvaged materials and make the home energy efficient.
  4. He enjoyed working with architects.

And just like that, we had a GC.

Next up: Next up: Details about the design, salvaging materials for our project and making our home energy efficient.

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