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Things you couldn't live without or wish you had added

posted by: ellied on 07.04.2007 at 10:48 am in Building a Home Forum

I have been trying to ask people who have built recently what things they just had to have that they now wish they had not spent the money for or items they don't have that they would now incorporate in the house if they had it to do over. Examples would be things like more plugs in the kitchen, better shelves and rods in the walk in closet, etc.
Any input from all of you out there. It might help me avoid mistakes in the near future.
Thanks.

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clipped on: 03.11.2008 at 11:46 am    last updated on: 03.11.2008 at 11:46 am

Due Dilligence - Questions to ask BEFORE you sign a contract

posted by: bevangel on 10.04.2007 at 04:30 pm in Building a Home Forum

Okay, after talking to a number of potential builders - and quickly crossing a BUNCH of them off my list! - and then getting 3 bids and carefully comparing them, etc, my DH and I have FINALLY decided on a GC.

Everyone says "do due diligence" before selecting a GC and I looked in vain for guidance on what sorts of questions to ask... both of the potential GC and his references. I finally came up with my own lists - based in large part on what I learned from the problems shared by other on this board and, in the interest of "paying it forward", thought I would share:

QUESTIONS TO ASK POTENTIAL GENERAL CONTRACTORS

Business History:
1. Legal Name, address, etc. of the GCs company? Names of Officers of the Company?
2. How long has GC been in business under this name?
3. Prior to starting this company, did GC own any other companies (in whole or in part) or do business under any other name? If so, what was the name of that company? How long was it in existence? Was it also a general "building" company or a specialty company (eg. Concrete or Framing only)? Why did GC cease doing business under that company name? [Be sure to follow up and ask about ALL business names the GC has used in the past.]
4. If your state requires residential builders to be licensed or registerd, is the GC licensed/registered? What is his license/registration number? How long has he been licensed? [Note: if your state requires builders to be registered or licensed, they are likely to have a website that provides at least some information regarding previous complaints against the builder.]
5. Has the GC ever been licensed by the State under any other business name? What name(s)?
6. Does the GC register every home he builds with the State?
7. How many homes has he/she served as GG on while in business under this name?
8. How many of those have been custom homes as opposed to spec or tract homes?
9. Of the custom homes, what has been the price range of the homes?
10. Has the GC ever been involved in a dispute with a client that went to arbitration? What was the outcome? [Note: arbitration settlements often require that both sides not talk about the settlement afterwards so the GC may not be able to tell you very much.]
11. Has the GC or any company owned by the GC in the past ever been sued by a customer? If so, when and where was the case(s) filed? What was the complaint? What was the case name and docket number? What was the outcome? [Note, court records are public documents. With a case name or docket number, you can go to the court house and get the records if you want to.]
12. Has the GC or any company owned by the GC in the past ever sued a customer? If so, when and where was the case(s) filed? What was the complaint? What was the case name and docket number? What was the outcome?
13. What building and/or business associations is the GC a member of? (BBB? Etc.?)

GC's Solvency
14. What is the net worth of the GCs company?
15. Is the GC willing to provide us with the companys audited financial statements for the last three years? (signed by an independent CPA)
16. Will the GC allow us to doing a credit check on his company?
17. Will the GCs bank verify that he has a line-of-credit available that is equal to at least 10% of the build price of my home? If the GC is currently building other projects as well, does he have a line-of-credit equal to at least 10% of the total build price of all projects he is currently involved in?]
18. What is the GCs typical pay cycle for his subcontractors? May I have the names of 3 subcontractors he uses regularly to verify that they are timely paid for their work?

Current Availability
19. How many other projects is the GCs company currently involved in building?
20. Will the GC personally supervise the building of my home (i.e., arrange for subcontractors, order materials, check the quality of work performed, etc.) or will he turn it over to an associate to handle? If an associate will be supervising, who is the associate? What is his/her experience level? Can I meet him/her? [NOTE: if an associate will be responsible for day to day management of my build, I will want to ask him/her many of the questions that I would otherwise direct to the GC.]
21. How often will the GC visit my home site? Daily? Every couple of days? Once a week? Less often?
22. If I contact the GC, how quickly will he return telephone calls? Emails?

Business Practices
23. Does the GC prefer to work under a fixed price contract or a cost-plus contract?
24. Does the GC have a list of subcontractors that he generally uses? If so, prior to accepting his bid, will he provide me with that list so that I can run BBB and other checks on them? Will I have the option of refusing the use of particular contractors with the understanding that such refusal may increase the total cost of the home. [The bid will need to be broken down by subcontractors so that, if I nix a particular subcontractor, the new cost will be adjusted only by the amount that a different sub bids on the particular work.]
25. Does the GC insist that all contracts include a mandatory arbitration clause? If so, will the GC agree that, in the event of a dispute, arbitration will be by a mutually agreeable arbitrator or, in the event that we cannot agree on an arbitrator, each side will submit that name and qualifications of one arbitrator to our mortgage officer without indicating which party submitted which name and the mortgage office make the final selection and that the arbitrator shall also have the power to impose all costs of arbitration on the losing party? Alternatively, will the GC agree that arbitration will be non-binding and that, in the event of a suit, the court may award the costs of arbitration, as well as court costs and attorneys fees to the winning party?
26. Does the contractor carry liability insurance? How much?
27. Does the contractor carry workmans compensation for all his employees?
28. Does the contractor require that all his subcontractors carry liability insurance and workmans comp for their employees?
29. How are "change orders" handled? Does the GC differentiate between customer-initiated change orders and contractor initiated change orders? What counts as a "change order"?

References
30. Can we get a list of addresses of all other homes currently under construction so we can drive by and take a look at them?
31. Can we get a list of all other projects completed in the last 5 years with a brief description of the project, its contract value, and the physical address? [NOTE: Tell contractor "Wed like to be able to drive by and get an idea of the range of the GCs experience". Check county tax office records to get name/address of property owner then use www.freeality.com reverse search on addresses to find telephone numbers. This provides additional "references" that have not been cherry-picked by the GC.]
32. Can we have the names of ____ prior clients that would be willing to provide references? [The number of reference I requested depended on how many custom homes the GC claimed to have built.]

QUESTIONS TO ASK GCs REFERENCES

1. Did you have an established completion date before construction started?
2. Did the contractor finish the project ahead or behind schedule, and if so, by approximately how many days? If there was a significant delay, to what do you attribute the delay?
3. Did you enter into a fixed price contract or a cost plus contract?
4. Was your final contract amount more or the same as the accepted proposal price? If it was more, how much was the percentage difference?
5. To what do you attribute the differences? Do you feel any additional costs were justified?
6. How often did the GC visit the site of your build? Daily? Weekly? Less Often?
7. How easy was the GC to contact when you needed to discuss a problem or issue? Did he return phone calls/emails promptly? Were problems/issues actually resolved to your satisfaction or did you just "give in" in order to get the build completed?
8. What would you say this contractors greatest strengths were? I.e., what did he do very well?
9. What would you say this contractors greatest weaknesses were?
10. If you were going to build again, would you use this contractor again or choose someone else? Why?
11. What are you happiest about with your home?
12. What are you unhappiest about with regard to your home?
13. What would you have done differently with regard to building your home if you had known ahead of time everything you learned along the way in the process of building your home?
14. Is there a question you NOW wish you had asked the contractor ahead of time but didnt?
15. Is there anything else about this builder or your building experience that you would like to tell me that I haven't already asked?
16. Do you know of anyone else for whom this contractor has built a custom home that I might talk to? [Again, this may lead to references that haven't been "cherry-picked" by the builder.]

Just so you know, the due diligence was a real pain and seemed to take forever. A bunch of builders balked at answering some of my questions but I'm convinced that the better ones were all happy to respond and ultimately, those were the only ones we solicited bids from. We also talked to innumerable references. I made copies of my questions, with space for answers, so I could keep clear who was saying what about which GC.

The fellow we ultimately selected came in rather higher than the other two but we chose him anyway because every single one of his prior customers that we spoke with (including people that weren't on the reference list he gave me but that I "dug up" via other means) all said that he was scrupulously honest, did great work, and that they would hire him again in a heartbeat. Several actually had! including one fellow who had had him build three custom home for him -- ex-wives got the first two! Plus another lady who is currently on her third build with him and insisted I come out and see both her current home and the new one that is "in progress" so she could point out the quality of the work done. I asked why she was building again when she was so happy with her current home and she said she found the new piece of property while helping someone else look and "fell in love" with it and decided she just had to live there. She said she figures she will clear enough on her current home to nearly pay off the new one.

So, while I'm scared spitless about the amount of money we're fixing to sink into this, I'm actually looking forward to the process.

Anyway, hope the questions help...

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clipped on: 03.08.2008 at 03:53 pm    last updated on: 03.08.2008 at 03:53 pm

What do you wish you had done differently? [Part 2]

posted by: buehl on 02.05.2008 at 08:53 pm in Kitchens Forum

Now that the previous thread of the same name has reached the limit of maximum posts (150), I thought I'd start a new one.

My two big "wishes" right now are:

(1) I wish I had insisted the contractor or at least a second party measure my kitchen as a "double-check" to my KD's measurements

(2) I wish we had opened up the ceiling and walls somewhat to determine if we could vent our cooktop in the layout's proposed location...before we finalized the layout! We knew the ceiling was going to be completely removed w/the renovation, we should have gone ahead and removed some of it ahead of time.


BTW...if you want to keep the previous thread, save it now before it falls off!

Here is a link that might be useful: Previous Thread: What do you wish you had done differently?

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clipped on: 03.07.2008 at 12:20 am    last updated on: 03.07.2008 at 12:20 am

RE: Looking for suggestions for our floor plan (Follow-Up #1)

posted by: bevangel on 03.04.2008 at 03:40 pm in Building a Home Forum

Sorry Yan but your link takes us to a hotmail log-in page so there is no way we can view it. You need to convert the pdf file to an image, then post it on a photo sharing website and give us a link to that.

Just in case you need help converting the pdf an image... here's how to do it.

First save the pdf file to your computer. Then open the pdf file on you computer and take a "picture" of portion that has the floorplan image(s) you want to share.

To take a "picture" of part of a pdf file, use Adobe Acrobat STANDARD to open the pdf file. (I don't think Adobe Acrobat Reader has the necessary tools.) Find an icon that looks kind of like a little camera on the tool bar. It is called a "snapshot tool".

Click on the camera icon then put your cursor at the upper right corner of the section you want to take a picture of and, while holding down the left mouse button, drag the cursor down and to the left until there is a dotted line rectangle around the part you want to take a picture of. When you release the mouse button, you'll get a message that "the selected area has been copied to the clipboard."

Next, open your "Paint" program - there are other programs that will work but "Paint" comes bundled with your computer so I'm pretty sure you'll have the program. The program should be under Accessories and its icon looks like a little clear plastic cup with tiny little paintbrushes sticking up. Find the word "Edit" on the tool bar at the top and click that, then on the drop down menu, click "Paste". The picture you took off the pdf file should show up in the white rectangle.

Save the Paint image by doing the following:
Click "File" on the Paint menu bar.
Click "Save As". A window will pop up that is probably set to save things into "My Pictures" and lets you assign a filename to the image and decide the format (file type) you want to save it as. You'll want to save as Type: JPEG.

Once you've done all that, you'll need to load the JPEG image onto an on-line picture sharing website like photobucket and from there, you'll be able to paste the image directly onto your message and we'll be able to see it. If you need help with this last step, let us know what photo sharing website you want to use and someone on the forum will be able to guide you through those steps.

Alternatively, ask any 10 y.o. you happen to know for help and they'll do it all for you in about 5 minutes! They may also know an easier way but make sure they show you ALL the steps and give you time to take notes so that next time you can do for yourself. If it weren't for my nephew and niece, I'd still be saying things like "email? what's email?!?!"

G'Luck

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clipped on: 03.05.2008 at 12:00 am    last updated on: 03.05.2008 at 12:00 am

RE: Checklist for materials selections? Please!!?? (Follow-Up #4)

posted by: jodied on 03.01.2008 at 08:12 pm in Building a Home Forum

I setup an Excel spreadsheet with a tab for each room and put everything for that room on the sheet. You can put in the headings (lighting, electrical, cabintery, trim, Paint, plumbing, etc.) for the first room and then copy that page for each other room. Then fill in each room's particulars.
We presented our package to the builder today and while he does his figuring by the square footage, the detail gives him an idea of the price point for the lighting we want for example so we don't end up going over budget. ( had even made a mockup of the balustrades.)
But the spreadsheets were the most help to. They made it easy to check that had everything thought through for each room and hadn't missed anything. It's easier to see you forget something for a room with the room all on one page.
What I am finding EXTREMELY helpful is Microsoft One Note. I bought it for this laptap based on the demo on Microsoft's site which I stumbled upon when I was going through the Tablet demo. It's killer!
You right click something at Lighting Universe and click and paste it into One Note. the picture and the URL are pasted. Same with any spreadsheets, etc., and then you can scan in, an draw (with a tablet.) This has helped me see things all in one place for a room.
I am a quilt designer, so it's much like the quilt fabric online stores that let you see the fabrics in your cart as swathes all on one page, with the ability to move them around to rehearse them.
Again, One note is set up like a notebook, so you can set up a page for each room, one for the exterior, etc.

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clipped on: 03.01.2008 at 08:22 pm    last updated on: 03.01.2008 at 08:22 pm

RE: Custom doors for IKEA cabinets? Has anyone done this? (Follow-Up #7)

posted by: linley1 on 02.17.2008 at 11:34 am in Kitchens Forum

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clipped on: 02.21.2008 at 08:22 pm    last updated on: 02.21.2008 at 08:23 pm

RE: Our Modern House Blog (Follow-Up #7)

posted by: hayes8705 on 02.21.2008 at 11:50 am in Building a Home Forum

Thanks, billyc, for all of the great information! We're currently working with a 24x48 design...but I'm wondering if we should think about a 22x50 to attain that great long, streamlined look you guys have.

I have been collecting pictures of modern barns for as long as I can remember. I should probably cite the sources for the ones I posted on the blog. I'll try to do that at some point. I have a couple of strategies for finding inspirational images...I constantly Google things like "modern barn" just to see what pops up. I also have a few fantastic coffee table books at home that provide information on the architects that designed each of the homes featured...so I then search online for their websites. Here are a couple that I like:

http://www.architecturalpolka.com/houses2.html
http://www.salaarc.com/
http://www.hivemodular.com/
http://www.neilkelly.com/pageview.aspx?menu=3664&id=13377
http://www.pillmaharam.com/
http://www.wintonscott.com/Residential/residential.htm
http://www.bcj.com/
http://www.po-2.com/project/p.htm
http://www.johnstonarchitects.com/residential.php?building=12

And here are some of those great books:

http://www.amazon.com/Farm-Houses-Style-Neill-Heath/dp/0060833297/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203612409&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Good-House-Cheap-Adventures-Extraordinary/dp/1561587524/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203612454&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Urban-Country-Style-Nancy-Gent/dp/1423601599/ref=pd_sim_b_img_4

I also seems like Sweden has a lot of great modern barn-like architecture. Granted I can't understand them but I sometimes browse through Swedish architectural firms' sites. I don't think I have any saved at this point. Let's keep in touch--I'm sure I'll think of some more questions to ask you at some point! My email address is hayes8705@yahoo.com. And thanks again for all of the great answers to my questions.

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clipped on: 02.21.2008 at 08:15 pm    last updated on: 02.21.2008 at 08:15 pm

RE: Our Modern House Blog (Follow-Up #2)

posted by: hayes8705 on 02.20.2008 at 09:52 pm in Building a Home Forum

Wow--it is so incredibly exciting to find someone with a similar vision and aesthetic! My husband and I are building a modern barn-inspired home in northern Vermont and honestly have not yet come across another set of plans/pictures that more closely resembles our own than yours! I couldn't stop smiling as I was reading through your blog...your floor plan and material choices have so much in common with our own. We haven't yet posted our plans because they're still being finalized but you can check out our progress on our blog (link below).

Our number one priority with our build is energy efficiency--we're currently deciding whether to build using SIPs and ICFs or just ICFs. We're leaning toward a full ICF house. We don't find out from our town until March 11th whether we're cleared to build this summer or not so we haven't even broken ground yet. We're still in the design phase. But I think you'll see from the photos on our site that we also favor a clean, barn-like structure with tall ceilings, flowing interior spaces and natural materials. If you don't mind, I'm terribly curious to know more about some of details of your design. Would you be willing to share your exterior dimensions, ceiling heights, roof pitch, etc? And thanks for posting--it's GREAT to see a modern house on this forum!

Here is a link that might be useful: Our blog

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clipped on: 02.21.2008 at 08:14 pm    last updated on: 02.21.2008 at 08:14 pm

Our Modern House Blog

posted by: billyc on 02.20.2008 at 06:13 pm in Building a Home Forum

Hello all,

It's been nearly a year since we started clearing trees on our upstate NY property, and we're really beginning to see the fruits of our labor (our contractor's labor, really). We've been maintaining this blog since we bought the property in 2006 - very sporadically at first, more frequently as construction proceeded.

We knew very little about building a house when we started the process, and this forum was invaluable. We now want to make ourselves available to help those just starting out.

Our house is unlike most on this forum in that it's a pretty modern structure. It's a take on the barns of upstate NY, and while it certainly doesn't appeal to everyone's taste, we love it. The interior of the house will have some truly amazing details (hopefully very soon!) so check back often.

A lot of time and effort went into the selection of flooring, windows, cabinetry, fixtures, etc so if you have any questions about good sources for modern products, don't hesitate to ask.

Enjoy!

Here is a link that might be useful: Our Modern House Blog

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clipped on: 02.21.2008 at 08:14 pm    last updated on: 02.21.2008 at 08:14 pm

RE: what is the best online light source/store? (Follow-Up #15)

posted by: sherilynn on 02.11.2008 at 07:50 am in Kitchens Forum

I bought my kitchen lights, which are Murray Feiss, from ewins.com; see the link below. I was going to do pendants until I saw this large billiard light model from ewins which is perfect over my 8'x4' island.

I bought over $16,000 worth of lighting for our home, (MSRP pricing), for about $4,000 (with only $165 pallet shipping costs for everything), from Steve at Seagull Lighting. www.seagulllighting.com/outlet will take you to just 'some' of the items he sells. I do NOT SEE tthe outlet/discounted rates online. You must email him or call him. The email address is on the web site.

You can get huge savings by dealing with him directly because you will be cutting out the middleman. Steve also sells on eBay, which is how I found him from the start. I wanted some PGA Lighting that was so very expensive to me, for a FRACTION of the original cost.

I just checked Steve's store on eBay where he sells their overstocked items. Here's one pendant, to give you an idea of the savings. Online, this pendant sells for almost $80; in the online store, he sells for $11.99 for the buy it now pricing.

Pendants from Steve on eBay now

Here is a link that might be useful: www.ewins.com

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clipped on: 02.13.2008 at 08:21 pm    last updated on: 02.13.2008 at 08:22 pm