• TheConfused Father

Why We Didn't Hire A General Contractor

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

To save money. That is really it. The end. Talk to you next week.

But that doesn’t make for a very interesting story now does it? Also, that doesn’t really explain how we are saving any money. Most people will actually argue that by not having a general contractor you end up spending more on a house. Professional general contractors know which sub-contractors do the best work, who overcharges, and have the leverage of repeat business to help keep prices down. These are all great points and very true statements. However, none of that is guaranteed. When subcontractors are busy, they will charge what they think their time is worth no matter who is asking them to do the work. On the other hand, if they are in need of work they will give anyone who asks a better deal. Plus, you are paying the general contractor his fee no matter what.

We met with two general contractors in the early stages of our house-building adventure. We knew what we were looking for in a house and roughly what it should cost to build. Both of them told us that what we were looking for would be easy to do and they could easily do it for less than what we had budgeted in their first meeting. Both of them also came back to us with estimates that were well over what we had budgeted. And neither of them were trying to build the house we wanted. The first thing we told both of them was that we wanted a metal roof and metal siding on the house. Apparently, they both thought that they knew better about what we wanted in our home and presented us with plans for a traditionally sided and shingled home. There were also several other key points they didn't feel the need to include in their estimates. If we couldn’t get them to even quote the house that we were looking for, what could we expect to get when they did go to build it?

A friend of ours was finishing up building his home earlier this year and it was one of the many homes we visited in order to draw inspiration for our own home. He was the general contractor for his home and it turned out beautifully. After the two poor experiences with the contractors that others had recommended to us, we returned to talk to him about his experience building his own home. He had a lot of helpful pointers for us that gave us the confidence to give it a try ourselves.

Now Erin and I both have a lot of experience when it comes to construction. I grew up in a family that builds houses. I have an uncle who is a framer, another that is a plumber, one is a mason, and my father is a certified electrician. Between the four of them and their children (which includes me), we have built 8 houses together. Erin’s also got plenty of experience, as she grew up in several "fixer-uppers" and often found herself helping with the projects. We have fine-tuned that experience working on our current home and building outbuildings for our farmstead. We feel that there are a lot of things that, with a little help from our families, we can tackle ourselves on this project.

After sitting down and breaking out the work we thought we could handle, the things that we knew we could not, and the things we just really didn’t want to, we started getting rough bids from subcontractors. We made a few visits to the hardware store to make detailed lists of fixtures, carpets, flooring, cabinets, and the thousand other things that go into making a building into a home. Finally, we met with a contractor that has done this a few times who looked over everything we had gathered up to make sure we weren’t missing anything. With all our ducks in a row, we broke ground on July 11 after a kind of crazy day (read more about that here).

So far, the project has gone fairly smoothly other than a few delays on account of an unusually rainy August. As of this last week, all the concrete footings and walls were done. Our wastewater guy should be out here early next week to rough in the basement. Preparations for all the flat concrete will start immediately after that. Two weeks after the flatwork is done the framers will start and, with any luck, we will have the shell up before mid-December. That is when we will have to get busy. Erin and I will work together to do most of the interior work other than the sheetrock. I look forward to writing about that here as that means the house is coming together. Until then though, I just hope everything goes as planned.

This is where we are so far and I am sure there will be more bumps in the road but that is what makes the trip fun. And there is no one I would rather have as my co-pilot on the journey than Erin. I guess ultimately it is not just the money but also fact that the more involved you are in the process the more it feels like your own home when you are done. There is something great about working hard and watching something come together from it. If worse comes to worst we will ask for help. In the meantime, though we are having fun building a home for our family together.

I hope this post finds you in good health and of a sound mind. I am just another father from Kansas wondering …

When will we be home for good?


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