What are a homeowner's responsibilities on a construction project?
March 12, 2012 11:38 AM   Subscribe

As owner, how involved do I need to be for a full residential restoration construction project?

I am in the process of forecasting the duties and amount of time (on a daily basis) I will need to be involved in the restoration of my historical home. It's coming down to its studs. I've got an experienced contractor who I trust 100%, and his subs, by all accounts, are also professional and do good work. But I've never been through this before, and need to forecast this for both time management and insurance purposes (it's a long story).

So those of you homeowners who have done extensive construction projects, could you please weigh in on examples of what you had to do on a daily basis and approximately how much time daily and/or weekly you spent on the project?
posted by zagyzebra to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need to inspect the work fairly frequently. I would do it at least every other day, every day on critical tasks (such as anything that will be behind/under other, expensive work. This means wiring, plumbing and insulation. Once these things are covered up you will have no idea if it is done right or even at all for insulation. I was just reading the book put out by Mike Holmes (a contractor famous for being on HGTV and fixing problem houses) that is great for the non contractor but technically competent homeowner. This should be a BIG conversation with your contractor and should include a written, planned schedule the contractor has drawn up (doesn't have to be a fancy computer 'microsoft project' kinda thing but a some kind of calender with milestones and crews listed in a logical order. At least be present when the inspection for the building permits are completed and ask the inspector any questions you have to double check on your contractor/subs (btw if the contractor has problems with this they are hiding something). Your inspections can be pretty quick, a few minutes if you have done your prep work for the inspection. I would also want to see the bids/estimates from all the subs listing their cost for the work, what they will be doing and their permits and keep a copy of it all in your records.

but in general I would say at least 1 hour a day most days and sometimes twice that to ensure you are getting what you want, done right and on schedule. And resist very hard making any changes after the bid/estimate is accepted-this is known as change orders and they are expensive and wreck schedules.

Think of it this way, you are being a project manager on what is probably at least a 100k project. Your time commitment here is no different from that required on ANY such project whether private or business.
posted by bartonlong at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a surprising number of decisions to make and actual shopping to do for fixtures. You will need to consult, if not actually purchase, lights and sinks and counters and bathtubs and windows and floors and tiles and doors and cabinets and appliances and doorknobs...

It was the actual shopping the took folks the longest time, and I'd guesstimate the were putting in at least four hours of shopping per week for at least a couple of months, but others will probably have better time estimates for you.
posted by ldthomps at 12:03 PM on March 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you both! Bartonlong - you're the second person today who has mentioned this Holmes guy. I'm def buying his book. Good suggestion.
posted by zagyzebra at 1:18 PM on March 12, 2012

I'm probably the wrong person to ask because I have the project from hell, but I agree with the advice above and have just a few additions:
- Do you have a complete and detailed set of plans? If not, you'll be making more decisions as you go along, which will take a lot more time.
- How are the permits happening? If you'll be pulling the permits, add in two to three hours each trip times however many times you'll intend to go in -- maybe three or four? -- plus a couple of unplanned visits.
- Do you have an architect or structural engineer? You may end up needing an engineer, given that it's an older house. Add time to meet with him or her, both up front and in advance of some inspections. I've had five one-hour site visits with mine.
- I probably spend 4-6 hours / week shopping or deciding things.
- I'd ask him or her what they expect you to handle. My first contractor assumed I'd be the point of contact for debris boxes, for some reason. This current contractor assumed I'd handle Comcast. Anything outside the contract that you're planning to do yourself is another area of unexpectedly large amounts of time spent. It will help to get as specific as possible about where it crosses from their responsibility to yours. (Example: I'm doing the bathroom tile. Well, the subfloor is not level. So, should he be fixing the floor joists, since he's in charge of framing repairs. Or should I just use a surface leveling compound?)

A side note, since you mention trust. Trust is necessary, but it actually helps to forget that you trust them. The best person takes short cuts once in a while, or makes a mistake, or was just under another assumption. You need clear expectations and a system for checking that they are met. You need contingency plans and a tight contract. Even within the realm of "doing it right," there's just so much variability possible. While I may well "trust my waiter to bring me a good dinner," I still have to study the menu, order what I want, then make sure they left off the mayo. Best of luck with your project.
posted by slidell at 1:57 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: I do have plans. We've gone through at least 5 or 6 drafts of a 40-page construction estimate, met with a few architects and structural engineers, two of whom were ultimately hired, plus shopped many contractors before settling on one recommended by an attorney acquaintance. This is fairly turnkey, so the contractor will pull the permits, while I do the shopping/deciding things. I'll be living off site, so I won't be asked to do things that may be assumed I'd do if I were living there during construction. I talked to at least of half dozen of the contractor's clients, checked to see if any judgments were filed against him, and visited a handful of his projects. I've done about as much due diligence as anyone would to ensure he's good.

I'm surprised not more time than 4-6 hours/week was spent shopping, but that seems to echo what others say, so I guess that's accurate. Best of luck on the project from hell, slidell. In the past, I've hated construction projects; I'm hopeful this upcoming one can be more of an adventure.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:45 AM on March 13, 2012

Oh, excellent. It sounds like you have done everything possible right. How reassuring to hear that full list. I particularly like that you picked a contractor recommended by an attorney (a construction attorney, even?).

checked to see if any judgments were filed against him

Did you also check if he filed any liens? That's important. Obviously, even the best contractor may need to file a lien if the client doesn't pay, but if it's a common pattern, that's a problem.

Come to think of it, I don't know what your budget is like, but it might be worth it to offload the daily inspections to someone professional. We ultimately found someone who does expert witness testimony in construction-related lawsuits. He is is a stickler and knows the building code inside and out. If you had the money to pay someone like that to do your daily inspections, it could be worth it and take a lot of time and stress off of your plate. (I'm in Oakland if my local referrals would be helpful.)

You are right that decision-making was at times much more than 4-6 hours. That's an average, with some weeks much higher. It also depends on what other activities are already done, or are elsewhere in your time budget. My first guess was 8-10 hours / week, but I think some portion of my time went to things that you've probably already done, like deciding on the kitchen cabinet layout. But for instance, one week, it was like this:
Monday, meet with builder on site, receive roofing samples (2 h)
Tuesday, go to roofing supply store, look at larger samples, ask for addresses of homes with Color A and Color B (1.5 h)
Tuesday - Wednesday, look at sample homes (3 h)
Talk it over with my partner and various friends, decide (3-4 h spread out over several days)

The following week was similar, except I took an entire afternoon off to see house stucco colors. But if you have an architect involved, maybe you already know your color palette and materials.

Here's another example of a day:
Monday, 7:30 AM, meet the contractor on site. See what was done recently. Check items off my list. Review various "to dos" that I'll need to be involved with. Learn that the inspector last week needed more detail on the wood beam sizing.
8:30 AM, call the engineer while on the way to work, ask about the beam.
11:45 AM, get an email of an updated plan-set with a detail. Put it on a thumb drive. Go to Kinkos for three 24" x 36" copies.
12:15 PM-12:40 walk from Kinkos to the building department, take a number.
12:40-1:45 PM, work on my laptop while waiting my turn at the building department
1:45-2:15, talk to the engineer plan checker on duty, get the plan stamped
2:15-2:30, walk back to work while texting the builder that the city signed off on it
6 PM, on the way home from work, drop off the updated detail.

During heavy construction, days like that happened twice a week, with a third day at a somewhat lower intensity.

Two categories that I'm not sure we mentioned yet are paperwork and finances. You'll need a system for filing any materials you receive. (E.g., in California, subs should send you a notice at the start of their work.) Dealing with the contract, invoices, and getting checks to the builder was one category. Dealing with the bank (we have a construction loan) was another big category. For awhile, I had 4-5 new errands a week to deposit the construction loan payments (and go to the FedEx office to pick them up, when we missed delivery), deposit the checks in my checking account, get cashier's checks for the builder, and drop it off to him.

It also depends on how involved you'll end up being in troubleshooting challenges. For instance, I spent an entire weekend online in catalogs trying to find a replacement cover for the electrical breaker panel, ultimately special ordering it.

Much of this is likely not part of what you're going to have to do, so, great! I was going to say that it sounds like your advanced planning could answer many of these questions and remove barriers before you start (e.g., obviate the need for that additional engineering detail), but some new questions or inspectors' concerns will still likely arise. Best of luck -- sounds like you're ready for the adventure!
posted by slidell at 2:04 AM on March 14, 2012

Response by poster: Slidel - Just getting back online after a long weekend away. Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response. It is a little intimidating to read of one of your average days, though I'll admit it's fully what I expect to encounter.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2012

Luckily, that's not actually an "average" day. That's an average busy day. Then there are a number of slow days. But that gives you an idea of what to expect. Good luck! Let us know how it goes.
posted by slidell at 1:21 AM on March 20, 2012

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