Before You Build Your Dream Home
To many people having the
opportunity to build a wonderful home is the dream of a lifetime.
And many people set out to make this dream a reality. Some start out
blissfully unaware of the multitude of potential pitfalls that awaits them.
Others have been through the process before, or have heard tales of hang-ups
in the planning process, poor workmanship, production delays, and cost
overruns. Any one of these problems can ruin the experience of the project
that started as a dream; taken together, they can create a nightmare.
One of your best assurances of having a trouble-free experience is to select a
great general contractor to help you realize your dream. You should hire a
general contractor early in the project so he or she can provide accurate
budget information during the design process. Once you choose a contractor,
you will be working together closely for many months, so it is crucial that
you are comfortable with them and confident that they have all of the skills
and capabilities necessary to ensure that your experience is every bit as
positive as this kind of adventure should be.
But what are the skills and capabilities that a contractor should have in
order to provide that service to you? The most common expectation of a general
contractor is that they know how to build houses. This is obviously true, and
if the contractor in question were building tract homes, this might be
sufficient. But building your dream home, with all of its special needs,
requires an exceptional contractor.
For a high-quality product and a high-quality experience during the project,
you should hire a contractor who has a large amount of specialized knowledge
of the craft. As time goes on, the world of residential construction (like
most things in life) becomes more and more complicated. There is much to know
to be in compliance with all agencies governing the construction industry and
with the current building codes, but compliance with the codes is a minimum
standard only. We live in a time when there is an explosion of new products
and methods that can make your home both more beautiful and more functional in
many different ways. Your contractor should be eager to keep up-to-date on all
of the new information that could potentially improve the construction of, and
ultimately your enjoyment of, your new house. How many trade magazines does
your contractor receive and read every month? What was the last book on
construction they read? What kind of continuing education do their employees
engage in? What do they know about structured wiring systems, sources for
glass tiles or honed stone slabs, the best heating system for your house, or a
good source for salvaged beams? How familiar are they with local codes in your
A great contractor will also have great managerial skills. A typical home
construction project in this area is going to involve not only several of the
contractor's own employees but also perhaps 20-30 subcontractors, as well as
many vendors who will supply everything from lumber to plumbing fixtures to
hand-wrought iron. Orchestrating the execution of all these different tasks is
a very management-intensive exercise. Someone who does it well will make the
difference between a job that proceeds in a clear, orderly, steady way, and a
frustrating maelstrom that will leave you bewildered at how you can be so far
over budget when nothing, seemingly, is happening. What is the contractor's
management system? Who is primarily responsible for operations onsite? Is
there one person in the company who is responsible for the success of your
project from start to finish? What are that person's qualifications? How
accessible is the contractor himself? What will his role be in your project?
How satisfied have past clients been with the pace, cost control, and quality
of their projects?
Another essential trait of a great contractor is great people skills. He needs
to create an environment in which sometimes idiosyncratic, highly skilled
craftsmen feel motivated to do their very best work, and this requires a
highly tuned sense of how to facilitate the proper working conditions for a
wide variety of personalities.
Also, turning the client's dreams into reality requires that the principle
players in the contractor's organization have superior listening skills. It
is often the case that the client knows that they want something very special,
but has trouble articulating exactly what they are looking for. It is the
responsibility of the contractor to pick up on any clues that may help to
realize the client's dream. Last, a home building project can be a very
emotional experience for the client, and the contractor must be sensitive to
this. Is the client uneasy or not totally committed to a material choice? Are
they concerned about a budget item but embarrassed to open the discussion? Are
they reaching the end of their tolerance for dust and noise in a remodel
project and needing a break? As above, the best way to evaluate a
contractor's people skills, in addition to spending time with candidate
contractors, is to solicit the feedback of previous clients.
Essential to any great contractor's skill set is a well-developed aesthetic
sense. This is because a lot of decisions will inevitably be made by the
people whose eyes are on the project all day, every day, whether or not a
design professional is overseeing the job. Also, when a designer is directing
an aesthetic decision, a better outcome will follow if the contractor
understands the designer's goals and terminology. No matter how
conscientious and effective your design professional is, you won't achieve a
desirable result if the builder isn't partnering with him to ensure that all
of the details are well-resolved and harmonious. The best way to judge this
for yourself is to view the contractor's previous work with an eye toward
the level of fit and finish and the general sense of resolution on their
projects. Once again, talking to former clients, as well as to architects
designers who have worked with the contractor, can be helpful.
The last thing that distinguishes a great contractor is passion. Does the
contractor really love to create beautiful things? Do they create a culture of
striving for excellence in their own company? Will they go the extra mile to
ensure that your home turns out to be everything you wanted and more? If you
use these criteria in choosing a general contractor, your dream home will
become a reality.