In most municipalities you cannot build without a building permit. Back in the design development phase we developed a permit set that was based in part on the information we discovered about the site in our early investigations. These documents will be submitteed as a part of the application to obtain your building permit. Most projects sail on thru, taking only a few weeks for a building permit to be issued. For some projects, particularly new homes or substantial additions or renovations in areas with stringent town bylaws, Health, Zoning, Planning and Conservation approvals must be sought. Sometimes getting the required permissions is simple and sometimes it's not. Knowing the rules before you start and planning for reasonable responses to governing bodies will help to ensure success. Sometimes it's just a matter of going thru the process and sometimes it's more complicated. Regardless of the level of complexity, the process ineveitably takes time. Usually considerably more than you would like. In many cases I can represent you before town boards and shepherd you thru the process. On particularly complicated sites you may wish to hire a civil engineer and/or an attorney to join the team.
Choosing a contractor
Choosing a contractor is a bit like choosing a designer - there's a lot of talking involved. For many people the investment in their home is one of the biggest investments they will ever make. You need to find someone that you like, who can communicate effectively, has the needed construction skills and most importantly, that you trust. You need to trust him with your money, your time, design intent and to some degree your emotions. I can help you evaluate a contractor's skill level and ability to communicate but only you can decide whether he is a person you trust.
Check references, talk to friends, tour his work, ask for a sample invoice and schedule of values. Discuss terms, contracts, deadlines and contingencies. If he makes you twitchy, politely send him down the road. If you think you can handle having him in your life for the next year, or two, or even three and you've checked his references and think he will look you in the eye and not lie, hire him on the spot. Serously, a guy who won't lie to you is worth his weight in gold. If you have trust and honesty, all the rest is small potatoes and can be worked out.
And by the way, that trust thing? It goes both ways. Issues can be addressed respectfully and invoices should be paid in a timely way. Being a nice, standup guy will go a long way towards ensuring that your contractor is the same.
Contracts and contract negotiations
There are basically two types of construction contract (with a zillion variations). Fixed Price and Cost Plus. Everyone knows that you have to get at least three "bids". Very few people know what that really means.
Fixed Price contracts mean just that. When people talk about "bids" this is what they're talking about. You pay a predetermined fixed price for a particular product. And there's the rub. To be able to accurately price a project for this kind of contract you must furnish the contractor with construction documents that are complete. All the i's and t's. Your contractor can't price tile that you haven't selected or doors that change from minute to minute. Providing a complete set of construction documents is expensive both in terms of money and time and requires you to be able to make decisions about finishes etc up front - way before you have any idea what things really look like. Administration for this type of contract can be cumbersome particularly if many changes are made after the contract is signed. This kind of contract may work well for you in a building climate like Vermont where competition for work is fierce. or if you really can't stand the idea that you may not know exactly what it's going to cost.
Cost Plus contracts are based on an agreed upon labor rate and "percentage" or markup. The contractor should furnish an estimate and a budget before the contract is signed. You have to have faith that the contractor is providing a good estimate and for him to do that he has to have a pretty good set of construction documents. There's a bit more flexibility but also a bit more risk. Undecided items like that tile will be assigned a value in the budget, If you stick to the budget when you eventually choose the tile the actual cost of the tile will be about the same as the amount budgeted. If you go crazy in a tile store in NYC - well - you get the idea. Unlike billings for a fixed price contract, invoices for a cost plus contract must be accompanied by receipts for all purchases, timecards for all employees and a schedule of values that shows you construction progress vs billings vs budget. You pay for exactly what you get - no more and no less. Where the construction market is booming and contractors have more work than they can handle this is almost always the better option.
I am happy to help you wade thru contracts and negotiate terms. Regardless of the contractor and type of contract you choose, a minimum 10% contingency is essential. It's construction. Things happen. With a good team, most of the time you'll never know but some things are unavoidable and it's better to have a built-in cushion than be angry because suddenly you can't afford the subzero.
Finally and at last, construction has begun. Many people choose to hire their me to stay on board throughout construction. I monitor progress, verify billings, answer questions, send you pictures and progress reports and protect design intent and your interests. In this role am the liason between contractor and client. For those of you with simpler projects, smaller budgets or the inclination to handle this phase yourself I am always available to answer questions in a pinch.