J.Schwartz,llc Construction Blog (PAHIC#861)

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Be careful who you invite into your home!

In this market, experienced Remodelers and Custom Home Builders are crossing paths with businesses that have no experience with the types of projects that we have been doing for years. When the economy took a downward turn and speculative home-building began to dry up, many of these production builders looked for a way to stay in business. Many have ended up trying their hand at remodeling – as did roofers, framers, trimmers, etc. – most of them have no experience with the specialized skill-set that quality Remodeling takes; and as the first of the projects that they have contracted are moving along, we are getting phone calls…
We have all heard the horror stories related to home builders; and the unfortunate truth is that many of them are true. As horrified as we (J.Schwartz,llc) are each time we hear about one of these, when we hear the back story we almost always think “if it is too good to be true, it most likely is…” and the particular events were avoidable with just a bit of due-diligence on the part of the homeowner. Of course I am not by any means, saying that homeowner is responsible for the problems that occurred – they were most likely “taken” buy a dishonest person, or bad businessman that had no business offering a service that were not qualified to undertake.
Remodeling is a specialized skill that takes a person/ business that is dedicated to the passion that working in someone’s home takes. It is so far from production building and the subcontract trades (roofing, siding, framing, etc.), that there is little that even links them; and that goes for custom home building, as well – it is very specialized. After all, you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist if you broke your arm, right? That may not be too far of a stretch if you go to someone for your remodel that does not have the expertise that it DEMANDS.
It seems that for the past four years, at just about this time of the year (as spring hits), J.Schwartz,llc gets about a half-dozen calls from homeowners that need to be “bailed out” of one of these bad situations – and fortunately (or unfortunately), we know how to handle these terrible debacles.
We understand that there are a lot of “loose-ends” in projects like these, there may be things that were done improperly, and some things that were supposedly done, that were not done (or even started), at all. It is of paramount importance that these things be clearly laid out, and that the overall scope of the “new” project be clearly listed. I say “new” project, because there needs to be a clear line between the work that was “done” and the work to be done. This is not “finishing” a project, but starting a new one, with a completely new set of issues that demand complete transparency, clarity and understanding.
It is important to have some long conversations about the project – about the original plans, about things that may have changed, and about what is actually, physically built already – and most of all, about EXPECTATIONS. It is important to be open about issues (both the homeowner and the contractor must be open), and honest about the new project.
It is usually not pleasant to be the bearer of the pricing when these “new projects” are priced – because it almost always seems that the cost to get the home finished, is more than the cost would have been had the original builder finished his project – and that may actually be one of the reasons why the original contract went bad; the agreed upon contract amount was just too low to actually complete the home, i.e., “it was just too good to be true…” in the first place.
You see, you may have gotten three bids, maybe even 5, and maybe the lowest one was 20% less than the highest. Maybe three of the five were not even qualified to give you a bid? Did you go with the lowest bid? Was that bid 5% or more less than the “pack” of bids? Maybe the numbers were telling you something – SCREAMING at you, that something was not right – maybe not dishonest (?), but not right… there may have been something missing from that bid – intentionally or not… I would say that if your pricing from a qualified group of bidders is more than 5% different, then there is something wrong. Maybe my competition missed something? Maybe they purposely under-bid to get the job, thinking that they will gouge later with change orders? Who knows… but there is something wrong.
You see, there are associated costs that quality remodelers like J. Schwartz,llc know – and we know that we are sometimes bidding against others – and paramount to that, we are honest. Our pricing will be fair and honest; and our work will be of the utmost quality.
To sum it all up – be careful who you invite into your home – they can make a real mess of things; and if you are unfortunate enough to be in one of these situations, we are happy to help you get out of it.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 1:20 pm  

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another View Into a Crystal Ball – Remodeling in General

How many homeowners have bought houses over the last 5-7 years and have said, “it’s fine for now, but later on we will (add/change/fix) that”?
It was an easy thing to do when money was cheap and everyone was happily employed and had a great outlook towards the future…
But what about now? Some may still be doing the same thing – especially those that are finding great deals, but most are not doing anything
J. Schwartz,llc is blessed to be very busy with some fantastic projects now – but we feel that we are in a special category with a great, loyal client base, and we offer a fantastic service and product most builders/remodelers are not. Most builders are slow, to say the least – and many are no longer with us. We find that many of our current projects (but certainly not all) are from those homeowners that bought a few years back with the wish of what they needed to change in their new home not too far from the front of their minds. For those that are able, now is the time that they needed to do their projects on the otherwise less-than-perfect home.
So as the inventory of homes that were bought with a not-to-distant to-do list get their facelifts/additions/renovations and the lists are completed, there will most likely be less of that kind of project available – which is unfortunate. It is unfortunate not only for those of us that excel in the process, but also for homeowners and the general appeal of our environment. It is often these projects that take an “old” house and turn it into a beautiful, alluring home that increases surrounding home values, and the general aesthetic of the neighborhood. They often start the snowball rolling and sometimes whole developments and neighborhoods are made better-than-new; and the entire area may even increase in value.
While J. Schwartz,llc is confident that we will be providing remodeling services well into the future because of our stature in the market, we feel that the overall genre may be on life support for some time.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 6:00 am  

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is “long term” success, truly success? Picking the right team.

How many times have you been doing something that you were not sure of and had no expertise in, and the proof that you were successful is that the project “worked” immediately after you were done? Who knows what will happen after a week, or a year or longer? We all do it, maybe it is a plastic kids toy on Christmas, or maybe while working on a car, or our homes.
Well, read this story and maybe you will think twice next time…
During the heavy rains of this last month (December, 2009), a family was gathering for an occasion in a home in South Jersey. The matriarch of the family had lived in the 40 year old home for over 8 years. She had cared for the home and it was in seemingly immaculate condition by anyone’s standards.
There was a loud “pop” and the floor shuddered – and one of the sons went to investigate. What he found was silty mud rushing into the basement, and an entire section of the foundation wall missing.
After a call to the fire department and a night filled with news vans, camera crews and firemen, the house was left uninhabitable, without water, electricity and gas. It was wrapped in caution tape with a big red sticker on the front door that read “DO NOT ENTER”. The basement was shored-up so that no further immediate damage would occur and a women was left homeless.
Well, why did this happen? This foundation was there for decades, so it must have been installed correctly, right? After all… it lasted for such a long time. Well, I loaded this question, so we all know the answer.
The typical foundation wall (hollow block – in this case, real “cinder blocks”) stacked and pointed didn’t do the job this time – not in the long run. Maybe a soil test would have solved this problem? Maybe a structural engineer would have included the potential soil and water pressure in the calculations that he used to design the reinforcing of the wall? Probably so.
Now I cannot say with any certainty that this wall was not engineered; but my very strong assumption is that the builder and/or Architect just decided to use the “typical” foundation wall and didn’t think twice about the specific conditions or the longevity of the product that he/she built. After all, this worked before… Well, was this successful? It did “work”, right? Well, again, no need for an answer.
In many cases, that foundation wall would have been fine; but in this case, it failed catastrophically and risked life and limb in the process; and although no one was physically injured, the costs to repair the home will cause harm, as will the distress in the meantime.
So now the homeowner is left battling a “reluctant” insurance company, while J. Schwartz,llc expediently gets the team of Soils Engineers and Structural Engineers together to do what should have been done in the first place…. But now, there will be the added expense of new HVAC systems, new finishes and furnishings and the project will all take place under a home that wants to follow the laws of gravity.

This most likely happened because someone was either ignorant of the possibility of involving professional engineers, or because they just knew better and “knew” that this would work…. Ignorance, either way.
So when considering your next project – whether it be putting together a Big Wheel , or having a house built, make sure that you and/or your chosen “team leader” (General Contractor), know what they are doing and who should be on the team. It is not good enough if it “looks good” when they are done – it must be designed and built correctly, too. (And when putting together that Big Wheel, you can look at the directions – I won’t tell!)
The lesson is: This could have been avoided. Oh yeah, and what about the dozens of neighboring homes built by the same team?

View of failure from front shooting towards back

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 11:18 am  

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What your plans mean to you vs. what they may mean to a contractor.

Often times, J. Schwartz,llc will be presented with a set of Architectural drawings for a project – whether it be a new custom home, or an addition/renovation. The home-owner has done their due-diligence in the selection of an Architect, and has spent countless hours in the planning and selection process with that person before calling the contractors that they would like to bid on the project. The idea behind this is that now they have a set of drawings that can be bid, and they can get apples-to-apples comparisons and therefore receive the “best price”.
Sounds great, right? And it very well may work out that way, but we often see a few problems crop up with this methodology:
1. Once the project is priced, the cost is much higher than expected and is not affordable – leaving more expense and time to quite literally, go back to the drawing board (possibly, multiple times).
2. Often times after J. Schwartz,llc has been awarded a project, and the project is underway – the home-owner realizes that the design is missing something that they feel was integral to the new project – however, it is not on the drawing, and therefore may not fit in the current budget. We often hear, “but I told the Architect about it, so it should be included.” Well, it may be that there was a discussion about it, but J. Schwartz,llc, not having been involved in the planning and design process, was not privy to that conversation and can only build and price based on the plans that we were presented with for construction. Although we do spend a lot of time reviewing plans with our clients to make sure that the drawings are correct – J. Schwartz,llc must also make the strong assumption that the plans are what the client wants because they have spent their time and effort and money on them for the purpose of having them built. Please understand – I am not pointing fingers; sometimes conversations are misunderstood or forgotten, so this situation may not be anyone’s fault; but unfortunately, it also does not make a change free from costs. It should also be understood that a contractor OFTEN works on projects that are multi-phased. This means that projects are sometimes left (for example), without landscaping, or without the front walkway, etc. Therefore, if these items are not on the drawings, it does not necessarily throw up a red-flag that they are missing from the overall project; it only says that they are not included in the scope that is being put out for pricing.
The design-build approach does help alleviate this issue – we are involved in the process from “conception through completion” – so if discussions are had, we are there, if the plans are drawn, we were involved, and if budgets are surpassed – we know about it and can express that before it is too late.
The concern often comes up that if we are contracted based on a budget range, before the design is even started, than what reason do we have to get “best pricing”?
The answer is, that we want repeat business, that we enjoy our good reputation and want to keep it, and the real answer is that we bid our projects out to multiple subcontractors that we know are qualified to do the high-quality, schedule-minded work that we require of them; so they have a reason to be competitive. That being said, our proposal should therefore cost about the same as “the next guy” because they too should be bidding the project out; that is, if they have a complete scope and understanding of the project.

3. The adage “You get what you pay for” still works today. My material costs are the same as the next guy’s – and a good craftsman costs the same no matter who he works for, so be careful; I know I write about this all the time – MAKE SURE YOU ARE LOOKING AT A TRUE APPLES TO APPLES COMPARISON! Chances are that if there is a large price difference from legitimate contractors, someone missed something!
J. Schwartz,llc offers a full service design-build process; it’s intention is to decrease designs cost, increase construction accuracy, and one of its bonuses is that it fast-tracks the whole process by integrating budgeting and design.

Call us – we can discuss the particulars of your project and how this can apply to you.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 6:58 pm  

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Opinion about the outcome of the recession as it relates to the construction industry and our potential clients.

I have a theory about what is about to happen to the residential construction industry in years to come… and I am not sure that it looks very good for awhile.
In an indistry that is highly unregulated, it is easy to throw some tools in a truck, come up with a company name, and call yourself a remodeler or home builder. Actually, it is just that easy! That being said, I think that most would agree that the large speculative home-builders will not be doing as much building for some time (if even within my lifetime); and all of those people that were working for them will have to find other things to do. I am not saying that they are not highly talented people that have very useful skills – but being a skilled tradesman is very different than being a skilled business owner, general contractor, remodeler, or construction manager. Also, all of those young people that are looking to start a career in the industry will be behind the eight ball, looking for work.
It is my fear that many of these people that do not have the skill to general-contract and do not know enough about the integration of trades and systems, client relations, scheduling, detailing, expediting, material selection, accounting, book-keeping, job site coordination, marketing, sales, etc, etc, etc, that all make for a good, quality construction business will soon flood the market with low-quality competition.
This only becomes a problem because all too often, our potential clients do not see the skill levels and training required to do the things that we do well, that they expect us to do well – and cost becomes king.
I think that because of this flood of unqualified new “businesses”, we are in for 5 or ten years of shoddy work, bad business practices, and unreasonable competition that will only sort itself out with regulation of the industry and the inevitable weed-out process that will come with businesses going under. Some of this shoddy work has benn occuring due to rushed schedules and over-eager builders, too. (See the link below this post).
So buyer beware, you get what you pay for and we have already seen a large number if businesses go under due to shoddy workmanship and bad business practices. J. Schwartz,llc has been hired on occasion to remedy some of these projects, and although the final outcome may still be beautiful, the process is tainted, usually exorbitantly more expensive and contains some litigation with the less than satisfactory contractor that had the “lower price”…

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 8:22 pm  

Friday, March 13, 2009

Current Events and how they affect us at J. Schwartz,llc 3/13/09

There is no denying that the current economic “down-turn” has affected everyone – no matter what kind of “smoke blowing” and stories they are telling; especially those of us in the home-building and renovation business.
J. Schwartz,llc is currently putting out a record number of proposals – and it is easy to ask why so many are looking for numbers on projects that are obviously not happening… I would guess that there are a few reasons for this: One may be that people that would have been “moving up” to a larger or new home in years past are currently looking to settle-in and renovate. Another reason may be that home-owners are thinking that they will take advantage of a weak market and get better pricing because of an assumed drop in material and labor costs.
The truth is that with this record number of outgoing proposals, few are being signed – and there may be many reasons for this, as well. Although commodities like copper and other metals have dropped in price; it does not necessarily translate into savings on the items that the home-builders need – wire, gutters, studs, etc. While it does always seem that as soon as the market has a cost increase, we all feel it; it is also true that when prices drop on the raw materials, those decreases don’t flow-through as quickly. In hand with that is that although people are very hungry for work, and there certainly is some savings to be had with the current conditions, I feel it is very important for people to understand the psychology of the situation – (Yes, you are reading a blog from a home builder that is talking about psychology). No matter what the quality level of the project (all J. Schwartz,llc projects are of the highest quality,with budget in mind), there is the right level of tradesperson or craftsman for that project; and with the right person, there is an immense amount of pride in the work that they do. If you are a smart client, you want the best workmanship at a great price – and while there is no doubt that we can currently “beat people down” to low wage rates, it does not mean that they will give us the same quality and pride in their workmanship once we do; there is a delicate balance that must be held, and that is what J. Schwartz,llc does. So in summation, my first reason for unsigned proposals is price. The assumed material decreases are not there, and the huge labor rate decrease are not either – especially if you are looking for a project that will not have problems, will be of a high quality level and be as beautiful as you dream it will be.
The second reason for unsigned proposals may be that it seems that the downturn has not yet hit bottom – and any bit of reluctance only gets excacerbated with each passing day… so it may be that these projects are not gone, they are just “on hold” until we see the sun again.
J. Schwartz,llc will be here for that, and we will be ready with the right mix of quality, energy, readiness and accessibilty for our clients.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 8:57 am  

Saturday, February 28, 2009

PLEASE VISIT OUR UPDATED WEB SITE AT www.Jschwartzconstruction.com

We have added video of our “before and after” HGTV project, and have updated our featured projects area!!! CLICK HERE TO GO!

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 9:14 pm  

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