Ask a General Contractor (me) anything!

54 Replies

I am here to network and learn. I want to help however I can. I am a General contractor. Please feel free to ask anything about a project you have or are considering.

Do you own a house?

Dude. You’re going to be the most popular guy here if you are willing to help anybody with a question. Although I’m currently in NJ, who knows, maybe if an opportunity ever arises in TX, at least I know somebody there. I too am just starting out in investing. I hope I can pick your brain sometimes if there’s ever a question that I can’t find an answer to.

@Dalton Smith  

- Can you talk about the hardest project you've ever done?

- What jobs don't you take? And what jobs do you like the most? (I'm asking this because your answer may help investors with their buying strategy)

- What trends do you see right now with what you're working on?

- What are the biggest mistakes you've seen a client make with a fix and flip?

Thanks for responding to my thread guys, it's nice to meet you! Residential remodeling is my passion and I love helping people even if I am not doing the work. There are a few factors that can make a project get the title "hardest project". The thing that usually makes a project hard is the customer. That is why I am making the push to move into investing. It gets the customer out of my hair during construction. When I say customer that could be homeowners, banks, FEMA or inspectors. They can really be fickle and hard to please. Although, I have zero unsatisfied customers to date. The most challenging job I've ever been on?...IDK. I've painted oil Derricks, built roads, built houses, remodeled houses, commercial painting, custom showers, foundation repair, truss repair, Roofing, excavation, it's all a good time to me. I love my work. I don't take jobs when customer only wants low bid, I have a standard of work, and I will go out of business before I do bad work. I like jobs that have the largest before and after differences. I restored a home that sat under 4 feet of water for 2 weeks. The customer was pretty disheartened. It turned out amazing, and I was able to get him a few free upgrades that he loved! What trends do I see? Remove acoustic, paint walls light tans, use composite wood floors. Kitchens and baths are what sell a home so don't skimp there. The biggest mistake I see when people fix and flip is that they fix the home how they want it rather than putting what is popular. People need to be able to picture their tastes, not see yours. Staying in first time homebuyer territory is smart for the quick sale. There are a lot of government programs to help people to get into $100k homes. Also getting cheap contractors or trying to be their own general contractor. I am always ahead of time and under budget...always. I think a team of good investors and a good contractor would be unstoppable in this business.

I’m wondering if you have any insight into developing and construction on properties that are heavily tree’d and a little off the grid, as far as installing solar and connecting to sewage and water. What would a project on a raw from scratch property potentially cost?

I am in closing on a house right now for a fix and flip.  I don’t like the fix and flip phraseology...how about rehab and resale?!  There are a lot of variables on a raw property.  I live on 12 acres that was completely untouched by Man before I bought it.  It is on a creek and HEAVILY wooded.  The more details you can give me the more I can help, but consider a couple of these decisions.  Can the timber be sold?  Can the top aggregate be sold.  Can the top aggregate be used for your road?  Is there private water or do you have to dig a well?  Is the water on your side of the road or do you have to bore?  Can you use a standard dirt road for construction or will you need topper...and how much topper?  WHAT IS THE DIRT LIKE!!! Excavation is very costly!!!  Is there sewer?  Is it on your side of the road?  If not can you go linear septic or do you need aerobic?  Check the dirt!  What’s the water pressure?  How far are your water lines running?  What size water lines do you need.  Will you be installing your own water lines?  Are you going above or below ground with electric?  How far will the electric Co. Run for free?  Are there building restrictions?  Is it 18 wheeler accessible for deliveries?  As far as solar goes, I’ve installed quite a bit of solar.  I’d say for personal use go for it, but for resale use skip it.  There’s a lot that goes into solar and power storage unless you just want to sell your leftovers to the electric company.  Give me some details and I’ll try and help.

Originally posted by @Dalton Smith :

I am here to network and learn. I want to help however I can. I am a General contractor. Please feel free to ask anything about a project you have or are considering.

Hey Dalton, we should meet up some day for coffee or tea ( I dont do coffee much). I was a GC for 25 years both in residential remodeling as well as commercial. I gravitated into remodeling because it was the only thing to do here in Texas that I could compete in given that I was one of the few that carried insurance and WC. I was interviewed by Builder Magazine years ago explaining the reasons. 

 http://www.builderonline.com/money/caught-in-the-c...

Maybe there is a way to help each other out in the future and maybe not. I would like to meet a fellow tradesman though. 

Originally posted by @Dave Van Horn :

@Dalton Smith  

- Can you talk about the hardest project you've ever done?

- What jobs don't you take? And what jobs do you like the most? (I'm asking this because your answer may help investors with their buying strategy)

- What trends do you see right now with what you're working on?

- What are the biggest mistakes you've seen a client make with a fix and flip?

- The hardest was the last one actually. It was 1.5 million tear out and remodel in 110 days. Tearing out plaster and replacing with African Mahogany. I had all the MEP's as well as the millwork guys and painter all at the same time just in different areas. It was a logistic nightmare. Like Dalton says the hardest thing is often the customer. They think they know what they want but once its done they dont like it. 

- The ones that think you can do a whole house remodel for 10-15K. They see it done on HGTV all the time and wonder why you (we) arent good enough to do the same. They usually end up with a hack and are  not satisfied with the final project. 

- Lots of grey tones. Dark stain. But to be fair Texas is usually far behind the fashion trends. We only got sunlight piped here twenty years ago. 

- Not taking into consideration the foundation issues. Add another 6-10k to that remodel. Even on pier and beam here. We are a humid climate and rot is also a factor. 

@Dalton Smith , thanks for offering to help folks.  I have a question that might be too simple.  I have a remodel, built in late 1950s that has cement board with holes in it then plaster over top of that.  I have only seen lathe and plaster before.  How do I repair cracks and places where the plaster has powdered and loosened?  Also if I replace part of a wall with sheetrock when I meet the ceiling the plaster has chicken wire in it.  How do I join them?  Just use a lot of mud and taper it as best I can?  Thanks again.

why do general contractors suck so bad? not saying you do. just hard to find good honest contractors

"The thing that usually makes a project hard is the customer."

Every contractor knows this is the gospel truth. I've wanted to say, "I can do anything.... if you get out of the way."

Dalton, 

you may be a busy guy on this site with that offer. I've been in the residential remodel business for 31 years, also have built new homes and some commercial work and from what i have read so far it seems like you have done quite  a bit. I started in Real Estate investing in 2013 when my daughter went to college ( first investment was student rental), i still own that house and several others in the town, not all student rentals. i look at this as my retirement in the near future and my kids inheritance should i ever pass. As you have stated, you will answer any questions anyone has to ask about construction, do not be afraid to ask questions on these forums, you can learn a lot here on BP by asking and talking to other investors, i wish you the best of luck.

Dalton,

Two-fold question here.

1. Being in Houston what is going on with flooded properties? I have a few deals I’m considering making moves on that have been flooded. I’m hesitant because of mold, dry rot, etc. what should my frame of thought be on moving on these. Plus, I’d love to work together.

2. I only hav experience flipping a few houses Almost all of them have been taken to the studs and I’ve been very hands-on with my gc and he has been trying to teach me here and there. What is the best way to become a gc with no experience. I know it’s 4 years of work and gc test or 1 year of work and construction management degree. What is your take on this?

Thank you!

I have a question.......

Are stairs in a unit usually load baring?  More specifically, if I MOVE the stairs (we are talking about a 9-12 step straight up stair case), do I need to reinforce any walls?

Of course, I assume your answer will be in general terms.  I am more looking for in your expierence are stairs tied to load baring walls, so that if moved would impact that?

Updated 7 months ago

@Dalton Smith I think my question got lost in the thread, but I would still like to ask it. :)

I would love to meet up sometime and have coffee Mike. Email me and we will get together.

Hey Jerry, I can’t picture the cement board with holes in it. Shoot me a pic maybe and I could help more. If your doing a patch that uses cement for the finish compound then I would use a lightweight heavily sanded mix to do my patch. Maybe even use lightweight joint compound unless the cement is super porous looking. Make it the consistency you would use to build a sandcastle. Just wet enough to hold form but not run. Before you start, us a putty knife to knock off all of the pieces barely hanging on. Then use a stiff broom to sweep off the wall where the patch will be so you will have a good bond. Maybe a little cement primer too if your going to paint. If it’s a thick patch staple chicken wire in there to give it something to hold. Let chicken wire be 1/8 inch off wall so cement can get behind it and hang on. As far as meeting the ceiling with Sheetrock. Hang your Sheetrock ceiling. Dust the cement wall off very well at the top. If there is a gap more than 1/4 inch between the Sheetrock and wall use spray foam to fill the gap and when it dries trim it away flush with a razor. Any smaller cracks fill with siliconized acrylic latex caulk. Don’t buy the cheap stuff. Go to Sherwin Williams or Lowes. Apply premixed lightweight joint compound with a 6” trowel to bring the ceiling and wall together. Not over 1/4 inch thick or it will crack. The joint compound will stick to the cement. Man I hope that helps, I couldn’t quite picture what you were trying to do. A pictures worth a thousand words right...lol.

@Dalton Smith , Closing on new deal in about a week's time, Denver Metro Area. I made some mistakes in the past with overspending on my remodeling efforts, what would you suggest as a fair cost for remodeling (duplex property), at first was going to do window replacement but had to quickly rethink that as I do not want to fall back into doing too much too soon with little to no ROI. What would be a good amount to set aside for remodeling and what would be something to focus on as far as remodeling priorities as well as cheap or affordable is a better word substitutes for the more high-end stuff. Granite countertops, stainless steel, are these really necessary or does it depend on the area. Class B property.

Great questions guys, y’all are awesome! I’m doing my best to keep track of this but my feed is a little out of order when it updates. If I miss your question shoot it up here again or email me. Will Kirkendoll, thanks for the honesty here...lol. You know, I think GC’s are bad because ANYONE who is out of work and can swing a hammer can call themselves a GC in Texas. I have given bids to people that literally hate me for no reason and are just waiting for me to mess up or steal their money because they’ve been ripped off. Of course...I always win them over. I have dedicated my entire life to being a GC. It’s my passion. I love residential remodel projects. Customers want the lowest price so they hire the cheapest GC, and then they’re mad when that GC is no good...or uses old materials...or hires sub par labor. Do your homework before you hire. Get references. See the portfolio. But in the end, if you go with low bid...well...you know the saying. I don’t know if it’s so much a bad GC so much as a people will lie to get work issue.

What is the best way that me as a potential customer can prepare as much as possible to get the most accurate estimate from a general contractor before talking to any of them?

Jose Schneider, it’s nice to meet you Sir. To be honest, I haven’t been to Houston to see the flooding. Quite a few of my buddies have gone though, they say it’s pretty rough. Ive done some fire and flood restoration. I restored a house that sat under 4’ of water for over a week. I think I’ve already touched on that in another conversation here. Anyway, repairing flood damage is not a big deal. It’s really just the same old thing. Tear out the old rock. Pray that the house has a fire break in the walls. Dry and remove mold. Rebuild. The hard thing about flood properties is the dreaded “mold remediation companies”. I do believe they are in cahoots with the “mold inspectors”. The mold remediation guys hire the best salesman to scare you into getting them in there with no price on the bill. Then the mold tester finds mold!!! It’s comical really. If I was going to Houston, I would skip the mold remediation and inspection companies and just put in the sales contract that the home was flooded (obviously if it’s Houston). It was restored and tested for mold by a third party company and wipe my hands of it there. The mold and insurance companies will tell you you can’t do that....but actually you can. They just don’t like it. That’s where the GC experience comes in. I’ve done it enough to know when they’re trying to bully me. When I have a new customer I always ask to be there when the inspectors there. 90% of the time they try to scare the customer into signing something making them use a remediation company. It’s sad really. As far as becoming a GC. Man it’s all about what you know. I’m second generation in this line of work. I eat, sleep and drink residential remodeling. I read city code in my spare time and do a ton of product research. If you can go into any situation, in any home, after all the other contractors have left it behind and say “I can do this, on time and under budget and make it better than it was before”. Then you may be on your way. I just wear so many hats...for example...I do the advertising, selling, hiring, firing, scheduling, payroll, taxes, product research, price negotiation, inspections, insurance meetings, insurance write ups, bank meetings, draw requests, and when I need to I can pick up any tool on any project and do the work better than the lead guy on the crew. That’s how I know I’m not being taken advantage of, or am not about to have bad work done. I know what all of the processes are for every step of residential building. And I know them well. I’ve spent my entire life going from crew to crew learning all of the trades, and my father taught me the business side of it in his company. I guess the point is. The GC is the guy everyone points at when everyone is freaking out, and the GC stays cool and has it back on track and makes it look easy. Man...what a rant...sorry about that!

Great thread. I want to become more handy so I can fix important items. What would be the cheapest way to learn how be handy if you dont have time to work in the construction field?

Are there certain red flags I should look for to test if a GC doesnt know what they are doing or will run off with my cash?

Dalton, thanks for the vote, as far as @Jerry W. question, the boards are not cement board, they are drywall boards with holes in it, ran into these a few times. the boards you talk about Jerry are what was used when they tried to make plastering earlier ( they were the first drywall ) these products were sold in strips, not sheets, but they still had to be plastered just like with wood lathe. the purpose of the board was to cut down on the time it took to install the wood lathe. The holes in the boards were there to hold the plaster (because they did not have spackle yet and still had to plaster), just like the wood lathe would. you can repair the cracks just like you would in drywall, i would recommend cleaning out all loose plaster, using a mesh tape and for the first coat some 45 minute easy sand, this product will dry fast and ready for you to put another coat of it or spackle on it, but you may want to solve why you got the cracks in the first place before repairing, usually something needs re supporting. the wire mesh you talk of in the corners can be cut with a sawzall or you can use a drywall hammer and chop it out at the corner ( if your aim is good ) this can be removed and easily patched then with the drywall, just make sure to wear gloves and safety glasses when doing so.

@Dalton Smith

Thanks so much for doing this!  Question regarding payment schedule. Let’s just assume both parties are new to each other. From your perspective, are you willing to be compensated for finished work?  Or do you require payment all upfront for each phase of work?  Or maybe half up front and half upon completion?  I am only talking about in phases, which again is just an assumption that’s how you work on a bigger rehab. I understand the tension of customers not wanting to constantly give everything up front for fear of the contractor having no incentive to work quickly, and even worse the possibility of them running off with the cash...but in the same breath the contractor wants to be certain that the customer is in fact going to pay, and pay in a timely manner. Curious your thoughts!

@Dalton Smith do you or someone you know take on new construction projects?

I'm taking bids for a detached 2 car garage apartment in the Houston heights and am having a hell of a time finding a good contractor with a reasonable bid.

Questions for you:

1. Know anybody that can bid?

2. How much is a reasonable price per square foot for new build? This is going to be a rental and will have pretty simple finishings.

3. Any good questions that should be asked when interviewing contractors?

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