Last month in this space, I reviewed a series of market projections for 2014 from Harvard University as well as the industry’s leading associations.
The Big Holdup
Working with an unfamiliar sub and architect delays production
Richard Fredrick knew better, but he did it anyway. Even after more than 30 years in the construction business, the custom home builder-turned-remodeler let a client talk him into using a flooring subcontractor with whom Fredrick wasnÆt familiar. To make matters worse, the sub was a full-time fireman and laying hardwood floors was his part-time occupation.
To Fredrick, president of Fredrick Construction in Owasso, Okla., that spelled trouble. But he had a hard time saying no to his clients, Mary and Chuck Patterson, who already had referred him to two potential clients (Fredrick has since been hired by both) and who were ôthe best people anyone could ask for to work with.ö And so, against his better judgment, he relented.
The result was a five-week delay in production caused mainly by the flooring subÆs unavailability. More important, because flooring was the last phase of the project, Fredrick couldnÆt collect final payment until the sub got his act together.
ôI chalk it up as a lesson learned,ö says Fredrick, CGR. ôIn this business youÆve never learned everything. With each new job thereÆs a new experience.ö
The experience that came with the Patterson job led Fredrick to not only rethink his business practices, but to add a clause in his contract that protects him ù and his business ù from forces beyond his control.
Taking it slow
A former concrete finisher, Fredrick started building custom homes in the Tulsa, Okla., area in 1972. The bulk of the cityÆs econ-omy relied on the oil and gas industry, so the recession of the mid-Æ80s hit the area especially hard. Home builders also suffered, and Fredrick soon took on remodeling jobs to make ends meet.
When the economy rebounded some builders eagerly went back to work, but Fredrick stayed put. ôWhen youÆre a contractor building a home you have very little contact with the family whoÆs going to live there. ItÆs very impersonal,ö he says. ôWhen you remodel youÆre with the family every day, and thatÆs what I like.ö
From patio to paradise, this sun room addition was built to house antique furniture but became a functional home extension that overlooks a rose garden and the back yard. A half-bath was added, as was a small den that serves as the familyÆs piano room. Built-in bookcases filled otherwise empty space under the windows.
FredrickÆs involvement with the local Remodelors Council, of which he is president, didnÆt escape the attention of Chuck Patterson, a Realtor whoÆs an associate member of the local home builders association, when he was looking for a remodeler.
ôI knew going into it that I wouldnÆt hire anyone who wasnÆt active in a trade association because I think thatÆs the mark of a true professional,ö says Patterson, who interviewed four remodelers for the project. ôI felt that Richard displayed the level of professionalism I was looking for, and we clicked right off the bat.ö
Fredrick concurs. ôMore than anything else I rely on the personality of the client to decide whether IÆm going to take a job or not, and this was a good fit.ö
The Pattersons are typical of Fredrick ConstructionÆs clientele ù middle to upper-middle class, usually a small-business owner. The Patterson job was larger than usual for the small operation, which includes Fredrick and two carpenters. They handle about 15-20 jobs annually.
Location, location ... cost
Located in an upscale neighborhood about 2 miles from Chuck PattersonÆs office, the Patterson house was built in 1938. The Pattersons bought the home from the original owner in 1976, and it had undergone only one major remodeling project since: an 880-square-foot addition in 1980, just after the birth of the familyÆs third child.
This time it wasnÆt kids but an inheritance of antique furniture that prompted the need for an addition. Once the decision was made, the Pattersons brought in an architect who worked on the design for 18 months before Fredrick was hired. ôWe wanted to preserve the original character of the home while suiting it to fit our needs,ö says Chuck Patterson, ôso there was a lot of back and forth until it felt right.ö
Besides the sun room, plans called for a half-bath off the hallway leading from the sun room to a small concrete back porch that was part of the addition. Also, the existing wooden porch, which was enclosed and had indoor-outdoor carpeting, was to become a small den/sitting room where the family piano would be. All told, the project included about 400 square feet of living space.
When local media heard that Patterson, one of the cityÆs most prominent Realtors, was remodeling instead of moving, a television crew descended on the project asking why. ôThe answer is simple,ö Patterson responded. ôI like where I am.ö
Real bead board, instead of paneling, was used for the wainscot in the sun room..
Beyond location, PattersonÆs home was paid off and, he says, to buy a new home in his neighborhood would have cost him five times what he paid to remodel.
ôAll that aside,ö says Patterson, ôwe raised our family in this house, and I couldnÆt see anyone else living in it.ö
Though the segment, which landed on TulsaÆs evening news, garnered FredrickÆs business extra publicity, Fredrick says his best clients come from word-of-mouth. ôI get enough business without having to go out and look for it,ö he says. ôYour best endorsement is your last customer.ö
On the job
Fredrick broke ground on the project Dec. 17, 2001, after a 10-day delay because a previous project ran long. The job involved demolition to the exterior, so footings were poured and the addition was built first to avoid weather delays. Taking care not to disturb the PattersonsÆ rose garden, Fredrick made the crew uproot and replant flowers that were on the plot line of the addition.
An Antique mirror and lamps were used in the bath.
Once the addition was built, demo began. A section of brick wall was taken out by hand to make way for two sets of French doors to be installed in the entryways of the kitchen and den.
Problems with the architectÆs plans were FredrickÆs next big consideration. First, they didnÆt take into account that the house had settled since it was built, so the floor of the addition and the floor of the existing porch were different elevations. Fredrick used sleeper joists cut on angles to make up the difference. The plans also didnÆt account for the difference in elevation between the garage and the sun room, so adjustments had to be made to the new breezeway roof that stretched between the two.
Chalk it up as another lesson learned. Fredrick couldÆve avoided the wasted labor and material costs associated with the breezeway roof had he checked the elevations with his laser transit before starting the job. ôI shouldÆve known better working off of plans whose designer I wasnÆt familiar with,ö he says. Even so, Fredrick took care of both problems at no additional charge, as well as repairing a drain line that had collapsed years earlier.
ôThey werenÆt real hard things to do, and we were still within budget, so we took care of them,ö says Fredrick. ôEven if itÆs worth a couple of hundred dollars, itÆs not worth the ill will between me and the client. Plus, they like that I did a little something extra for them.ö
The Pattersons were very particular about what materials were used to adorn the walls and floor of the sun room. In keeping with the era of the homeÆs construction, wider moldings and bases were used. For the sun roomÆs 9 1/2-foot ceiling, a 6-inch crown was used, but in the den ù where the ceiling is only 8 feet ù a 4 5/8-inch version of the same crown was used. For the walls, Mary Patterson made a verbal change order (the jobÆs only one) to go with authentic bead board instead of 4x8 plywood bead board.
The biggest challenge Fredrick faced was the flooring sub, who not only held up final payment of the project but also banged up the walls and bases during installation.
ôThere were some days he would leave early and some days he wouldnÆt come at all,ö says Fredrick. ôIt was ridiculous.ö
After the sub set the job back five weeks, Fredrick fixed the damage himself so he could collect final payment.
The experience was enough to make Fredrick revisit his contract and add a clause stating that if the client insists on using his or her own sub, Fredrick is due payment in full for work completed before the sub starts. The clause also states that any residual work must be done on a pay-as-you-go basis.
ôThe experience reminded me of how important it is to have total control from beginning to end,ö says Fredrick. ôWhen you lose control you become vulnerable, and your bottom line, your cash flow and your reputation can suffer.ö
Despite the delay, the Pattersons couldnÆt be happier with the results. TheyÆve even hired Fredrick to do their next remodeling project, a kitchen thatÆs adjacent to the sun room.
ôThe most important thing is that the client is happy,ö says Fredrick.