Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Choosing a contractor, delay, permits, kick-off...

Detail section showing roof deck over new family room and kitchen.
Unlike when we started searching for an architect, we didn't have to scour the internet for weeks trying to narrow down the choices of contractors. Our architect, who has nothing but a string of successes in her portfolio, picked three firms she thought would be a good fit for the scale of our project. After we finished up conceptual designs, they sent a set of drawings to the three firms for them to price. In the meantime I called every single reference given for each of the firms. In the process I actually ended up having a conversation with a beloved (by me) former Secretary of State. The problem with that was that I wanted to ask foreign policy questions. I managed to refrain however.

When the pricing came back from the three contractors one was so high we were convinced they just didn't want the job. The other two, although their numbers were not exactly close, were at least both something we could live with.

Not too long after that we realized that our financial ducks were not as lined up as we thought they were. So we slowed the project down a bit. Although this was necessary for financial reasons, it had the positive side effect of giving us a good opportunity to digest some of the plans and make alterations. Nothing major. A nip and a tuck here. In a few instances our architect came back and proposed some changes that we are really, really happy about. (More on those in the coming months.) I am hoping that this delay, and all the extra time we spent poring over the plans means client-induced change orders will be non-existent during construction.

The delay also allowed us to get our permits from DC which has a notorious reputation for not exactly being speedy. We used a permit expediter who, for $1,500, walked the plans through all the regulatory hurdles and coordinated a few required corrections with out architect. Two major benefits of having someone do this are 1) You don't have to deal with any of the hassle, and 2) They are experts at getting things through a given municipal system and can cut out a lot of potential delay just by knowing how to work the system. It took us about three months in total to get our permit. Definitely money well spent.

One other permitting option we contemplated but didn't do was third party review. Because of the sometimes egregious delays in DC permitting and lack of staff to make things go more quickly, DC allows approved third parties to actually do the permit review for them. We were told that doing so can cut down an 6-month permit wait to six weeks (but not always). The cost for that convenience was about $6,500. Happily our delayed start date meant that we had at least six months to get our permit. Glad we didn't have to pay money for a service that our taxes (and permitting fees) should already provide.

It was almost a year between the original preliminary pricing and the time we were ready to move forward. The new pricing not only reflected increases due to some of the design changes we made but also reflected a bit of commodity inflation. The difference was  about a 25% increase over the preliminary pricing. Sheesh. But as my husband's dad is known to say: "For a little bit more you get what you really want."

And so here we are, a mere two years after we began our search for an architect, on the eve of our kick-off meeting with the project team. It makes the estimated 330-days until completion seem a short time.

Now, fingers crossed that our construction loan closes tomorrow as planned...


  1. yes dealing with DC is probably the main bear of my job...... wait this is anonymous right....
    I think you were wise to take your time with the process. I have to say though that you're the only client who I've ever heard of who called references!

  2. Stefan: That surprises me that more don't call references.