Managing a Home Construction Project Yourself

If you want to get started right away on your home repair or rebuild project, you will have to manage it yourself. Even if you have never done this before, there are tips you can use to protect yourself and make sure the work gets done the way you want.

Listed below are some practical ideas for managing your own construction project. You should start by hiring the right contractor the first time.

Finding a Reliable Contractor

Here are some tips from the FEMA website for hiring contractors:

Beware of anyone who claims to be FEMA certified. This should send up a red flag. FEMA does not certify or endorse any contractors.

Avoid door-to-door offers to do construction work and offers that appear too good to be true.

Use reliable, licensed and insured contractors. Ask to see a license and proof of insurance.

Call your area Better Business Bureau, local homebuilders association or trade council and ask if the contractor has any complaints against him or her.

Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide the names of previous customers. Call several of them to make sure they were satisfied with the work. You may even want to visit to see the quality of the work yourself.

Ask for a written estimate. The estimate should detail the work to be done and have a set completion date. Be sure to read the fine print. Get more than one estimate to compare costs and services.

Get a written contract. Read your contract carefully before signing, and keep a copy for your records. Never sign an incomplete or blank contract. Make sure it clearly states in detail the work to be done and who is responsible for obtaining necessary permits. It should also include a description of how, and for what reasons, the contract could be cancelled. You may wish to have an attorney review the contract if it is a large project.

Ask for a written guarantee. It should clearly state what work is covered and for how long, as well as who is responsible for fulfilling the guarantee (contractor, dealer or manufacturer).

If problems arise:

Cancel the contract. By law you can cancel a contract within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for cancellation that are set out in the contract. Send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.

Top 10 Tips for Managing a Rehab Job on Your Own

You've used the suggestions from the last section on how to hire the right contractor, and the job is ready to start, but you've never managed anything like this before. What do you do?

If you feel at all nervous about being the boss, remember that whether it came from an insurance company, your savings, FEMA, or a bank loan you are paying for this with your own money. After everything you have been through, you really need this work to be done right the first time. It is better to start out being the boss and being firm about what you expect, than to try later when the job is well underway. Here are the top 10 tips for managing your own home construction project:

1. Behave like a builder, talk like a builder. Be friendly with your subcontractors, but let them know who is the boss.

2. Keep records of purchase orders, invoices, paid receipts and checks, workers compensation records, etc. Set up an easy filing system so you know where the records are and how to find them. (Hint: Office supply stores sell plastic filing bins that are easy to carry and hold a lot of file folders.)

3. Understand the order in which work has to be done, and develop a schedule for when to bring in each subcontractor.

4. Inspect work often to check on progress, quality and the schedule of work.

5. Allow some time gap between the work schedules of two subcontractors so that inspections can be made and changes, if any, can be made. Build in some time for surprises.

6. Insure workers who will be on the construction site through a rider to your homeowners insurance policy. This can protect you against any accident on the job site.

7. Keep track of how much money you've spent and how much more is needed to finish the project. Compare this often to how much money you have to spend.

8. Use written contracts with your subcontractors. Put all changes in writing, and use lien waivers when work is finished. A lien waiver is a release signed by the contractors and suppliers stating that they have been paid for all labor and material that they have supplied on your project. By signing, they relinquish all rights to place a mechanics lien on your property.

9. Make sure materials are ordered and on-site before the job is scheduled to start.

10. Make a final payment only when work is completed. Legitimate contractors normally do not require more than one-third of the total charges as a down payment, and give detailed initial cost breakdowns of materials. Don't pay for the work up front or in cash, and wait until the project is done to your satisfaction to make the final payment. A reputable contractor will not pressure you to sign off on the job if it's not finished properly.

The state Resource Guides at Route 4 contains guidance on where to look for licensed, insured local contractors.