The Days Before Design Build
Over the last 37 years, I have seen many changes in the Austin Home Remodeling industry. General contractors used to be the only game in town. Austin design build firms were not even a thing back then. Architects designed, builders built and customers rolled the dice. We can all thank goodness those days are past. We are not out of the woods though.
The struggle to identify and hire a reliable home remodeling contractor is one defined by impressive web sites and grand promises.
Cable networks like HGTV and the DIY network have put home improvement at our fingertips. Even the most non-handy husband or wife can take a swipe at sprucing up the old casa with the help of Chip and Joanna or those two brothers.
The Self Reliant Builder
I am a huge proponent of self-reliance. The more you are able to do yourself, the better you are at guiding your own destiny. I wonder, however, how long it will be before there is a DIY Web MD channel. Do it yourself colonoscopies should catch on nicely. Don’t shake your head in disbelief dear reader. Have you ever heard of 23 and me? How about the new self exam cancer screening kit?
The home improvement industry used to be as exclusive as the medical field back in the day. The Home Depot and Lowes helped along the way. They learned early that there were many more home owners than there were home builders. They were eager to put those Saturday hammock dozers to work. Over night the honey do list got way more complex.
A few of those weekend warriors had a bit of a knack at the handyman projects. With the economy what it was, the idea of turning weekend chores into cold hard cash appealed to many. The construction business is one of the easiest in which to hang your shingle. Tools and a strong back fulfilled about 3/4 of the requirements to start your own company.
Austin Remodeling and Building Contractors
One of the biggest remodeling companies in Austin is owned and operated by a former “Tin Man.” His qualifications totaled making sales calls in the 80’s on home owners during dinner time, peddling aluminum siding and storm windows. Many others are the weekend warrior class. In Austin it is the husband wife team. The wife is the creative force behind the
company and the husband runs the production end. How can you differentiate between the friendly knowledgeable weekend warrior turned pro and the experienced vetted trades professional who grew up in the business? Reviews help, but many are friends and family helping out the upstart builder. A nice gallery could be pirated. Weekend construction classes at the local box store are helpful for learning the jargon and some basic fundamentals. Not long ago I was asked by a customer if I learned to build a barrel ceiling by watching a YouTube video. There are many ways to learn the business. Do you really want to be part of the training process?
ATX Design Build – a process of considered proficiency
I have been in the business since 1980. I was a senior at Smithson Valley High School in those days. I went to school half a day and worked at my dad’s construction company the rest. I started as a laborer/helper. I went out on my own after a while and started Craig Walker Construction. 37 years later, I have seen it all. I even learned Auto-CAD along the way and have drawn my own blueprints. When I founded ATX Design Build, I decided that I would apply all those things that worked and discarded all those that did not. The road is hard and is not traveled by many of my competitors. I surrounded myself with the best licensed tradesmen and artisans available in the Austin area. I networked at length to partner with premium vendors such as architects, interior designers and engineers. Many of my competitors are friends and we discuss the industry in depth. Most importantly, I committed myself and my company to a process in which my clients are delighted to have us a part of their lives rather than dreading another issue arising from errors.
Tell Tale Signs of the Neophyte
Pricing is the biggest give away in the industry. You can spot an inexperienced builder by a bid much lower than the others or much higher than the others. Too low may indicate desperation to get a job. High pricing may indicate the builder is “scared” of the job due to a lack of knowledge or experience.
First contact is key. Who visited you on the first appointment? Was it a salesman or did a builder come by? Did he carry a Fat Max tape or a flimsy cheap tape with metric on the back side? Could he answer your questions clearly? Was his understanding of the project enough to translate the most detailed of technical processes into terms anyone could understand? If you went to a doctor’s office and the examining physician could not define a medical term for which he was diagnosing you, would you worry?
Always request a design drawing. (see Exhibit A: Design Drawings). A contract cannot relay specifics about your project. A dimensional technical drawing is your best protection against cut corners and the frustration of not getting what you envisioned.
Finally, formulate a list of qualifying questions you pose to all bidding contractors. Note the responses. Later, compare the answers for disparity or missing information.
In closing, Let your instincts guide you as you go. Your gut will be right most of the time. Good luck with your project. As always, I ask you to call on us for any of your home improvement needs or just to ask a question.