This week we have the second part of an owner builder interview that I did with Juan Catano. He and his wife are remodeling their duplex and making it into a triplex. In this part of the interview, Juan tells us what he wishes he had known before he started his project, what surprise costs he ran into and what mistakes he would warn other owner builders about.
Let’s get right into it. Here’s the second part of my interview with Juan Catano.
Michelle: Since you work in commercial/industrial construction, can you tell us some things they do on the commercial side of things that could be helpful for us to do on our residential projects?
Juan: The industrial construction sector, especially in the public sector, requires a lot of documentation and tracking, as well as clear communication with all stakeholders. The residential construction world seems to be a lot more loose in these terms. I think a very important aspect is making sure that all agreements and changes that are made verbally are then recorded in writing via email or change order, addendum, or a similar type of document to make sure everyone is clear on what was agreed to so you don’t have to rely on anyone’s memory.
Michelle: Do you suggest owner builders look at hiring commercial subs for their projects? Why or why not?
Juan: I think that some commercial subs have good processes and procedures that make them efficient and quick. My concern would be if the sub being hired only does commercial work and might not be aware of some residential building codes.
The HVAC sub we have does both commercial and residential work, and the electrical sub brought a technician that works on the commercial side to assist them on the connection of the electrical meters to the city power grid. I think it's best to hire a sub with residential work experience.
Michelle: What do you know now that you wish you had known before starting this project?
Juan: Having had better termination clauses on the contract agreements with the GCs and spending more time making sure that the scope of work on the quotes match the plans and the project requirements. Also making sure to communicate my expectations to the subs from the beginning.
Michelle: Do you have any online sites that you would recommend for getting materials, fixtures or appliances ?
Juan: We have been using Amazon, Home Depot and Lowes for some materials and fixtures. We like the idea of being able to return products or have warranties with the big box stores. For appliances we have been looking at stores like Sears Outlet, but we are more likely going to buy these used from Craigslist or ebay.
Michelle: Did you use any books, blogs or online resources to prepare you for this project?
Juan: We have done research on biggerpockets.com, which is a great website and has a really good podcast. We have used houzz.com to get design ideas and of course BYHYU podcast and blog.
Michelle: Were there any surprise costs that you didn't anticipate?
Juan: Yes, we were not aware of how costly is was going to be to dispose trash and construction debris.
Michelle: What are some cost savings tips you can give us?
Juan: Consult with the subs on what alternatives can be offered and the pros and cons of each. Also when obtaining bids from different subs compare them to see what each one might be doing differently as this could reveal areas of savings.
Michelle: What mistakes did you make that you would warn other owner builders about?
Juan: Be optimistic, expect the best, but plan for the worst. Make sure you have a fall back plan if things start go south, and trust your gut; if something feels wrong it probably is.
Michelle: What part of the construction process was/is the most frustrating or challenging?
Juan: Arguing with the GC on the illegitimate change order requests and dealing with their lack of understanding of their roles and responsibilities as a design-builder.
Michelle: What has been the best part so far of being your own general contractor?
Juan: The feeling of being more in control of the schedule and budget and the ability to select the subs we want to work with.
Special thanks to Juan for taking time out is his busy schedule to to talk to us. We appreciate you. We learned a lot.
If you are an owner builder who would like to be interviewed or know of an owner builder who would like to share their experience on this podcast, email me at info@BYHYU.com.
That’s all I have this week. Thanks for joining me. Come on back for the next episode for Build Your House Yourself University—BYHYU.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast/post is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.