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Dealing With Contractors


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#1 Dook

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 02:36 PM

More specifically log package suppliers.

I have built 4 stick framed homes for my own use over the last fourty years, so I'm not a complete newbie about engaging in this kind of business.

Back in 2005 I wanted to build a log home and I negotiated with a local log home contractor who has built homes for 3 of my neighbors. He is a small operator who pretty much flies by the seat of his pants and builds on site. His methods are not the best, but the neighbors are not enemies with him after their builds. He mostly does handcrafted chink style homes with round saddle notch corners and light timber frame roof systems that to my knowledge never exceed R19 (In 2005, there were no closed cell spray foam applicators servicing this region). He wanted to use 1x6 t&g on 4 foot spans across 4x8 timbers and 2 foot wide sections of metal roof panels. Needless to say I wasn't overjoyed about his roof system. He does not do purlin type roofs, no sawmill I guess. Although he does put in a ridge purlin, it is not milled or sawn, the 4x8's simply set on top of them.  Anyway, if my memory serves me right, he offered to dry in a 32x32 home with half loft for 84K, him doing the foundation, floor and roof, no plumbing, no electrical, no interior walls no finishes no windows, no doors. I was going to accept his bid all except for one problem....he wanted 50% up front.

The guy is not a great communicator and I had trouble following his answers. When I asked him about insurance it was affirmative but incoherent. His crane is an antique road crane with friction winches. I highly doubt any insurer would insure a contractor using an old friction crane. That means a crane that does not have hydraulic winches or spring-applied, hydraulic released winch brakes.  So am I to trust a guy with 42K up front who is probably decieving me? I might have gone along with no insurance and antique crane if he was up front with it.

 

Anyway I built a stick-framed log sided home instead. Actually I built two because the first one burned down at 80% completion. Now I again have the itch to build a log home, the fake log home did not cure me.

Years ago, a builder told me this about the subcontractors he deals with: "The self-employed are unemployable". Without the regimented supervision of managers, our flaws grow. Yet I still prefer to do business with small contractors who do their own work over money people who have employees doing the work. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the former kind does it for love as well as money and the latter mostly just money.

 

Fast forward to today, am I to pay an exorbitant front heavy draw to a stranger and trust him, yet he will not trust me enough to build it and get paid later? OK, Logs cost money. I would be willing to pay the price of the logs up front if it was not inflated and I consider this taking a huge risk because he could built it not according to agreement and sell the package to someone else and leave me trying to recoup my investment thru the courts which would take many years.

 

I would like to hear some experiences dealing with contractors.

 



#2 Dook

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 05:45 PM

For the sake of conversation, I will suggest three basic categories of contractors. I realize I'm a bit cynical, sorry if it offends anyone. The categories are respective to their habits and integrity, independent of their ability. Sometimes the best contractors have lesser ability than the worst.

 

1) This type of contractor not only keeps his word but discloses everything in advance. There are no surprises. You points out any problems he may anticipate or flaws in your plan.  Everything not only goes as agreed, it also goes as planned. You love the results.

 

2) This category always keeps his word, but is selective in what he discloses. The unwritten motto is "Give the customer what he asks for and give it to him good and hard" or maybe "Give the customer all the rope he needs to hang himself".  You bring him your plans, along with all your mistakes and he says "Good idea sir". and builds it with all the mistakes. In the end you're disappointed in the result but blame yourself, not the contractor.  The problem with his character is that he knows good and well the flaws in your plan yet says nothing to correct them in fear that he may offend your delicate sensibilities and you take your business to a contractor who has better "people skills".

 

3) This guy's moto is "Tell the customer what he wants to hear, get his money and then do as you please". He niether discloses nor keeps his word.



#3 Greg Steckler

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 05:55 PM

Hmmm....

 

Well, I can see you might have need of a 3rd party, such as a disinterested escrow entity.  Write up a good contract (or get a lawyer to do it or review ones offered by your potential log producer), you deposit money as the contract requires into an escrow account, the escrow agent releases funds to the contractor as per contract and visual verification by the agent when certain milestones are reached.  this assures both parties compliance and availability of funds.  Most banks or escrow companies will do this for a small fee.  You should deal only with bonded and licensed contractors, insist on proof of insurance, workman's comp., references and check with the BBB, contractor's board, everybody...even the local barbershop.  Bad contractors don't last long.  Good ones (especially those who have made it through these last few years) value their reputation and deliver as promised. 

 

Also, I personally would run away from anyone using a friction drum crane...death waiting to happen.   I'd trust a home-made gin pole with a screw winch first.

 

Again, just my 2 cents...although i have built 35 log homes and designed a couple of hundred more around the world.  And I'm proud to know dozens of good log builders in North America who would do you an excellent job.


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#4 Greg Steckler

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 06:11 PM

Didn't see your 2nd post on this thread until after I had posted my reply to your 1st one....

 

I'd venture a fourth type, or more accurately a combination of all of the above:  contractor (or designer for that matter) listens to the clients dream/wishes/ideas and discusses the merits of them up front.  If client insists on certain things points out pros and cons but lets client have his way as it is his money.  Mistakes that are life threatening or really, really foolish are pointed out and are grounds for cancellation of the contract. No contractor wants to be associated with what he perceives as a "dangerous" building. 

 

Your #2  won't last too long and #3 is already setting up in another state.


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Greg Steckler
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2253 NE Edgewater Dr.
Bend OR 97701
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Log Rhythms, Inc.

"Only Nixon could go to China" ~ Mr. Spock


#5 Dook

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 08:33 PM

A reputation or goodwill built up over years is a great asset to a contractor. Unfortunately things have gotten so bad that even small businesses that had impeccable reputations have come to regard that reputation as another asset to cash in on the way out. I have seen that, but not in the log business. A bullion dealer who built a reputation of the highest integrity and lowest margins decided to take another course and defrauded his customers of 16 and a half million bucks recently.  This is something to think about before one expects others to trust him with large sums of money.

 

A certain amount of trust is reasonable, like the true cost of logs, but for labor and minor expenses the contractor should IMO convey that trust back to the customer. I trusted you, now you trust me. Payment in full should be on completion, not delivery. If logs were damaged in transit the customer may not know until later, so why should he absorb the costs to make good? Yeah, charge shipping costs on delivery, not for something that isn't done yet.

 

I understand how, in many businesses, regulators and insurance companies sqeeze out the little guy and I respect the need of small operators to skirt around the arbitrary demands of bureaucrats, as long as I'm not paying for something I didn't get.

I don't know if I would warm up to the idea of some escrow officer verifying the size and fit between logs nor my ability to verbally define in a contract all the possible shortcuts a contractor could take. It seems the best way to build is to work a little, get paid and work a little more. Huge lump sums entice the weak.

The idea of checking references escapes me. I have done all kinds of business in my nearly sixty years and I count the times people who called me to verify someone's business reputation or rent history as zero. I think checking references is something that rarely ever happens and the corrupt likely know this.

If I wanted to check the reputation of a log home company, where would I get the names of those he did business with? The company certainly would not give the names of customers who held the highest standards and were forthright about minor discrepancies would he? I imagine he would be selective in the names he gives out.



#6 Tim Bullock

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Posted 28 September 2014 - 08:29 PM

Dook etal, Small business especially in construction is a tough slog IF you do all of the right things to protect yourself and your customers......eg. We just had our Workers Comp cancelled simply because our annual premium is just too small and had to find a new insurer in a hurry. We are not a finance company but some people "think" that we should be without adjusting the price accordingly. We work on advance payments and when that stage of the project is complete, we simply get more until the next part is complete and so on. Asking for 50% down (as described) is insane......advance in stages.....basement advance, log advance, roof advance etc. Those cranes have been banned most everywhere except for dragline work......run, don't walk from this guy.


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#7 Dook

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Posted 28 September 2014 - 10:21 PM

I was a crane mechanic in the eighties and nineties and almost everything was fully hydraulic then. We had a few old friction cranes in the gulf on ancient platforms that were still flowing. That was in the late nineties. I think the Coast Guard gave us a waiver on them. In the early eighties crawler friction cranes were very common on the docks and they were almost identical to draglines except the swing was much faster on draglines.   Friction cranes worked fine for decades and were even used for personnel lifts. It just took more common sense to maintain them and skill to operate them. The components were built stout on those old cranes. Insurance companies did insure them back then.

In the case of the log dog, the friction crane was built in the sixties. His crew was him and his son. I didn't really have a problem with it as long as they didn't get under the load and used taglines like people should with any load.  It was the non-disclosure and telling me he was insured that scared me off...along with 50% up front.

A demand for a front-heavy draw seems like a warning sign.



#8 Greg Steckler

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Posted 01 October 2014 - 01:29 PM

So....  on the subject of Money down to get a project started. 

 

This morning I received an email from my most current design project, a literature professor teaching in China.  We have agreed to work together and I asked for approx. 1/3 up front to start designing his small log home design here in the US.  He decides he'll send 2/3.  We have had delightful email exchanges but that demonstrates he is putting a large level of trust in me for a bunch of lines and circles on electronic paper.  How does that make me feel?  Jeez....I'd go WAY past the extra mile for this guy.  These are the kind of professional relationships that last a very long time.  We are off to a GOOD start.  :)  :)  :)


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Greg Steckler
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Here is my temporary email:  stecklergreg@gmail.com

2253 NE Edgewater Dr.
Bend OR 97701
541-389-4887
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Log Rhythms, Inc.

"Only Nixon could go to China" ~ Mr. Spock


#9 lisa

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 01:37 AM

Don't give Ken Maze money up front. He travels the country and has left a string of unfinished log homes in his wake.
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