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Should you act as your own contractor?

If you're planning to remodel or add on, you can save up to 30 percent of the total cost by acting as your own contractor. Aside from saving money, you'll be able to monitor the quality of materials and workmanship, fine-tune the design, and make sure the result meets your needs.

But being both boss and client is not for everyone. Success depends upon thorough preparation as well as an ability to hire and schedule subcontractors, control costs, keep work moving, and stay cool under pressure. Goof-ups can cancel potential savings or land you in legal hot water. Also, you must be prepared to spend several hours a day at the site.

Self-contracting also means legal red tape. You're responsible for building permits; some communities insist you post a completion bond. All states require that you buy workers' compensation insurance to cover uninsured subcontractors and laborers in the event of work-related injury. In short, hidden costs can mount up fast. The last few years have brought forth new books that give sound advice and useful overviews of self-contracting. We've chosen five, recommended by architects and specialty book dealers, that can help you decide whether self-contracting is for you, as well as help you direct and control the process.

The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home, Kent Lester and Dave McGuerty (Betterway Publications, Inc., White Hall, Va., 1986; $18.95). Subtitled "A Step-by-Step Method for Managing Home Construction," this 279-page volume is a comprehensive guide to new building. A preface describes day-to-day issues such as getting materials to the site and scheduling and supervising subcontractors. The heart of the book, Project Management, features 27 chapters, each covering a basic trade from excavation and electrical to drywall and custom cabinetry. The book concludes with a glossary of construction terms and scores of reproducible forms-materials- and labor-estimating outlines, and sample contracts and purchase orders.

The Home Remodeling Management Book, by architect Kathryn Schmidt (Egger Publications, Palo Alto, Calif., 1987; $17.95) is a well-organized, simple-to-use project management guide. Starting from the premise that self-contracting is like running a small business, the 188-page book helps homeowners maintain control by combining an overview of the construction process with a workbook approach to tracking costs and staying organized.

Each of nine chapters opens with a onepage summary of what's involved in various phases of remodeling. Chapters tell you how to take charge, highlight potential problems and pitfalls, and close with 46 useful worksheets that help you plan and track your progress. A concluding section contains a bibliography and lists additional information resources.

How To Be Your Own Contractor, Paul H. Rauch (Brick House Publishing Co., Andover, Mass., 1988; $9.95). From a detailed introduction on remodeling, the 102-page manual proceeds with a discussion of lot selection, financing, preparing house plans, making cost estimates, and developing a construction schedule. Also useful are descriptions of what various subcontactors do, and advice on how to select and evaluate them. Appendixes feature insurance tips, principles of building accounting, bid and contract forms, and construction cost estimate forms.

I'm Not Doing it Myself, Hugh Howar (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, New York, 1987; $8.95). This 184-page book sets out to discourage the reader from doing the actual work of remodeling, relating anecdotes proving that skilled jobs are best left to the pros. Less comprehensive than the other books, it will still prove useful to the reader trying to decide how much time and energy he or she wants to commit. A questionnaire helps you identify and assign priorities to your remodeling needs. Seven chapters tell you how to schedule the job, prepare budgets, obtain loans, and anticipate disputes. The book concludes with a glossary of building terms and suggestions for further reading.

The Well-built House, by Jim Locke (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1988; $8.95). Those who've read Tracy Kidder's House will remember Jim Locke as the consummate craftsman and partner in the construction firm Apple Corps. Unlike the other books reviewed here, this one isn't a management manual, but a highly readable account of how houses get built. By demystifying the construction process, it will help you be an effective partner in your project, whatever role you assume. Read it to familiarize yourself with building procedures and terminology, increase your knowledge of materials, and get a sense of what can go wrong.

Because it's written from the other side of the fence, you'll gain insight into what makes tradesmen tick. Illustrated with 30 detailed drawings, the book also contains sample contracts and specification lists illustrating how detailed you need to be in describing what is to be done.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Jun 1, 1989
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