Thursday, November 13, 2014

GC, Are You With Me? Or, How To Be A General Contractor


Turns out, general contractors in Baltimore look at me and think one (or both) of two things:

Thing the First: Geez, she sure looks uptown. I don't know if it's the sloppy bun, lack of makeup, or frumpy Dansko clogs, but something tells me she has a ton of dough just lying around. Maybe it's the dead husband.

Thing the Second: Awesome. A chick. They're dumb.

We have thus far received three estimates for our rehab, you know, the one that I wanted someone else to do entirely? The first was a cut-and-paste job by someone who seemed to have no interest in the job itself or me ever coming to see what he was doing. He only opened his mouth to point out, twice, that if the customer wanted to help or visit the job site the price went up.

The second estimate was by someone who had no desire for the job. He estimated HVAC at 2 1/2 times the going rate and charged me once for "carpentry" and again for "framing." Pretty sure they are the same thing, especially as the items listed under both were identical.

The third has a hard time finding the "on" button for his dadgum computer and took four days to remove a line item. His work is beautiful, but I fear that Sicily would not get a chance to sleep in her new bedroom before she graduates high school. While our current landlords would love to have us as tenants for four years, that's not in the plan.

The next contractor said he charges per day, so his estimate isn't really carved in stone. It may go up (no mention at all of it going down).

More and more it's looking like I am going to have to (wo)man up and become the general contractor.

Which I am not loving. First, there is bureaucracy. Permits. Slowness. People who couldn't give a crap less about the house because it is COFFEE BREAK TIME and I CAN'T BE BOTHERED.

Prime example (because giving examples in writing is GOOD WRITING): the local utility which shall remain nameless denied me electrical service but wouldn't say why. Four phone calls later, with each phone call featuring a 45-minute hold time and two of the four featuring a disconnect so I never actually talked to a human, turns out I need to prove that I am not the person who lived there two years ago who didn't pay the bill. All of this explained in small, slow words, in the same manner in which you would speak to a very small child. You know, BECAUSE I'M THE DUMBASS.

So there's that. Which is a HUGE that. Because apparently, if you dig a hole in the ground, the city has to come and inspect the hole. And then after concrete happens, the concrete. And each of these inspections has a lag time of at least a week. EACH. As in, you call, ask for an inspection, then a week later you get an appointment.

I may not be able to handle the moronacy of this system. Yes, I made the word up. Definition: a system governed by morons.

Second, I have no earthly idea of what it takes to be a general contractor. This is a deficit I am sure I can overcome, but I am not so sure that all of the subcontractors I will be dealing with will be able to overcome it. When you are a woman in a construction field, you are automatically assumed to be less than. Your skills are less, your knowledge is less.

Well, I'll tell you what is less for me. My ability to put up with that type of bullshit. And there are tons of sharp objects around a job site.  So that could be dangerous.

And finally. Although I may have no choice in the matter if we want to save tons of cash, I don't know if I want to be this project's general contractor. I am in the process of writing a book, writing to make money (because the book is still an outline with some notes and, well, there are no guarantees), and starting yoga teacher training in a week. Plus parenting. I am not a huge fan of the Cult of Busy. I like some time for navel-gazing, and when I am with The Child, I like to be with The Child, not thinking about something else like whether or not the electrician has done his/her job.

But then there is the other part of me that knows that if I want something done well and the way I want it done, I will have to do it. No one cares as much about your stuff as you do. Any general contractor I hire will treat it just like another job.

I will meet with this other dude next week, but I have a feeling I know where this is headed.

So. Any general contractors out there who want to give me some advice? Where do I start?


  1. When we moved into our "project house", we had a similar issue with a utility and non payment by a former owner. As far as I remember (being 15 years later), this was resolved through our title insurance. We said WTF, and it was fixed within a day.

    From personal experience, I'd say get prepared to be your own GC. We did most of the work ourselves for the reasons you cite (although we were much younger back then), and the few things we hired out often left us shaking our head.

    I wish you the best. Is the photo of the front of your house? Beautiful! Are the windows in good shape, or is that just exceptional photography?

  2. The windows are new, which is strange but welcome.

    Basically, the local utility wanted to make sure we weren't just the same people starting service in our own name. I did get a few recommendations for individual subcontractors, and I hopefully have some help navigating the permit process.

    We will see what happens!!