How I met my contractor, part 2

Myryah Irby

November 9, 2012

By: Myryah Irby, Home Renovation Enthusiast

In: Contractors

In my last post, How I met my contractor, part 1, I forgot to mention one small detail, how I actually met my contractor.

Last March we made an offer on this old farmhouse in Stuyvesant, NY.old farmhouse
It was 200 or so years old and had a few... issues. Back when we were interested in our first house, almost a year earlier, we paid a contractor (a friend of a friend) to check out the house and provide us with a ballpark figure on rehab costs so we could make an informed offer. By the time we made an offer on the house above, our third house, we'd dispensed with the pre-offer contractor assessment. We'd seen enough houses and done enough research by then that we felt confident in naming a price. Our offer was accepted; then we hired a home inspector and started asking around for contractor recommendations (the contractor we'd worked with previously was building a house in the British Virgin Islands by that time).

Enter Joe Rapp. Our realtor said that Rapp Construction Management, based in Hudson New York, had a stellar reputation. Joe met us at the farmhouse during the home inspection. After about an hour or so he and our home inspector gave us pretty much the same advice: "Run in the opposite direction." We knew the house had foundation problems, but it also had carpenter ants, rot, a terrible roof, etc. I looked over the 7+acres, the swimming hole, the view of the Catskills and the big red barn and tried not to cry. Our budget for rehabbing was around 100K, Joe said it would easily cost three times that much. We thanked Joe and our inspector, and said we'd keep in touch.

A month later we invited both of them to the house we eventually bought, and once it passed inspection we asked Joe to give us an estimate on an addition that included two bedrooms and a bathroom. Meanwhile, we asked friends for other contractor recommendations and began meeting them and calling their references. We liked one other contractor a lot. But in the end, we liked Joe even more.

Joe provided a list of references, and we called all of them. One of the references invited my husband to come see Joe's work first hand, which he did (while I stayed in Brooklyn with our girls), the other two sent photos of the completed work. Everyone spoke highly of Joe and thought he did excellent work.Rapp Construction Management
Joe (in glasses) and my husband finalizing details. The wall behind Joe will be knocked down in the next few weeks. The sliding glass door will be reused in the master bedroom.

Here's my advice:

Three rules to finding a swell contractor

  1. Be thorough in your search. Ask friends, family and neighbors for recommendations. Search online, using sites like this one, or even Angie's List. (Incidentally I bought a membership to Angie's List but it was useless since there were no contractors listed anywhere near our house.) Once you've narrowed the list down to three or four solid candidates, get bids. If one of the bids is much lower than the others, be skeptical.

  2. Check references thoroughly. Aim for at least three references. See the actual work if at all possible.

  3. Trust your intuition. After meeting with a contractor a few times and checking references you should have a feeling about what it might be like working with this contractor. Trust this feeling.

I recently read Steve Job's biography, and one of the things that stuck with me was his belief in the power of intuition. Jobs dabbled in Buddhism throughout his life and spent time in India after dropping out of college.  “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do,” he said. “They use their intuition instead ... Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.”

looking at our foundation
Interior and exterior shots of our new foundation, poured early last week.

Over the course of several months, a dozen meetings and easily 50+ emails, we've learned the following things about Joe. Some of these influenced our decision to hire him, and others just made us happier with our decision.

  • Joe is a member of the U.S Green Building Council and has built many LEED-certified buildings. Very important to us.
  • He has extensive experience with Habitat for Humanity. In his early 40s Joe decided to take a break from his career to do something worthwhile and rewarding for a year. Given his experience in residential construction, Habitat was the logical choice. The one-year sabbatical turned into three years, and he continues to volunteer with Habitat regularly.
  • He built a house for his mom on his property (how can you not love a guy who builds a home for his mother?)
  • He went to college for forestry, and one of his first jobs was as a logger. (He offered to teach my husband how to properly down a tree when the time comes.)
  • He is creative -- always keen on finding ways to do things inexpensively, with reclaimed materials if possible.
  • He's a good listener, and very patient!

Poured foundation

These photos were taken a week ago. Next up, framing out the walls of the addition, and tearing down the eastern facing walls (above). We'll be back upstate this weekend; meanwhile, I'll be writing about our bathroom renovation and sharing photos of our current home here in Brooklyn.


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