Saturday, June 11, 2011

Construction Contracting in Vermont

Construction Contracting in Vermont

I am presently at our vacation home in Vermont and yesterday as I was finishing my three hour bike ride (how pleasant it is to have the drivers be so respectful of bikers and to have so many pave and unpaved roads to choose from) I thought of how different and special was the experience of remodeling our home in a contracting area that can be so stressful and conflictive.

Back some five years ago my wife Pinky “suggested” that we start looking to move from our Sugar Hill Condo in Vermont to a home that would accommodate our growing family of children, in-laws and grandchildren. When we visited our real estate broker Carol Dewey Davidson, she pointed us to what she described as a “very funky house with plenty of rooms and living spaces, a great location and exceptional views.” She did not have the keys but said no one was living there and we could take a peek through the windows.  Carol knows how to create curiosity – she was being absolutely candid but tweaking that candidness with colorful images that made us desire to immediately see this property.

Carol’s description was perfect. The house was ugly brown with a multi-level and long narrow porch to the right leading to a screened room with a rug that was in very bad shape.  From this screened room one entered the house. The rest of the front consisted of a mechanical room with the oil tank and water heater, the two car garage and another smaller mechanical room with the water pump and electrical/telephone equipment. One long windowless roof came down from the third floor to these three rooms. Not a pretty first impression!

Nevertheless, a peek through the windows indicated that the insides were not luxurious, but quite nice, and the views from house and the two and a half acre site was indeed spectacular – one could see the ski hill, Lake Pinneo and part of the golf courses as well as the mountains beyond. Most properties in our resort are hidden among the trees with little or no views. In addition to the great view, the property, located at the end of a short unpaved road high on one of the mountains, was very private and quite.  

Suffice it to say that after closer scrutiny we ended up buying the house for a very good price, but with knowledge that some serious remodeling would be necessary, primarily to improve the frontage and entry points to the house, as well as moving around some rooms internally so as to create a decent laundry and pantry. Carol recommended the architect, Art Garges, and contractor, Jim Mills, and the experience of construction contracting in Vermont commenced.

As a former corporate attorney of some 42 years working with contracts and convincing clients to put things in writing (I even put things in writing with my children), the first shock came with indications that these professionals gave estimates, but did not negotiate and sign contracts. Jim flat out stated that he had worked all his life without contracts with his clients and felt that if he needed a contract with a particular person then it was not the kind of person he wanted to work with.  Mind you, this remodeling job ended up costing over $250,000 and not once was there a moment of conflict with either the architect or the contractor or between the two of them.

The second surprise was that we left the keys to the house with both of them knowing that there would be multiple subcontractors over more than a year and during all this time not one item was ever taken, including food, wine, beer or liquor that were not under lock and key. It has always amazed me that over 10 years nothing has ever been taken despite the multiple persons who have access to the condo and the house for maintenance and repairs.  

The third pleasant construction contracting experience was that we became best friends with both Art and Jim. From the outset, the tone and ambience of our meetings were very professional and trusting, but just as importantly, there was a desire to develop a relationship beyond the professional-client relationship.  Our meetings to discuss the design and construction issues were almost always with both of them and in a relaxed mood around the kitchen table.

We also had a very good experience in Puerto Rico with the architect and contractor who remodeled our penthouse, but we did have contracts and the meetings/communications were more on a professional plane.

As a giver and receiver of professional advice, my take is that there needs to be respectful dialogue from beginning to end, that friendship is a real plus, that budgeting is critical and upfront discussions need to take place regarding developments that will impact the initial budget, that it helps immensely to respect and express appreciation for the professional’s advice, and finally, that it is very counterproductive to complain about the billings that fall within the budgeted parameters.  Some clients feel that these complaints will lead to lower billings in the future, but in the large scheme of things wherein a strong professional relationship is often so critical to one’s business or physical wellbeing, these complaints may well diminish the professional’s enthusiasm and thereby often end up costing the client more in the long run, including the loss of a good professional and friend.   

No comments:

Post a Comment