GC’ing the Job

I set up a fairly unusual arrangement for the Park City Modern project. Recall that this is a second home for me, and the distance between home and the job site is 2400 miles, about 7 hours door-to-door via Delta and a rental car. Thus, being on site every day was not feasible.

I visited a construction site with the architects last summer and talked to a contractor they had worked with before. This was a monstrous house , which had been under construction for over 2-1/2 years. It was 15,000 square feet and had a budget of $600/sq-ft. (That’s $9mm in construction cost for those who have a hard time with decimal places.) The GC boasted that the owner had only been on site twice. (Whoa.) I knew precisely then that this guy was not for me. His truck was too nice and his homeowner kiss-up skills were too polished. Those guys serve a very important need…getting a great house built for very rich and very clueless owners.

On my Park City job, I acted as general contractor myself, but I hired a local guy as a “consultant.” In many jurisdictions, there are only two ways to build a house. You can do an “owner build” in which case the owner must be the g.c. or you can hire a licensed general contractor. It’s one or the other. I knew I needed local knowledge and I knew I needed someone to check in on site regularly, and even grab a can of paint or a couple of 2x4s in a pinch. So, I hired a local guy, Steve Kotsenburg, to be a consultant on the job. Steve’s day job is a real estate broker in Park City. He had sold me the land. We got along well. He had also been a builder most of his life, having built a few houses in Park City, and in Idaho and California before that. I had been in Steve’s house and liked the work he had done. Although Steve is licensed, he didn’t want to take on the full financial responsibility of the job, and I didn’t want to pay him to take on that responsibility. So, instead, I hired him for a flat fee to be paid out at 10 milestones, and we defined some roles for him. The primarily roles were to identify sub-contractors, to coordinate their schedules, and to check in on the site periodically. He has done an excellent job of this. The cost to me was much less than if I had hired a G.C. for the overall job. Since Steve basically spends all day making phone calls and driving around Park City anyway, this worked out well for him, too.

Of course, GC’ing the job yourself is not without its own costs. I probably have spent 1000 hours on this project. I’ve flown to Utah more than 20 times this year. I’ve loved almost every minute of it. I’ve been a designer my whole life, creating everything from snack foods to software. I’m the kind of guy who, when deciding on window casing, likes to buy six species of wood, cut each into slightly different widths, apply different finishes, and then test out the look on window frames. The need to pay that much attention to detail would drive most people crazy.

To build an unusual contemporary house really affordably (say at less than $150/square-foot), you basically have to be willing to do the G.C. role yourself. At the end of the day, I think GC’ing the job has saved between $200,000 and 300,000. I make a good living, but that’s still not bad pay for a part-time job that I consider to be recreation.

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