In my day job as a realtor, my clients consistently ask me about contractors – who to hire and what goes into the process of home renovation. And my friends and family are no different. Everyone around here seems to have a renovation they are dreaming of or ready to pull the trigger on.
So, here it is folks, the definitive guide you’ve all been waiting for. For the second part of our two-part series on how to hire a contractor, we spoke to Dave Kasdan, a highly regarded (and very busy) contractor based in Maplewood, NJ. He outlined the key factors all contractors need to manage and most importantly, successfully complete a home renovation project.
Briefly, tell us a bit about you and your biz.
I’ve been involved in construction and real estate since graduating college in 2001. I’ve done everything from new home builds, managed high rise residential projects in NYC, and site-managed super high-end apartment renovations. Kasdan Construction & Management, LLC has now been around for about eight years. My partner, Marcelo, and I focus on additions and renovation projects in the SOMa area and surrounding communities. We love working on older homes and take a lot of pride in what we do. Together we have over 40 years of experience in the business.
When is the best time of year to interview and hire a contractor?
While we are busy year round, winter is always the slowest time and more limiting in terms of what types of projects are possible. This is always a good time to reach out, especially if you are looking to start a project in the Spring. Right now, at the tail-end of Winter, we are starting to fill in our summer schedule. Whatever the season, I would recommend reaching out well in advance of your project, if possible.
What goes into pricing a job? Do you charge to estimate a job?
Pricing is a little bit of an art and a little bit of a science. We price our jobs largely based on experience from previous projects. While each project is unique, we have come up with different formulas that we use during the pricing process. Of course certain items have to be priced independently such as windows and doors, take-offs have to be made for flooring, etc., so it can be a lengthy process. We don’t charge for estimates, but they are very time consuming. It’s not just early mornings, but late nights for paperwork as well.
How do you determine a projects schedule?
Again, we do this based on experience. We have done literally hundreds of bathroom gut renovations and I can tell you that with inspections, a bathroom gut will take four to five weeks. Renovations—dust, noise, money, being in peoples’ personal space, isn’t easy for anybody, so we try to stick to the schedule as best as possible. But it’s a lot of moving parts and it relies on timely material deliveries, town inspection schedules and personnel, and subcontractors.
It’s not a one-sided relationship. What do you expect from the homeowner? What do they need to prepare for you? What does the client need to do to make sure the project completes on time?
It’s not always easy to know what you want, but having a plan before you start is so important. Designing projects as you go is very difficult. This is why it’s often important to work with designers and architects. We love doing projects where designers and architects are involved and work with some of the best in the area. Not to say that I won’t help with design work or work with homeowners to make changes as the project develops, but the more a plan is laid out, and the more I can follow a plan with measurements and detail, the more efficient the project will be. When we start a project, not only do we discuss project schedule but we also discuss material procurement schedule, if it’s the homeowner’s responsibility. Having material on hand when its needed and being able to make thoughtful, but fast decisions are paramount to a successful project.
Whose responsibility is it to pull permits?
I always pull permits for my jobs. I don’t need homeowners trudging to town hall, filling out obscure permit forms, and waiting in lines. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of my job, as is sitting inspections. Plus, face time at the building department is important for a lot of reasons.
Why hire a contractor if subs do most of the work?
For our company, that actually isn’t the case. We do our own excavation, masonry, smaller framing jobs, smaller sheetrock and spackle work, painting, all forms of finish carpentry, and tile work. In my own experience, homeowners acting as their own GC’s are going to spend more money and take more time.
In your opinion, why is it so hard to book a contractor? There seems to be a scarcity of great contractors – they are always booked. We’ve been hearing that young people haven’t gone into the trades for several decades and now we are feeling the effects. (i.e. This Old House® Next Gen is trying to change this.)
Around here, I just think it is the sheer volume of work. With most people living in 90-year-old homes, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of projects. There have been days when I have received 20 messages for new jobs, and they now come from all angles–emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook Messenger, Instagram. I don’t even have enough time to get back to everybody. We have a relatively large crew and probably do between 15 and 25 jobs a year ranging in size. I am getting hundreds of job requests a year. There are quite a few quality contractors in this area, I can think of at least a half a dozen, but I think right now demand is just so high.
I have always been a big fan of This Old House. In fact, when people ask me how I got into the business, I always tell them I watched a lot of This Old House when I was younger. This is largely true. I love what they are doing and love that they are keeping craftsmanship alive. My 7-year-old son says he wants to be a builder. I think he already has the passion. And unless they are only 3D printing house in 20 years, I know he will help keep craftsmanship alive as well.
Is there anything that would you deter from taking a job?
We have worked with all types of personalities, sometimes against our better judgement. But to date the only thing that has deterred us from taking a job is if people don’t want to do the job the right way. Cutting corners is just not something we do.
Tell us a story – what the best or worst or funniest thing that’s happened to you?
When I was managing an apartment renovation in NYC in a very high end building, I was waiting for the elevator to go home for the day. These were floor though apartments, so I was surprised when Hugh Jackman, the new upstairs neighbor, stepped out of the elevator into the apartment I was working on, mistaking it for the lobby. He took a quick look around and then shuffled back into the elevator, a little embarrassed, and I stepped in as well. On the way down he asked me how the construction was going and I told him it was going well. Then he asked me if we were on schedule….I just looked at him and shrugged and said, “It’s construction,” and we both started laughing.
You can follow Dave and his crew on Instagram @kasdancm. Lots of good stuff!