Dream Homes Ltd.
Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC
Nearly Famous Rebuilding Blog –
Hello Sandsters and Happy Sunday!
Hopefully you are enjoying your summer and working towards starting or completing your project.
It’s been a while since I wrote last and there is no excuse except to say that blogging is not something I can have anyone else do. I can delegate many things, but writing about Sandy rebuilding and RREM doesn’t seem to be one of them. With the number of active projects we have underway and the longer summer hours, blogging has been pushed to the back of the line lately. 5 weeks is about the longest I’ve ever gone and that’s just too long – when the number of people calling and emailing about my next blog exceeds the number asking when their estimates will be completed, I know it’s beyond time to get busy with the pen (or the keyboard).
There’s been an amazing number of things happening lately in the world of Sandy rebuilding and today I’ll try and touch on some of the more important. We’ll review the excellent article in the Asbury Park Press from several weeks ago and send you a link. As a note, I was quoted in the article in regard to RREM payment schedules being one of the primary reasons for so many delays. (Much of the other important information I shared in a 30 minute conversation was omitted but that is another issue.) We’ll speak again about the main reasons for project delays, and touch on the difference between estimates and contracts. We mention a few ugly communication habits (if you are using these, they will get you absolutely nowhere and probably delay your project) and how to avoid breakdowns in communication. Finally, we talk about our next Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar which is Thursday night September 10th at Tuscany Bistro Bar in Toms River.
Up in the Air – 1000 days after Sandy – There was an excellent article published on Friday July 24th in the Asbury Park Press, where I was quoted specifically on the subject of delays caused by RREM payments. It is entitled Up in the Air – 1000 days after Sandy and has a tremendous amount of detail about RREM progress and the status of many RREM projects throughout the state. The link is below.
Delays in your project II: Why are they happening?
As we’ve said, delays in construction projects are caused by a limited number of categories. They are: changes to the scope of work, cash flow, site conditions, lack of construction knowledge, material or labor shortages, poor planning or fraud. Some of these you can prevent, and some you just have to deal with. Today we’ll focus on 2 of the more important ones.
- Fraud – If you’ve been following the blog for a while, I’ve written extensively about how to prevent losing your money due to either incompetence or out and out fraud. If you haven’t, go back and ready the last few blogs where I discuss this in detail. Most events of fraud can be eliminated with some simple planning and common sense precautions, but today we’ll talk about “invisible” fraud, where your contractor is not paying suppliers and causing delays on your project.
We regularly take on clients whose builders have absconded with their money and abandoned their job, and we bring their projects through to completion. If your project is sitting dormant and your builder has not left to be a bartender in Bimini, the chances are he has not paid his subcontractors and they will not continue work until they are paid.
We commonly see houses up in the air for months with no foundation work done and that is generally due to either the elevation contractor not being paid or the mason/foundation contractor being owed money from other jobs.
This is a very difficult item to predict and one you can only prepare for by doing proper due diligence on your builder. If you view a number of active projects which are moving along, you know that your builder is properly funded and able to finish your job. If your builder has a long history in NJ of completed projects, you can be fairly certain that he will complete yours. If you see projects that have been sitting idle for a period of time, that is an indication that there are money issues and you should be cautious.
If you are in doubt at all, ask for a Lien Waiver/Payment certification from your builder or contractor before giving him any additional money. This document certifies to you that all material and subcontractors have been paid in full to date and should there ever be a claim or a lien filed, your builder will be solely responsible to address it at no cost to you.
If there is any hesitation, or if your contractor is unwilling to provide such a thing, do not move forward with any payments before receiving proper legal advice.
As a note: I have been in the development and construction business since 1993 and have never failed to complete a project. We have built over 1500 homes and townhomes, 200+ complete subdivisions and completed over 100 elevation projects to date. Often the most important factor when considering contractors is your comfort level that no matter what happens during the project, your builder will stand behind it and bring it through to completion. This is a vital component to your decision about who to work with.
- Cash flow: This is another key item I’ve written about extensively in the past and one that bears repeating. Assuming your builder or contractor is honest, often they may be unable to fund your project without regular payments from RREM for completed work. This cause for delay is easily avoided by having direct conversation with your builder and explaining your circumstances. This way, they will be aware and can either accept the project on the terms you need, or decline because they will be unable to fund the project while waiting for you to receive funding.
Once again, assuming your builder is honest, delays in RREM payments are the single largest reason for projects being unreasonably delayed.
Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar – Scheduled for September 10th, 2015:
Our next Nearly Famous seminar will be held on Thursday, September 10th at the Tuscany House restaurant in Toms River, across from the Ocean County mall on Hooper Avenue. We were there on June 25th and it was great. The theme was Getting Started, and we focused on Sandsters that are early in the process, and have not completed design work, or chosen a builder or architect. We have and will concentrate on engineering & architectural design advice, RREM guidance at the initial stages, and information about choosing the right builder or contractor. It really helped to focus the topic for the Sandsters that are just getting started and need specific advice, and that will be where we focus at this seminar also.
We will be in the Fire Room, which is an indoor/ outdoor space. Our speakers vary, but we will most probably have Kathy Dotoli, Esq., Scott Lepley, architect, George Kasimos from Stop Fema Now and myself. The last seminar was really great and being able to have a glass of wine and some hot pizza was a nice touch. The room only holds 25 people so if you are interested, please call or email me to reserve your space as soon as possible.
Behavior – Specific Behavior to Avoid if you Want your Project to be Completed before you go to Heaven
In my 22 years in the construction and development business prior to Sandy, I have never seen such an abundance of irrational, childish insane behavior as I have in the last 3 years. Normally reasonable, rational individuals can suddenly behave like raving lunatics, including such happy occurrences as screaming, yelling, cursing and otherwise acting like spoiled children.
Reality check: Sandy was an extreme inconvenience and greatly affected you. Having your home elevated is an unpleasant experience and there is a certain amount of stress which is normal. Behaving like a spoiled 8 year old is not the necessary or intelligent way to deal with stress and uncertainty and will achieve negative effects for you. Get over yourself already – do we really need to discuss (again) those people living on the planet who are in incredibly worse conditions than you are? It’s inevitably not as bad as you think it is, or your neighbors or spouse are telling you it is.
Having been in business for quite a while and having enough data to compile accurate statistics, I can tell you that in the last 23 years, we have averaged three quarters of one percent ( .75%) of our client base who really should be committed to a small rubber room for their unbelievably abusive behavior. Since Sandy, that number has increased to five to eight percent (5% – 8%). That is a 1000% increase. I have no explanation for this increase other than to ascribe such behavior to the stress of living through Sandy, but suspect it is due to folks suddenly receiving money they have not earned, to cure damages to their home that they have not caused. As a note, I lived through Sandy in my home and suffered damages in a number of other properties and I know exactly how it feels. I have never resorted to that type of behavior. Very perplexing it is to me…
In any case, for the record (and you know who you are): Yelling, screaming, cursing, threatening to call the Governor, the DCA, the President, RREM and your astrologer is not the way to achieve positive results in your project. It is hurtful, non-productive and achieves no purpose. People, being people, tend to shy away from communication with people who are acting in an irrational abusive manner.
Winston Churchill said, “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” It is infinitely better to meet, discuss and work out differences than it is to cease communication and man the Bastille. Or “It’s better to be nice and achieve results than it is to be nasty and achieve nothing.” Or, “One catches more flies with honey than one does with vinegar.” Choose your bromide – they all say the same thing.
In recent conversation with several RREM program managers, we’ve heard these direct quotes, “I am handling 220 cases and 207 are unhappy with their builder”. “The majority of RREM clients are unhappy with their builder”. If you as a builder are making more than 50% of your clients happy, you are in the top 3% of all RREM contractors.”
Author’s note: Currently, 96% of our clients are happy or fairly content with the progress and quality of their project.
The moral of the story is this: It is usually not nearly as bad as you perceive it to be. Our perceptions, obsessions and consideration of other’s opinions rule us and cause us to be temporarily insane. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid. Be nice and get results. Be mean and nasty and get nowhere.
Enough said. If any of this resonates with you, take a deep breath, thank God you and your family are alive and healthy, and start behaving in a sane manner. You will live longer and be much happier in the meantime.
Managing Your Expectations – How to Remain Sane
Planning is a key component of any project and one you can keep tabs on prior and during the project. Ask for a schedule of planned events, with trigger dates (IE: Within 1 week or receiving building permit, we will elevate the house) and follow the progress. Your builder should have a very clear idea what the next items in the schedule are and this schedule is something you should be aware of.
That being said, the saying “The best laid plans of mice and men….” is quite accurate and seems to have been created to describe construction projects in general. No project goes exactly as planned, but is rather a fluid series of events which is constantly changing. Having a realistic, flexible attitude about normal delays is necessary if you do not wish to wind up in a mental ward during your elevation project.
Note 1: If a projected date for an event is missed, that does not mean that you panic and call, text and email 6 times a day asking your builder what is happening and why the carpenter is not on your job. Remember: You are not paying to be educated on how to build – you are paying for a finished project. Keeping track of events means following a general time line, not asking why the framers ran out of gas for the generator. Obsessing over the detail will drive you insane. Believe me, you do not want to know each detail in the 1000 step process to complete your project. Again, that’s why you are paying a professional to handle the process.
Note 2: When a contractor or professional promises your builder an item will be ready at a certain time and your builder relays that information to you, he is representing what he believes will be occurring, to the best of his knowledge. If the subcontractor or professional does not perform in a timely manner, your builder didn’t “lie” to you. Trust me – he or she is more annoyed and inconvenienced than you are.
Contingency funds vs. Design scope funding:
I’ve written and spoken extensively about this item but Sandsters are continually confused about it, so I’ve started to include it below in the glossary of definitions which is a part of each blog. See below for more information.
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Stop FEMA Now Association: We’re now a proud sponsor of Stop Fema Now which is an excellent organization trying to save and protect NJ Sandsters (as well as other states) from FEMA tyranny. To get involved and either donate or volunteer your time to this worthy effort, please visit their web site, which is www.stopfemanow.com
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Design work and timing: Fall 2015. You should be working now on your design scope or (even better) submitting plans to your local building department so you can schedule for a September / October start to your project. We currently have a dozen Sandster projects we are starting in the fall – all have either completed design scope and been submitted or have been approved with permits ready in late August or early September. Now is the time to make plans to secure alternate housing. Remember, there are much cheaper rentals in the fall/winter at the shore.
Definitions & Important Considerations That Can Delay Your Project:
Lowest adjacent grade (LAG): This is an important elevation since the lowest point in your crawl space has to be even or above the LAG. That is important because even if you don’t want your crawl filled that much (so you have more storage space) you will not pass final zoning / final building if this condition is not met. LAG is defined as the lowest grade immediately next to your house. There can easily be a foot or more difference between one side and the other, or back to front, so if you wish to use the least amount of fill (maximizing room in the crawl) make sure you find the lowest adjacent elevation.
Elevation: Elevation refers to “height above sea level” and not the height above grade at the house or distance the house is being elevated. It’s easy to make a mistake with these descriptions and it causes much confusion. Example: If you are raising your home to elevation 11, your finished floor is 6 and your grade is 4.5, you are raising your house 5’ to elevation 11, or 6.5’ above grade. When you use the expression “elevating my home 5 feet” that means you are lifting it 5’ from where it is now. The expression “building or raising the home to elevation 11” refers to the height above sea level, not the distance you are lifting.
Survey: An exact depiction of what exists on your lot, from a top view.
Plot plan: A top view of what you are proposing to build, including new heights, stairs, entries, decks, etc.
They are not the same and you will need both for your project.
HVAC Elevation height in crawl space: This must be considered when planning your lift. This is the elevation of the lowest duct, furnace or air handler in your crawl space. Most townships require a minimum elevation of base flood, some townships have no restriction, and some are at minimum BF + 1 to the bottom.
Design scope: These costs are defined as architectural and engineering fees, all survey costs (survey, plot plan, foundation as built, flood elevation certificate and final survey), soil boring & geotechnical costs, cribbing diagrams, permit fees, soil conservation design, and wind load calculations.
Please note – you do not get $15,000 in cash to spend on your design scope. You get up to $15,000, depending on what your actual costs are. So if your design costs are $9,200 you get $9,200. If they are $14,000, you get $14,000. If they are $16,600, you get $15,000. The balance of any remaining money in the $15,000 design scope budget does not go back into your grant and you don’t get to keep the extra cash.
In the “to make matters more frustrating and confusing category”, if you signed your grant prior to October 1, 2014, you are not eligible for the extra $15,000 in design scope funding.
Note: I have seen a number of clients kick, scream & please enough to have the $15,000 added to their grant, even though they had signed before 10/1/14, but that is not the policy.
Contingency costs: This item is part of your grant package and is designed to provide for unforeseen events or conditions that must be corrected in order to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) and finish your project.
These are not mistakes, omissions or errors on your part, your builder’s part or the design professional that did the plans. Rather they are items that are not knowable or evident in the actual structure until it is elevated, or the result of one of the shore townships deciding arbitrarily to change, invent or augment the existing building code. These items include (but are definitely not limited to) rotten or termite infested sheathing, wall studs or sill plates, twisted, broken or rotten girders, site conditions or changes needed to comply with current codes which were not in place when the house is built, upgrades to water pits or valves required by the MUA, installation of hard wired smoke & CO2 detectors, installation of condensate lines to the exterior from the dryer, and about 50 other items that we’ve encountered. These items should be itemized by your builder in a separate sheet and submitted to RREM. 95% of the time you will be reimbursed.
There is not a monetary limit to this contingency, although it is generally 5% – 10% of the grant amount.
The contingency does not come out of your grant award.
You Tube Link to a Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar: If you’ve missed our seminars and can’t easily attend, here is a link https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVI69KoM8DRXqoEblHd94xg
It is not edited and is about 2 hours so feel free to fast forward and skip around to watch what you like and need to know.
Remember – if you have a specific question, send me an email or a text. Don’t wait for a seminar or a site visit to clarify a point. Whether or not you are Dream Homes/Atlantic Northeast Construction client or not, I’ll always try and help you or guide you in the right direction. If you’ve sent an email or left a voice mail and haven’t received a response, try and contact me again. Messages are lost occasionally.
Note to Sandsters: Though I write this blog to help as many Sandsters as possible, Dream Homes Ltd. and Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC are new home builders and general contractors who are actively renovating and reconstructing projects up and down the shore. We actually do all of the work that I talk about in the blog. We work with private clients and Path B clients in the RREM program. Call, text or email to set up an appointment for an estimate on your rebuilding project.
That’s all for today Sandsters. I hope it helps you move forward. As always, call or write with any questions.
Dream Homes Ltd.
Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC
Licensed NJ New Home Builder License# 045894
Licensed NJ Home Improvement Contractor License# 13VH07489000
PO Box 627 Forked River, NJ 08731
Office: 609 693 8881 F: 609 693 3802
Cell: 732 300 5619