We’re on the brink right now, just about to take giant leaps forward in this stagnant pond of city permits, state regulations, and contractor courting. I can’t believe 6 weeks have gone by since we realized we needed to not only hire contractors to do the work itself (electrical, plumbing, etc) – but hire someone to keep all those guys in line… aka a “general contractor.” In Massachusetts (and maybe other places?) you can’t do a commercial build out without a general contractor on board. Now, it makes sense when I put it that way but think about it… If you had a home project – let’s say a kitchen re-model – and you were a pretty handy, do-it-yourself kind of gal… you would just hire in the work that was beyond your reach. But you wouldn’t hire someone to babysit the plumber and the electrician. And check your paint job and the angle at which you hang the cabinets. You’d do those things yourself. You’d babysit; you’d paint; you’d hang your own damn cabinets.
But, apparently, when the paint and cabinets I choose will severely impact the lives of those beyond my direct control (aka the dreaded GENERAL PUBLIC), you need licensed individuals the hold the reins and the reins of the reins.
It’s a fascinating process, the rein-holding. We run into it constantly with this project because we are starting to get the sense that, typically, people do things all wrong. So to come across 2 people who are (more or less) doing it right and are definitely trying… earnestly… to do it right… well, that’s unusual.
And it’s more than that. It’s the circus around the rein-holding that really draws me to a standstill in these final moments before we take the plunge. It’s the racket. We’ve been meeting with Men for 6 weeks now. “Men” with a capital M because they all fall into the same category, they’re all running the same race. Since the middle of December I’ve been courting these Men. My phone is filled with new contacts like “Joe Plumber” … “Wade Electrician” … “Alex Mason” … “Alex GC”… and new texts, emails, phone calls come in daily. We meet with at least 1 person a day. And we pitch our dream to them, to these Men in their dad jeans or their grey sweatpants; with their metal clip boards and their measuring tapes; we get a sense immediately if they want the long version with the emotions and jokes or to cut straight to the plans and specs. As we have gathered more information over the last few weeks, our tactic and tone shifts. Some days we’re super optimistic and pitch a version that sells this remodel from the start. Other days we’ve learned of a new code and are back-pedaling to re-design the bathrooms (for the 5th time) while the contractor is standing there. And sometimes that version works better.
Then there’s the estimate. Estimate is another word for racket. The song and dance continues. “Your plumbing will cost $24,000.” “I only have $8,000 in the budget for plumbing.”
2 out of 3 Men will say, “Sorry. That will only cover materials.”
But the third Man will say, “Ok. I can do it for $8,000.”
We’ve asked, “Where do you get your materials?” And we’ve looked around. Northampton and Pioneer Valley are pretty small. Plumbing supply warehouses aren’t hiding out in the country. They’re right here in town. In fact they are next door to each other on Industrial Drive off King Street… And all 3 Men are shopping right there. And they are getting the same materials. For the same job.
So it makes you wonder. Where does the extra $16,000 go? It certainly doesn’t go… down the drain.
We are slowly learning the sheer magnitude of this racket… And just how much it pays to be thorough, to take your time, to ask all the questions to more Men than you thought humanly possible and then ask all the questions again. To Google. To each other. To the Building Inspector. Because licensed individuals hold something we common folk don’t have – a license – and they prey, sadly, on naivete and desperation. I am probably desperate but I am certainly not naive.
And maybe the catch is that I’m desperate but on a budget. So when I say I only have $8,000 for plumbing what I really mean is I only have $4,000 for plumbing but I know you aren’t going to go that low. So I am doing the best I can. 2 out of 3 Men know they can find a desperate, naive, rich new business owner elsewhere… and off they go to put on the show. But the third guy, he’s doing the best he can too. And so, when we find each other, that’s a good day.
Tomorrow is going to be a good day.