Tips and Tricks on How to Complete a Major Home Construction Project Without Tearing Your Hair Out
A year ago, I bought a single family home in a very lovely suburb of Los Angeles, CA.
When I first visited it, I liked it but thought it wasn’t quite right. The two bathrooms were small. The only entrance to the third bedroom was through the second bedroom. It really needed some cosmetic changes. My realtor / master property flipper, YingYing Zhang (contact info at end of post), was very smart and told me to buy it because 1) the location was great (it was safe, quiet, in a terrific city with a great public school district), 2) the overall square foot lot size was big and would allow me to expand the house, and 3) the price of the house was actually reasonable for LA standards, even though I did have to bid above the asking price to get the house.
YingYing encouraged me to expand the third bedroom into a proper master bedroom, expand the second bathroom into a proper master bathroom, and add a third guest bathroom. A lot of other things needed to be changed too: the HVAC had to be completely replaced, new plumbing, wiring, painting, floors, fixtures, etc, had to be added. I needed to have a place to do laundry. There was a lot of work that needed to be done. I couldn’t afford to buy one of those “ready to move in” homes so I agreed with her suggestions and bought the house.
A year later, after living out of a suitcase in a disheveled, messy space, the project is finally complete and I can FINALLY move in for real. YingYing’s suggestions were spot on and I love my new home. My post below will explain the steps needed to add an addition to your house.
Before I go on, I want to add a disclaimer:
There are many construction projects that spiral out of control. People don’t think carefully about their budget and spend way more than they thought they would. They don’t communicate well with the contractor. The contractor doesn’t do good work. Etc. I know there are a lot of fancy, well-lit HGTV shows that use editing to make everything seem easy-peasy, but it’s really not very glamorous at all in reality. And it can be very expensive. I don’t have unlimited money, and most people don’t either.
I would not encourage anyone to engage in a major construction project to their house if this doesn’t increase the value of their house. LA’s real estate prices have lost their damn mind a long time ago and so I knew my construction project would be a great financial investment. There are many places around the US where home prices DO NOT appreciate. In those areas, unless this is a family home that you plan to keep forever, I would not engage in construction projects. Save yourself the money and stress.
Having said all that, here are the steps needed to add an addition to your house.
1. Hire an architect to draw up plans for your house (I used Steve Sun; contact info at end of post)
2. Hire a structural engineer to work with your architect (I used Jim Wang; contact info at end of post)
3. Submit your plans to the city to get permit approval. It look seven months for the city to approve my plans. It is REALLY, REALLY important to get permits for your work. Get it done correctly right from the beginning.
4. Conduct an asbestos test on your residence to see if asbestos need to be removed before construction starts. My house unfortunately did have asbestos and I had to pay to get it removed. It wasn’t cheap but the area needs to be safe for the demolition to happen.
5. Hire a contractor to do the construction work (I used Build Method Construction; contact info at end of post). It look four months for Build Method to complete construction. More details are below.
6. The city inspector comes out during the completion of different milestones. He will either approve this phase or give your contractor corrections to make. After the final approval is given...
7. Get lien releases from the contractor, his subcontractors, and suppliers before making the final payment.
The construction process was no doubt the biggest part of the whole process. I hired Build Method Construction, a company founded by Danny Kab and Orr Barouch. I met with several different contractors and ended up going with Build Method because they were a company and appeared to have different project managers on staff. I figured if one person didn’t do a good job, there would be another one who could replace him.
Build Method was really terrific. Orr Barouch was my project manager and he was at my house pretty much every day making sure the project was moving along quickly. All the workers (Selvin, Reuben, Jose, Leo, Renee, Victor, I know I’m forgetting people) were terrific and very respectful. I was a little nervous about having strangers in and out of my house every day for 4 months straight but I always felt safe and at ease with everyone. They also worked so hard; I was extremely impressed with everyone's work ethic.
Work would start every morning at 7am and there would be a lot of drilling, banging, hammering, throughout the day. Sometimes the workers would come on Saturdays. Orr even showed up the day AFTER HIS WEDDING to crawl through my dirt-filled crawlspace to fix something. I remember looking at his legs sticking out and thinking, “This man needs to be on his honeymoon and not crawling through my crawlspace.”
Danny and Orr plan to grow Build Method into a big company so they are here for the long haul. They really did such a great job for me and I know they will do an amazing job for you. As my future projects get bigger and more ambitious, they will certainly be the first people I call.
I also have some random tips:
1. When you hire a contractor (if you are in LA, call Build Method first obviously), you should not be asking “How much will the job be per sq ft?” That is not the right way to look at things. Different rooms (bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, sunroom, etc) require different things (windows, wiring, plumbing, etc). The cost of lumber has also lost its damn mind and has jumped up to a ridiculous level. The quotes you get will change every few weeks given how much the material cost changes.
2. Communicate well with your contractor. I didn’t expect Orr to remember all the details about my job. He’s got a lot of other jobs going on whereas I just have this one so I would remind him about things all the time. Orr probably thought I overcommunicated with him but that’s just who I am. I write EVERYTHING down and I made sure we completed everything.
3. Be aware of your budget and stick to it the best you can. However, add some padding to the budget because there WILL be unexpected costs that come up.
4. Be aware of the timeline and hope that your contractor sticks to it the best he can. My initial contract with Build Method said the job would be done in three months but that seemed very optimistic to me so I tacked on one month and hoped it would be done in four months, which is what happened.
I love how my house turned out. It is around 1,780 sq ft and has 3 beds / 3 baths. I call it a Frankenstein home. It was initially built in 1939 as an 800 sq ft home. How entire families lived in a home that small is beyond me. The previous owner then added around 750 sq ft in the late 1970s. And now, I just added another 230 sq ft. I’m very happy with the results of my Frankenstein home and wish you the best of luck on your home renovation project.
If you have any questions about buying your own home in Los Angeles (one that's ready to go or one that you want to renovate), I'm also a realtor (my CA Department of Real Estate ID is 02137141) and can help you with your house purchase. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
The contact info of the awesome people who helped me with this project is below:
Realtor YingYing Zhang - firstname.lastname@example.org
Architect Steve Sun - email@example.com
Structural engineer Jim Wang - firstname.lastname@example.org
Contractor Build Method Construction - https://buildmethodconstruction.com/; (818) 900-9626
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An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.