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Dream Homes Nearly Famous Rebuilding Blog – 2-7-16 – Hiring a Builder, Evaluating a Contract – Dealing with Out of State Contractors

Dream Homes Ltd.

Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC

Nearly Famous Rebuilding Blog –


Greetings Sandsters and Happy Super Bowl Sunday –

Hopefully everyone survived the snowstorms (large & small) without too much damage. I think we got lucky compared to what could have been.

Today I’ll touch on some concerns when choosing a contractor and evaluating a contract. We’ll remind you about our next 2 upcoming events, including our next Rebuilding Seminar on Thursday March 24th at the Toms River library and the NJ Home Show on 4/2-4/4, at the Pine Belt Arena. Both are in Toms River. We’ll touch on the joys of winter construction.

First, let’s talk about upcoming Events –

Our next Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar will be held this Thursday March 24th, 2016 at 6 pm at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library, on Washington Street in Toms River. We’ll focus on Sandsters that are early in the process, and have not completed design work, or chosen a builder or architect. We offer engineering & architectural design advice, RREM guidance at the initial stages, and help with choosing the right builder or contractor. Please call to reserve a space if you would like to attend.

Next, we’ll be exhibiting at the NJ Home Show on April 2-4 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. This is a great opportunity to meet our professional team, and there’ll be plenty of time for discussion about your project. We’re scheduling appointments throughout the show so give us a call and bring your plans and surveys for comments and suggestions.

Okay, now some Tips and Warnings about Hiring a Builder and Signing a Contract….

As I’ve said numerous times, there are a ton of fly-by-night companies, small local contractors who are unqualified and other companies who tried elevation and rebuilding work and found it too challenging. I predicted that they would work feverishly for a year or so, and then abandon the market, in whichever manner suited them morally. That is all occurring now.

So how do you figure this out before you sign a contract?

One way is to go to the township where your home is located and talk to the folks at the building department. Though they won’t specifically give you a recommendation (they will provide you with 3 names if you press them) they will tell you who they have had trouble with and more importantly,  who is no longer permitted to submit permits in their town because there have been so many complaints from homeowners about unfinished projects.

***** This is an important point. Right now, there is a very popular elevation & general contractor who is planning on moving to NY to do elevation work there and is not permitted to submit permits in 3 townships in NJ (Brick, Toms River & Manahawkin). This company is accepting deposits and signing contracts with the full knowledge that he will not be able to complete (or even start) these projects.

Don’t be fooled. Ask at your building department if there is any problem with this company.

Another very important point (I’ve repeated this here and at the seminars) is to ask for a list of current projects and visit them. Ask the homeowners how long the houses have been in the air. If you see many, many houses in the air for long periods of time, stop and ask yourself why that is the case.


Once again, there are a number of contractors and builders who will offer low pricing in order to sign contracts and take deposits, that have neither the intention or the ability to perform on the contract.

If you get 3 estimates and one is $20,000 less than the other 2, if you choose that builder there is an excellent chance that you are going to get ripped off. If you contract for your project and “save $20,000” and it still hasn’t started a year later, have you really saved any money? What are the chances that it will ever start or that you can get your money back if you get tired of waiting? (poor).

There’s a much greater chance that after a year of waiting, you will hire an attorney and start a lawsuit to get your money back. 

Next item…We get a dozen calls a week from unhappy Sandsters who need guidance in order to be able to finish their projects since their builder has abandoned them or left with their money.

See the Rebuilding Blog from 1/8/16 for more detail on this subject. 

One of the items we are asked quite often is contracts, and we have reviewed many, both for our clients and Sandsters that are stuck and need help. I have the following comments and advice for your consideration.

  1. If there is any doubt in your mind about the meaning of a clause, hire an attorney to review the contract. For a $125,000 project, it makes sense to consider a $250 – $500 fee for a legal review.
  2. If the contract is longer than 10 pages, hire an attorney.
  3. If your builder cannot explain whatever it is that you need in simple terms that you understand, hire an attorney.
  4. DO NOT sign anything that is blank.
  5. DO NOT sign any contract that is not dated, with license numbers and projected completion dates listed.
  6. DO NOT sign any contract with a deposit greater than 5% without consulting an attorney or other advisor.
  7. If you do not agree with a clause and are told that is a “form contract” or “that’s our contract and it can’t be changed”, find another builder.
  8. If the contract strikes you as being completely one-sided and not fair, hire an attorney to review it.

Sandsters, you may notice I am not ambivalent about any of these positions. After 23 years in business, thousands of satisfied clients and not one lawsuit for consumer fraud or lack of completion, I feel very strongly about contractors who give the industry a bad name. They make life harder for the majority of us who are fair and honest.

Finally, More Happy Nonsense about Out of State Contractors…..

Sandsters of NJ, let’s keep this simple. Don’t use contractors that are based out of state. Period. Why, you ask?

Well, if you’ve ignored every one of my blogs on this subject and want to torture yourself by hiring a separate general contractor and elevation contractor, you are in for a world of poop.

If you compound that mistake and you use an out of state elevation contractor with your local or out of state general contractor or builder, you created a situation where the elevation contractor doesn’t give a whit about your project, schedule or any other items affecting your house other than getting paid for the elevation work.

The elevation contractor (one really popular one stands out, who shall remain nameless, but who may come from a cold place where they are famous for cheese) refuses to consult with builders regarding cribbing placement, scheduling, elevation height or any number of other items. They also refuse to do any prep work.

Why does all this matter? You’ll be in the middle of your builder and your elevation contractor, trying to determine who is doing what, talking to whom and taking responsibility for each phase of the project.

It’s a recipe for disaster. You think you’re saving money, but you’re not.

You think time for completion will be the same or improve and it will be drastically affected, for the worst.

Out of state means if things go badly here in NJ, they leave and go back to where they came from. If a local company who has been in NJ for a long time does something to damage their reputation, they’re stuck with the responsibility for their actions.

This is a wake-up call and word to the wise. Deal with experienced, insured, licensed NJ contractors with references and experiences. You will probably be sorry if you do not.

Dream Homes – New satellite office – 2818 Bridge Avenue in Point Pleasant:

Dream Homes has been so busy in the Point, Brick, Manasquan area in the last year that we recently opened a branch office for client service, sales and construction at 2818 Bridge Avenue in Point Pleasant. We’re still in the process of fitting out the front reception area, but you are welcome to bring your surveys, plans and paperwork to that location if it’s easier than scanning, faxing or bringing documents to our main office on Rt. 9 in Forked River. Please call us for hours if you want to visit this location.

Design work and timing: Winter 2015, Weather Delays & Pouring concrete in the winter: At this point, if you have submitted or are submitting plans to your local building department, you will be lifting in late February or early March. Depending on what type of foundation you are using, you may encounter slight delays due to extreme cold. For some additional notes on building in the winter review some of the blogs last year, where we spoke about pouring concrete in the colder weather. With the addition of calcium hydroxide (anti-freeze), you can pour concrete as long as the temperature is 25 degrees and rising. Luckily, if you haven’t received permits, you probably won’t need to worry about this since you won’t start until mid-March.

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. 

Tip – Follow the Nearly Famous Blog: If you don’t want to miss any of my blogs, go the blog and “follow” it. Some times I don’t send email alerts when I blog. If you “follow” the blog you will get an email reminder whenever I post. We’re also on Facebook if you want to Friend us or post a comment.

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

New development: Dream Homes Mobile Web Site is now Live!

You can now log onto www.dreamhomesltd.com from your mobile device and see a mobile site tailored to a smaller screen.

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.

Footprint: A building “footprint” is defined as the disturbed area of the lowest level including the garage.

Ex: a 1200 square foot ranch with a 240 square foot deck has a footprint of 1440 square feet.

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.

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 Sandsters, 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 a free 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.

Happy New Year!! I wish you the best in every way!



Dream Homes Ltd.

Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC

New Home Builder #045894

Home Improvement Contractor #13VH07489000

PO Box 627

Forked River, NJ 08731

Office: 609 693 8881 F: 609 693 3802

Cell: 732 300 5619

Email: vince@dreamhomesltd.com

Website: www.dreamhomesltd.com


Twitter: #foxbuilder

Calendar of Events – Join Us: Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar, 6 PM March 24th, 2016 at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library.

NJ Home Show – April 2 – 4, 2016 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.