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Dream Homes Building/Rebuilding Blog – RREM ClawBack Madness – Being your Own GC and other Insane Habits – Rebuilding Seminar 1/18/17 at Tuscan Bistro – Hometown Hero!

Dream Homes Ltd.

Atlantic Northeast Construction LLC

Nearly Famous Rebuilding Blog –


Good morning and Happy Sunday to all of you, Sandsters and others!

Today the weather is much nicer than a week ago, when we were sitting with back to back snow storms…today should be a high of 47, which is pretty good.

More importantly, since December 21st (the Winter Solstice), we have added 26 minutes of daylight to each of our days!! That is so encouraging…more daylight makes everything in life more palatable.

Today, we have a passel of things for you. We talk about the latest RREM Rip-off, the Clawback Nightmare and how to avoid this whole (potentially costly) situation. We touch on being your own GC, which I continue to feel is similar to amputating your own appendage or performing your own root canal. For a repeat, I’ve been nominated a Home Town Hero in Brick Township for nice things our great team has done for an unfortunate Sandster, a good guy named Bob Steimle. The ceremony is this Friday January 20th. We also remind you about our next Rebuilding Seminar, which is this Wednesday January 18th. I also brought the Definitions section back at the end of the blog, for your convenience.

Congratulations!! We’d like to offer a special congratulations to Kathleen Dotoli, a worker’s compensation and disability attorney in Toms River. Kathy regularly gives an excellent consumer protection presentation at our Rebuilding Seminars (you can hear her again this Wednesday, 1/18/17). Kathy was recognized with a very prestigious award – she was voted one of the Top Ten Attorneys in NJ for Client Satisfaction in the area of Disability Law. Kathy’s been a great help to many Sandsters and we’re proud to have her as part of our professional family. Way to go Kathy – this award is much deserved!!

You can find out more about Kathy Dotoli and her legal practice at

Repeat: I mention another repeat, which was in last week’s blog, called “Yeah we do that for you”. If you didn’t catch it last week, it’s worth reading.

Being Your Own General Contractor …Is that Wise?   See Details below for more info…

January (1/18/17) Dream Homes Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar – Rain or Shine – Hot or Cold

Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar – This Wednesday January 18th, 2017 – 6 PM – Tuscan Bistro in Toms River.   Provenance & History : We’ve been holding this seminar for 4 years and counting; we are the only company actually bothering to tell you how to intelligently complete an improvement or renovation.

Our next Nearly Famous Rebuilding Seminar will be held this Wednesday January 18th, 2017 from 6 pm at the Tuscan Bar and Grill on Hooper Avenue in Toms River, across from the Ocean County Mall. 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 since refreshments will be served and space is limited.

Dream Homes and Vince Simonelli have been nominated as one of the recipients of the Hometown Hero Award in Brick Township! Thanks to all the people (clients, competitors and trade partners) who have called us to congratulate us and wish us well – your kind words are appreciated.

(There’s more information in last week’s blog, so if you missed that one, go back and read it…)

Needless to say, we’re quite proud of the nomination! This award is given in Bricktown to people and companies who do nice things to help people in need. Our great team has helped an unfortunate Sandster – a really good guy named Bob Steimle. Thanks for the kind words and recommendation Bob! I’m happy we were able to help.

The Hometown Hero ceremony is January 20th at 7 pm at Brick High School. I originally thought I would receive a Golden Cape (which I was planning to (modestly) wear 24 hours a day for the next 8 years, other than during times of disaster or civil emergency (or rather, for certain during those dark times) And yes, that is perfectly normal behavior.) but it turns out that it is an ordinary colored cape. That’s ok – I’ll probably still wear it 24/7 so – have no fear – you’ll be able to recognize me on the street since I’ll be the middle age guy with the cape and sandals.

I will also get to give a lengthy, in depth speech (of approximately 30 seconds), which I promise will enthrall the multitudes gathered that evening. Do not miss it! If you do, it will probably be enshrined in the Smithsonian, so don’t worry…

So please join us on the 20th of January at Brick High School. Go to the Brick web site and sign up for a ticket or just show up!!

All kidding aside, Dream Homes is very honored to receive the Hometown Hero award. It represents the spirit of who we are and we hope to embody that spirit every day going forward.

Mission Statement and Comment: We’re here to help you when no one else will. We regularly handle the messiest, most unpleasant, real estate, construction and renovation situations. We do the projects that no one else can do, and help people finish their projects and get back in their homes. If you’re stuck and can’t figure out how to proceed, call us and we’ll do our best to help you.

Reminder: If you’ve been ripped off by any dishonest contractor and are stuck, call us and we’ll help you. You may qualify for a $2000 credit towards your project.

Yeah, We Do That for You… This was an excellent (if I do say so myself) article from last week’s 1/8/17 blog, which received much positive response from many people. If you missed it, go back and read it now at

RREM Rip Off – Clawback Madness: Ok, we’re back to needing to call or write Kim Guadagno…or the people that spoke to us last time we wrote a letter. Of course, nothing much has happened yet, but hope springs eternal and the wheels of RREM progress grind slooooooowwwwlllyy, so we’ll be patient about waiting for homeowner fraud to be fixed, the RREM payment and closeout schedules to be sped up and the repeat fraud issue from contractors to be improved.

The Clawback issue is a whole other issue, which is rapidly turning into a full-blown disaster. George Kasimos from Stop Fema Now has been on this issue for couple of years and it’s now starting to come to a head. It will be the Next Great RREM Debacle, Major Issue #4.

Here’s the Important Point to Remember: The short version is that if you don’t do all the items on your RREM scope of work/ECR, your program manager at the final walk through will identify any missing items and Claw Back the money from you.

There is little or no common sense in this process, since CBI and Gilbane (thought 2 of the largest construction management companies in the country) do not generally have construction personnel working as program managers, but accounting clerks and paper pushers. That means that if you don’t fix the interior door to a closet that you don’t really need or care about, some idiot is going to not it on your sheet and ask for the $114 back.

Before we discuss the idiocy and lack of thought inherent in this business model, let’s talk about how to avoid it entirely. You can avoid this issue by giving your builder or contractor the RREM scope of work in the beginning when your project is first being estimated, and specifically asking for an estimate based on all of the RREM scope. Important Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing minor finish items yourself – simply don’t include them in your builder’s major scope of work (what I call the heavy rigging – elevation, foundation, pilings, borings, floor systems, strapping and bolting, utility reconnection, etc.).

Just be aware that someone must complete these items – or the amounts shown on the non-redacted scopes of work – are the amounts that RREM has allowed for these items – and the amounts that will be deducted if these items aren’t completed.

Minor finish items include paint, trim, general clean up, hanging ceiling fans, light sheetrock, reconnecting some appliances, final clean up, etc. Again, you can do these items yourself to save money.

Note: You must ask your RREM program manager for the ECR/Scope of work with the pricing. They do not simply give it to you with your original package (Insane RREM Practice #684). If RREM is paying you more for that item than you are paying, obviously you will have your builder complete those items.

The lunacy inherent in this entire process can be described simply – Instead of awarding a lump sum of money and requiring only that the critical, life-safety and code compliance issues are completed without worrying about aesthetic and finish items, RREM very specifically goes through each and every item and asks for money back if items are not completed.

That’s not how your insurance company does it. If you accept an insurance award, if you return your house to a livable condition with a certificate of occupancy, they don’t give a fig is you change the doorknob in bedroom #3.

IE: Let’s inject a little common sense into the final RREM scope evaluations and grant closeouts.

The only items that matter are as follows: 1) Bringing the elevation of the home into compliance with the new flood codes 2) Obtaining a certificate of occupancy after passing all mechanical, building and engineering inspections 3) Providing a new survey and flood elevation certificate showing the house and all mechanicals are safely out of the flood plain.

In other moronic, insane developments, the RREM Scopes of Work are sometimes changing in midstream, without the Sandster being informed until the end. The solution to this is ironically easier – you must file suit against the DCA (or realistically join a class action suit currently in process), in the same way you would sue a dishonest contractor who changed the terms of the contract in the middle of the project.

Solution to avoiding RREM Claw back: Have a very clear idea what you are obligated to do for your RREM grant, and who on your team is doing each item.

Acting as Your Own General Contractor….

Many Sandsters have read my numerous articles on this subject. In deference to the well- meaning Sandsters on Facebook on the Stop Fema Now Thread, acting as your own general contractor is not a good idea about 95% of the time. You may notice that I specify general contractor, as opposed to any work at all.

I’ve said repeatedly in the past, and state again 5 paragraphs above, that there is nothing wrong with doing your own finish work (a good list is above) in your house to save money. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new home or a renovation, that’s a good rule of thumb.

However, doing your own general contracting, unless you are literally living on the street and have no other alternative (in which case you probably won’t be able to finish your job anyway), you should retain a professional to manage your project.

In much the same way you wouldn’t perform your own root canal or other medical procedure, act as your own attorney, do your own electrical, HVAC or plumbing work, repair your own car, or do your own taxes or financial planning, you definitely shouldn’t run the major aspects of your own project.

Currently, we have 28 active projects (6 new homes and 22 moves/renovations/elevations) and 8 of them are projects that we call Rescues. Rescue Projects are where the builder is in jail, took off with money, can’t finish, or completed such poor work that the job was stopped by the township.

Home elevations and new home construction are not items you want to undertake yourself unless you meet at least 5 of the following 5 conditions:

1) you are already planning a divorce or don’t speak to your spouse much, since when the project doesn’t work out it will be your fault or

2) you have some type of architectural, mechanical, engineering or construction background and have done this type of work before and

3) you plan to devote your attention to the project on a full-time basis and

4) you are flexible, calm, organized, a fantastic communicator and have a demented twisted sense of humor. It helps if you are familiar with Chaos and Game Theory.

5) you have money in reserve so if (when) you screw something up, you can afford to pay to fix it.

Really, truly I speak the truth unto you Sandsters. Don’t try this at home. If you try and fix your car, do your own taxes or perform your own root canal and they don’t work out, you can fix these items fairly easily. If you get in the middle of a home elevation with your house up in the air and run out of money, patience, ideas or the ability to continue, you’re in a bad pickle.

Do the finish work to save money – leave the heavier work to the professionals.

Besides all that, you will rarely save money and it will most definitely take much longer.

Definitions & Important Considerations That Can Delay Your Project:

RREM Program Manager: RREM Program Managers DO NOT supervise the construction of your project. You do, as you should, since it is you that is responsible for how the money is spent. RREM Program Managers manage the paper flow for your project, authorize payment disbursements and (try to) lead you through the confusing RREM maze. That’s it. Nothing further.

They do not consult with you on construction process, give legal advice or comment on who you should choose as your builder, or advise if they are competent and stable.

You are the only person responsible to oversee the professionals you hire. A sobering truth, but one worth remembering.

Lowest adjacent grade (LAG): This is an important elevation since the lowest point in your crawl space must 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. The numbers on your Flood Elevation Certificate indicate how high in vertical feet your crawl, finished floor and grade are above the sea level at the ocean beach. 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.

These two items 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 many 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.

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 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 guide Sandsters and others through the maze that is any reconstruction project, we actually do what I write about. 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 supervise and manage elevation projects & house moves, demolish and build new homes, and develop and build entire new neighborhoods. In the past 23 years, we’ve completed over 1500 new homes, 150 elevation projects and 500,000 square feet of commercial buildings. We work with private clients as well as 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 my words helps you move forward and I hope to see you at the seminar on the 18th. As always, call or write with any questions.



Dream Homes Ltd.

Virtual Learning Company Inc.

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




Twitter: #foxbuilder






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