Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002 Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002
Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002

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Choosing a contractor

Choosing a homesite and securing an architect to draw plans lays the groundwork for a new home. Photos by Bill Klein

Your land is purchased, financing is in hand and you’re ready to embark on the great adventure – building your own little castle in the paradise of northern Idaho. Next step: finding a contractor to do the work.

A quick look at the local phone book shows there are more than 60 building contractors in the area, but a yellow pages ad is an unreliable way to choose one. Does it matter which one you select? “Of course,” said Scott Hancock, owner of Goose Point Construction. “Idaho doesn’t require contractors to be licensed, so anyone can call themselves a building contractor. For most people, their home is the biggest investment they’ll ever make. Is that money you want to gamble with?”

The best way to choose a reliable contractor is to “check their references,” according to Bob Walsh, owner of Mountain View Construction and president of the Panhandle Building Contractor’s Association. “Take the time to view previously completed projects or those still under construction,” he said. “Ask the owners how the job went; look at the quality of the construction; find out what kind of problems there might have been and how they were resolved.”

Hancock concurs with that assessment. “That’s your first red flag. If a contractor doesn’t want you to meet his previous clients, get out of there and find someone else. Take time to talk with owners one-on-one, without the contractor present.”

But don’t stop with a contractor’s previous projects: Talk to the people he works with as well. This includes mortgage brokers, subcontractors and building suppliers. “Listen to what they say and how they say it,” Walsh said. “They may not say something specifically negative, but if they can’t work with the guy, you’ll know there’s a reason for that.” Ask the contractor’s permission and run a credit check to make sure a contractor pays his bills. “Some people don’t realize that even if you’ve paid the contractor, you’re still responsible for the cost of building supplies if he hasn’t paid that bill,” said Walsh.

“If your contractor doesn’t pay his subcontractors, you will,” said Hancock. “Make sure your contractor will sign a lien-waiver to release you from liabilities.”

Liabilities abound in home building, and some of the most important information you can get from a contractor is regarding his or her insurance. “Some contractors forget to tell people that, essentially, for one year after the home is completed you have unlimited liability – and the contractor has to have insurance to cover that,” Hancock said. He suggests you ask to see copies of policies that not only show the builder is covered while he is building your house, but that he is carrying workman’s compensation for his subcontractors or can show that they are otherwise covered. “A good contractor won’t hesitate to provide this information to you,” he said.

“I want my builder to carry the builder’s risk insurance,” said Angela Potts-Bopp, who owns Harris-Dean Insurance and covers a lot of building contractors. “I also suggest the homeowner buy a home warranty policy, because your regular homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover building defects. Make sure your contractor is carrying you as the ‘additional insured,’ on his policy,” she advises. “That way you’ll get a notice if his insurance lapses.” Potts-Bopp warns that, “(Owners) have a lot to lose and most people get so caught up in the building, they don’t do what they need to do. And they can get hurt down the road.”

A home in northern Idaho designed by Architect Bill Klein takes shape under the direction of general contractor Pucci Construction.
Because Bonner County’s Planning Department doesn’t perform inspections, Walsh suggests that anyone building should consider hiring an independent engineering company to conduct inspections – and not deal with a contractor who opposes having his work examined by an outside professional or, for that matter, you yourself. “A good contractor should welcome you at the job site,” Walsh said.

Both Walsh and Hancock say a contractor should be willing to give you a detailed specification sheet when he gives you a bid on the job – detailed right down to the types of door knobs and light fixtures. “You get what you pay for,” Walsh said. “You really do.”

“Watch out for the guy who gives you the lowball price,” Hancock said. “With a detailed spec sheet, you can tell if that low price is because he’s using really low quality materials – and that’s something you’ll regret in the long run.”

Terry Williams of Terry Williams Construction specializes in homes built with insulated concrete forms, a specialty type of construction material. He suggests that owners building something “out of the ordinary” make sure their contractor is familiar with that type of construction. “Ask them for references where they’ve built that type of home before,” he said.

“If it’s logs, post and beam, or building out of straw bales, you want to make sure he understands those principles of building.” Walsh says, “You don’t want to be someone’s learning curve.”

And even though Idaho has no licensing requirements, it doesn’t hurt to ask a contractor what license he might carry anyway or what additional classes he has taken. “If they came here from a state that required a license, and they have it, that at least tells you something,” Williams said. Hancock added, “If he’s got a public works license, then you know he’s been around awhile.”

Ultimately, these builders say, you need to choose a contractor you like. “It’s all about communication,” Hancock said, “and if you can’t communicate well with the contractor you’ve chosen, there’s bound to be problems.”

Walsh agreed, saying: “It all comes down to communication. You’ll be talking with the person who’s building your house a lot. Make sure you feel comfortable with what he’s telling you.”

- By Trish Gannon

Marketwatch: Moving to seller’s market

A mild winter may have helped boost sales in the local real estate market during the first quarter of 2003. “We’ve been busy,” said Tom Renk, owner/broker of C.M. Brewster & Co. Real Estate, echoing a comment heard in real estate offices throughout town, along with mortgage brokers, title insurance companies and appraisal offices. And some of the lowest interest rates in decades are undoubtedly what has kept the market active.

“It’s just a great time to buy,” Shawn Zener, owner of Northwest Mortgage, said of the industry.

As of mid-April, 63 residential properties had closed. The category residential with acreage saw 66 closings; 102 successful purchases were made of vacant land; and new owners have taken over 10 waterfront properties. In the first quarter of 2002, only 51 residential properties closed.

The average sales price on residential with acreage is $165,009, while plain residential – properties located on less than an acre of land – sold at an average price of $130,722. For 2002, that average sale price on residential property was only $100,096, so this year’s first quarter numbers indicates we might be moving into a seller’s market. The average days on the market jumped to 182, compared to 165 in the first quarter of 2002 and an average of 142 for all of 2002.

Renk says homeowners are not blind to this surge of activity in demand and are recognizing this is an opportune time to list. “We’ve seen a lot of people decide now is the time to list their property,” he said.

Statistics from the Multiple Listing Service, which covers both Bonner and Boundary counties, show 492 new listings in the period of November through March. Residential property seems to be priced right on target with what the market will bear; on average, properties are selling at 98.5 percent of their listing price.

It is an exciting time to become involved in local real estate, says the Bonner County Association of Realtor’s new executive director, Alan Hagelthorn. “The market is extremely hot right now,” he said, “even in comparison with last year, which was a record-setter itself. I expect to see continued growth (in the market) and wouldn’t be surprised if we surpassed last year’s numbers.”

Average sales price on waterfront property for the first quarter of 2003 was $415,700, with properties selling at approximately 90 percent of their listing price. Numbers for 2002 show 68 waterfront closings at an average sales price of $277,038. These properties sold at about 95 percent of their listing price. Average days on market for waterfront is the lowest of all categories, at 137, reflecting that fewer properties are available for sale in this category.

Vacant property – bare land – is selling at an average price of $51,807 with 410 days on the market in the first quarter of this year. The list-to-sell percentage is just under 92 percent. For 2002, 392 vacant lots were sold at an average price of $70,877.

“From about late ’94-’95 until 2000, our real estate market was in a bit of a decline,” Renk said. “Prices went down as demand dropped. There were a lot of listings, but they weren’t really selling.” Average days on market jumped to over a full year for a while. “Then it began to pick up in the year 2000, and it’s been growing ever since.”

For 2002, 371 properties in four categories closed with an average days on market of 142. The average sales price on those homes was $114,453, which is 94.8 percent of the listing price.

“If you look at the activity we’re already seeing in the first quarter,” Renk said, “then I suspect we’re going to see this year supercede last year.”

Summer 2003

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