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BASEMENT BLOGThe Bloggin' Builder | Posted at 28 Mar 2006
The Bloggin' Builder?
Yes, it seems strange to find a builder blogging. But maybe I’m not a stereotypical contractor, either…
I am the child of a psychologist and a programmer. At home, fixations and floppies were better understood than fascias. But building was still in my blood, as I later connected with my maternal grandfather, a custom home builder for many years. Growing up, I was constantly creating, often taking cues from my favorite book, Childcraft’s Make and Do. Today, Lego toys still remain an indulgence.
With a passion for laboring with my hands, and an increasing desire to work and interact with people, I enrolled in pre-med classes at Brigham Young University with the plan to become a specialized surgeon. Learning from present doctors, however, I was blind-sided as my eyes were opened to the misery called med school and the literal misfortune known as malpractice. (Not to mention the melancholy of cellular biology.)
At the same time, I was enjoying my part-time job at a local flooring company, where a fascination for the construction industry was built. Measuring new homes for carpet and tile, I learned that the builder, general contractor, general, GC, boss, owner, negotiator, and even “dirty, lying thief” were often the same dude. (And rarely, despite my best price, did that guy want to buy my freize carpet, preferring instead to “use [his] guys.” Still, like life-sized Legos, building homes provoked my appeal.
Around the same time, I met with a trusted friend/liberator who introduced me to the construction management program at BYU. With one check online, viewing classes with titles like “Real Estate Principles and Development” and “Construction Company Operations,” the choice to change careers was crystal clear – I didn’t even need to pray about it! My only fear was the possible let down of my fiancée, now wife, who was planning on marrying a doctor. Fortunately, it turns out she wasn’t too hip on the whole non-paid, rectal-examining, red-eye/graveyard, hospital internship idea, and she quickly ratified my new deal. In less than 24 hours, I swapped majors and fates, from medicine to construction. I have never looked back since.
Not much later, I found a new job working, or faking, as a handyman for an apartment-management company. I went to Anderson Lumber and bought $68 worth of hand tools, including my first real hammer. After a lot of internet research, I began patching drywall and fixing toilets. My “talent” was still pretty raw at that point; initially it took me hours to do 5-minutes of work. I remember asking the lumber yard if they could cut a 4’ x 8’ piece of sheetrock into 4 pieces so I could fit it into the back seat of my Honda Corolla. Learning the hard way, I got a lot of experience in multiple trades in a very short time, and eventually could fix most anything that came my way. I even moved up and purchased a “work truck,” a 1987 Nissan Pathfinder with 200k miles (and a blown head gasket as I later learned.)
When I first started this handyman job, I was asked to work as an independent contractor (now I know why), and thereby started my own business without even trying. Making one of the most common contractor marketing mistakes, I gave the company my own last name, calling it “Hogan Remodel & Repair.” Gradually, as I became more experienced, I started doing work for friends and family.
Then one day I started doing work for strangers. At first, I took the jobs that no one else wanted. One of my first real projects was cleaning up an old rental home that had been abused for years. I employed my new wife, where she spent a week just removing old wallpaper. Together, we laid a kitchen floor with self-adhesive vinyl tiles, a mistake I will never make again.
After gaining valuable experience on the “hole” jobs, I gradually started to gain a reputation as a qualified remodeler. I got fully licensed and insured. I added employees, one by one, until we reached over 10. In time, I started and completed some beautiful projects, such as remodeling bathrooms with travertine stone floors, custom mahogany cabinets, and lavish granite countertops. From minor repairs to major renovations, I confidently built a large client base, keeping busy year-round.
At its peak, Hogan Remodel & Repair completed over 100 projects in a year, based upon a steady source of referrals and repeat business. As much as I enjoyed being part of the growth, I was overwhelmed with the never ending responsibility of running and staffing a full-service remodeling company. On top of it all, a demanding government contract added drama to our already overwhelmed residential and commercial work. It was beginning to be too much.
I considered many strategies to the “over-worked, under-paid” problem, including employing my workers as contract installers for big-box stores or fixing and flipping homes. While mulling through some options, I began realizing that success, and simplicity, might come through specialization. The challenge would be to beat my own deterioration.
Meanwhile, basement finishing was one of my favorite remodeling projects. Because there were fewer surprises than most remodels, basement costs were more predictable. Plus, most of the work could be subcontracted, meaning fewer in-house employees and overhead. The biggest challenge would be completing a large project in an occupied home, but having already dealt with “remodeling-fever” many times, I was conscious of the unique customer service requirements necessary to finish basements.
After drafting a business plan and completing a marketing study, it was clear that establishing a new company as Utah’s basement specialist was the answer. The name “Upscale Downstairs” was drafted to promote our new company’s commitment to high quality. This website was launched as one of many steps to convey our professional image, helping to define our commitment to be the best in basement remodels.
In short time, Upscale Downstairs has risen to become the premiere choice for finishing basements. With typically over 15 projects simultaneously running, the company has established a solid base and an excellent reputation. More than half of all of our work comes from referrals. Although I admit we can’t please everyone every time, I’m very proud of our industry-leading focus on customer service. Currently, we operate in both Salt Lake and Utah counties, and we are gradually expanding our services. The future looks bright for Upscale Downstairs.
Since then, the former company Hogan Remodel & Repair has been valued by a business broker at over a quarter of a million dollars. Although that company hasn’t sold, the professional appraisal quantified a journey. I have come a long way since the early handyman era.
Now that I’ve introduced myself, it’s time for you to chime in. Please leave your respectful comments here on the blog. Tell me why you think I’m a stereotypical (or atypical) contractor. Tell me what you think of this website. Above all, tell me about your basement finishing questions, frustrations, dreams, and dilemmas. I’ll try and help.
Otherwise, there’s always the LONG version of my story!
We are currently exploring the option of finishing our basement and I have a few questions. Is it possible to move roughed in plumbing? They are currently in the center of the room and we would like to push them back into a corner. If you can move them (15 feet or so) how expensive/problematic is this? Will this void any warranty I have on my foundation? Also, we had a quote on getting the basement finished professionally, it was roughly $30 per square foot (960 total unfinished square feet down there). Is that about the going rate? We are getting multiple quotes, only had one so far. Our house is 1.5 years old, is it too early to start working down there? We live in Colorado. Your Journey From Medicine to Remodeling says:
As a chemistry and biochemistry teacher at Brigham Young University, I've tried all I can to discourage students from going into medicine--mainly by giving them bad grades! Maybe you were one of those students.
I say the above in jest, but I honestly believe that many students pursue medicine because the idea sounds cool, not because they have a passion for medicine. I'm happy that you have found your passion.
--A future clientCory says:
Moving roughed-in plumbing is rarely too difficult, and usually worth the work to get your ideal set-up. (Few things bother me more than a homebuilder who carelessly places future plumbing in a bad spot.) I am unfamiliar with Colorado pricing standards, and can't be of much help. Go ahead and start the project when you are ready, and make sure that you hire a builder who will warranty any damage due to future settling. Good luck!Cory says:
To a future client:
Thanks for your comments. Although it wasn't what I thought I wanted, getting bad grades in chemistry was exactly what I needed to find my passion. Good grades or not, I hold many professors at BYU in the highest regards. Thanks for your great example, if not the high marks. I look forward to working with you in the future.
-Coryjon sheetrock hanger and paintor says:
I'm going to take over my ftahers company soon im 18 years old and i have been helpin ghim since i wa s6 years odl and fully started working when i was 12. We have lost very big jobs dealing with sheet rock when the house has been gutted out and we had to measure the room to see how many peices of sheet rock would fit on walls and ceilin with small projects its easy for us to kno but not when a whole house needs to be sheetrocked i wanted to know if u knew the mathematical way to find out how many peices of 4*8 sheetrock fit when u measure a room in sq ft. I hope u can help me out.
THanks JonCory says:
I have a few different methods for estimating sheetrock, but I typically leave the exact count to our drywall partners. I suggest that you call a drywall subcontractor, especially a member of the Utah Home Builders' Association, to get more specific help. There is enough business to go around for everyone, and I expect that they would be happy to help.
Good luck with your business!
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