great time to build

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weston magazine group, publisher of 10 hyper-local regional lifestyle magazines serving the affluent northern suburbs of the greater nyc metropolitan area in southwestern fairfield county ct, westchester, ny and the enviable neighborhoods in the upper east side, central park west, and tribeca nyc and the hamptons east end of long island


  • BY A R I A N M O D A N S K Y

    THEY SAY THATEXTRAORDINARYOPPORTUNITIES COME ALONG ONCE IN A LIFETIME.If you are a homeowner who is thinking of building, remodeling orrenovating your home, or if you are thinking of building a new home,that extraordinary time is right now. With the economy in a down-turn, the likes not seen since the Great Depression, it is the perfecttime for those who have the extra cash or credit to build and reinvestin their home. Prices are down for all components of building fromthe architect to the contractor to the building materials. As stated inan article in the Home section of the New York Times on April 23,2009 entitled The Makeover Moment, as demand for contractors falls,some homeowners reap the rewards.

    No one knows how long this window of opportunity will last. Likeno other time in recent history, its a consumers market. All overConnecticut and New York, sought after, experienced contractors,

    once only available to the rich and famous, are looking for jobs and arewilling to work more personally with the homeowner. Constructioncompanies which have been too busy in the past to bid on smallerjobs, now welcome them. This is a huge advantage to the homeown-er, because an experienced company usually means more resources,more competitive subcontractors, and a high quality level.

    How can you turn your dream of a larger, modern kitchen or bath,family room, or master suite, for example, into a reality? It all startswith a little extra cash and the willingness to just say Yes.

    Ted Mantz, project estimator for the family-run MantzConstruction, LLC Company in Bridgeport, CT, explains how tobegin the process. It all starts with the architect, he says. Its impor-tant to establish a construction budget early in the process and keep tothat budget. Define the area of renovation or design work that is mostimportant to you, communicate that to the architect and keep to thatschedule; this will eliminate potential sticker shock when the build-ing proposals are completed and turned in to the architect.

    Homeowners have the right at any time during the process to askthe architect for a preliminary construction budget for all of the workbeing proposed, or just a portion of the work. I love the idea of phas-ing construction projects that is, isolating an entire project intophases: phase 1, 2, 3. By doing this, the homeowner can be provided aphase by phase construction budget or a menu of pricing, if you will.

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    Its a GreatTime to BuildIf youve got the moneyand want to invest in your home, nows the time

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    JMKA Architects uses the phasing concept, and it has been wellreceived by all of principal Jeff Kaufmans clients. Phasing is addition-al work for Mantz Construction, but well worth the time spent for theclient. According to Ted Mantz, the homeowner might get the idea toremodel, expand or renovate. He might have always wanted a fantas-tic family room, his wife might have been asking for a new, state of theart kitchen. They might have been talking about a master suite on thefirst floor, in anticipation of their retirement years. Whatever the job,the architect is the person who can draw the plans for the design oftheir dreams. A tentative agreement is drawn up. Finally, when thehomeowner agrees to the design work, the architect will submit theplans to the town for approval. He will then select three to fivebuilders, based on many requirements, and the job goes out to bid.

    Thats where companies such as Mantz Construction Company stepinto the process. They, in turn, get the sub-contractors, such as elec-tricians, plumbers, carpenters, framers, interior designers, and excava-tors, to bid on the project. Mantz usually sends out to multiple sub-contractors for each trade category. They select the ones who will pro-vide the greatest value without compromising the level of detailrequired for the project. Mantz Construction only looks for sub-con-tractors who provide quality and customer service. If I call WiltonPlumbing, Ted says, they respond quickly. They have great customerservice and they are always very responsive to our needs. I gravitate

    towards these subs because if they dont call me back, how are theygoing to deal with the customer? It all gets rolled over to the client.

    Weve been in business since the mid-eighties, Ted adds. Mybrother, Tim Mantz, started the company. Customer satisfaction isparamount to us; you live or die by customer service. If someone callsor emails, there is always someone here to quickly respond and resolveany questions that need answering, promptly. We offer a high level ofsupport and service to our clients. We provide a great team effort forthe homeowner and the architect. We work with them at every stageto make certain they are comfortable with the process and happy withour performance. Were not the biggest contractor in the area; Id say

    were a smaller, boutique contractor. But we know what we do well,and we understand our limitations.

    Ted asks, Why call Mantz? Because weve been in business for along time, our reputation speaks for itself and people like us. Wereevery bit as good as the big guys in the field, but we choose to keep thecompany the size it is. We like to have just two to three projects goingon at once. That way, we can ensure quality, integrity, and proper levelof customer care.

    As Mantz puts the numbers together for me, the cost to build ismuch less in the current market. There are many, many examples ofsavings for clients who have the ability to make the investment in theirexisting home. Lumber companies are recording material costs at anall time low, as are vendors across the board. Skilled laborers, at onetime charging $45-$50 per hour, today charge $25-$30 an hour,depending on the complexity of the job. Mantz explains, If I hadthree carpenters on eight hour shifts a year ago, that added up to $150an hour. Now, its $90 an hour for the same workers, a huge savings Ican pass on to the client. In addition, if a job comes in requiringseven hours of production, you need to analyze it, be sure the laboreris efficient and organized, and get it down to five hours. No one hasthe luxury of wasting any time, for time means money.

    Mantz summarizes what all this means to the client. Unlike eveneight months ago, projects are coming in on time. Costs are down;

    people are working harder and paying close attention toevery detail of the job. Everyone is involved in workingto eliminate oversights. And of course, everyone is eagerfor work. Mantz Construction, in the past, would noteven consider a job under a half million dollars, Tedchuckles. Now, if the job is $150,000, well absolutelytake a look at it. We want everything we can get.

    To illustrate his point, Ted tells about a family inConnecticut who wanted to renovate their home abouta year ago. They hired an architect who drew up theplans, and sent the project out to bid. Mantz bid on it,but the family decided to wait about ten months. Theysent it out to re-bid a few months ago, and the projectsaw a savings of 23%. On a project of two to three mil-lion dollars, thats a substantial savings. On the otherhand, he recently submitted a proposal for a project inWestchester County, at a value of $850,000, for a mas-sive home renovation. The client decided to put the

    project on hold. When they decide to move forward, perhaps eventwelve to fourteen months from now, it may not be $850,000; it couldbe a lot more. This is a great time to build, a window of opportunitybecause you get better value, and in addition, if you have the moneyto spend, you are putting people to work and helping the economy.

    Ted Mantz directs me to talk to Jeff Kaufman, an architect in theConnecticut firm JMKA Architects. He owns one of those companiesthat I rely on to deliver trust, confidence, and hands on service; clientslove him. He understands the clients ambition, and he strives to blendthe renovation or addition work within the existing neighborhood.Hes very creative. And, when I call him, he picks up the phone or

    Its a Great Time to Build

    Construction is a psychological lift for people. Many are more confident in real estate coming back than the stock market.

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  • emails me right back. He understands that a team working togetherand making the client the number one priority makes for a successfulproject. I have lots of confidence in Jeff and his team, Ted states.

    Jeff Kaufman is happy to continue our discussion from the architectspoint of view. Clients are making out like bandits, he laughs. Subs aremore competitive than ever. Its a great time to buy a house or downsize.Empty nesters have equity in their house, and many can afford to sell forless and buy a smaller, more manageable house for a great price. Manybaby boomers who have the cash are doing work on their existing hous-es. Jeff is seeing smaller projects, but people who still want to put moneyinto their real estate. Many are doing fix-ups, what he calls feel goodsize projects. They might have lost money in the stock market, so theywant to renovate their family room because they arent traveling as much.They may be home more now, and want their extended family to visitmore often. They call him to design an interior project a small roomor a master bath suited to their later years so they can stay in their houseas they get older. They want their house to cater to their grandchildren,or perhaps want a hide-away master suite downstairs, so they can haveprivacy when family visits. Jeff explains, Construction is a psychological

    lift for people. Many are more confident in real estate coming back thanthe stock mar