Projects: Plan, Then Hammer
John Winters, Patriot Ledger, April 24, 1997
Wasted motion and time are at the heart of most construction crises, and author Richard Connolly offers tips on avoiding both in his new book, "How To Avoid Building Or Remodeling Hell: The Consumer’s Guide."
Connolly, a Weymouth resident, takes dead aim at the poor planning, lack of communication and unrealistic expectations behind most home project disasters.
"These very old problems need a new solution," he says.
Finding that solution wasn’t so easy. It took some hands-on experience, at first with the general contracting business he operated for six years and later with his current company, Cornerstone Consulting Inc., which he founded in 1988 to lead homeowners through the construction process.
Ultimately it was his first Cornerstone clients who provided the grist for his book.
"The idea came from my customers, and what they were saying was that there were millions of questions to be asked of the contractor, town officials and everyone else involved in the construction process," Connolly said.
The book, written over the course of four months in 1995, is a list of those questions.
Last year Connolly published the book himself with graphic designs by his son, Mark, 25. A printer in Canton ran off 400 copies of the book; a second printing is underway.
The book emphasizes the importance of self-reliance on the part of the homeowner during a home construction project. There are no bad guys in any ill-fated construction scenario, Connolly says, only a lack of communication, a shortage of planning and unrealistic expectations.
"I’m not saying that contractors are evil or that homeowners are stupid," Connolly said. "What typically happens is the homeowners have an idea and they say, ‘Gee, let’s call a contractor.’ The contractor comes down and focuses on the work and quotes that ubiquitous term, the ballpark figure."
Ballpark figures can torpedo a homeowner’s checking account, Connolly said. In his book, he suggests holding off on calling in a professional until much later in the project.
Homeowners should first sketch their ideas, agree on what needs to be done, and check with town officials to make sure it’s possible. The next step Connolly suggests is a reality check – a stop at the bank.
"First you find out if what you want to do can be done and then what you can afford," he said.
The research and planning stages Connolly recommends are much more involved than most homeowners would usually consider doing. A whole section of the book deals with pricing out materials.
Another details the thorough screening process for prospective contractors that Connolly advocates.
"In my view, the homeowner has a choice about how much work he or she is going to do. They can do all of the work at their leisure before the project starts, or they can do it when the project is underway."
Connolly, who grew up in South Boston, graduated from Suffolk University with a degree in English literature, and taught school for a couple of years. His career took a detour in 1974 when he acted as his own general contractor in the construction of the Weymouth house that he and his wife, Mary, still occupy. From that, he started his own general contracting company, which went out of business in 1981.
He took some hard-earned lessons and left the construction business, working instead at a computer company, Atex Inc., where he held several positions. After six years, however, the company downsized and Connolly was out of a job. It was then he decided to have another go at home construction, this time as a consultant.