Consultant eliminates homeowners’ legwork
By Robert Berner, The Patriot Ledger, November 25, 1988
ABINGTON – When Paul and Susan Donovan decided to put an addition on their Cape-style home here, they had a problem: They did not know where to start.
Worse still, they had heard horror stories of other homeowners being overcharged or of having to cope with shoddy work.
"You can go out and hire a contractor, but you never know what you are getting," Paul Donovan said. "These guys could take you for a ride, and you may never know it."
The Donovans were able to put their fears to rest. They hired Cornerstone Consulting Inc.
The Weymouth company helped them at every step, first coming up with a design for the 250 square foot family room, then selecting a contractor, ordering materials and even inspecting the work.
"The beauty of it is that Cornerstone handled the whole thing," Donovan said. "We made the ultimate decisions, but we did not have to do the legwork and did not have to trust somebody we did not know, meaning the contractor."
The addition was completed this month. The couple are pleased with the work and the addition.
"We got a top-quality job, and the project was not overpriced," Donovan said.
Cornerstone is the brainchild of Richard Connolly, who founded the company in February.
A former general contractor and computer salesman, Connolly said he thinks his company is the only one of its kind in Massachusetts. And aside from a similar firm in California, he does not know of any other in the nation.
The start of his company has come at an opportune time.
The region’s high cost of homes has prompted a boom in the remodeling business. Homeowners are improving their existing homes rather than go through the expense, and difficulty, of selling their home and buying a bigger, better house.
The explosion in remodeling, however, has brought an increase in consumer complaints, and now the Legislature is pondering a bill aimed at better protecting consumers from unfair builders.
Connolly is fully aware of the propitious timing of his business.
"I realized there was a tremendous need in the marketplace for someone to be on the side of the consumer," Connolly said.
Cornerstone advises consumers on remodeling jobs and the construction of custom homes.
"We are an advocate for the homeowner, and we negotiate on behalf of the homeowner with the industry," Connolly Said. "We protect the consumer from shoddy workmanship, high prices, poor quality and poor service."
Cornerstone has three associates: Charles Palmieri, and electrical consultant; Jerry Caldwell, a plumbing Consultant; and William Olson, a heating and air-conditioning consultant.
Together with Connolly, Cornerstone provides eight basic services to consumers, and the services can be bought separately or as a package.
The services include:
The Initial Consultation. Cornerstone helps consumers determine what they want and what they can spend, creating a "master plan" that outlines the basic steps they would have to follow to complete the project.
Material list. Cornerstone determines what materials are needed and negotiates directly with suppliers to buy them.
Project specifications. Cornerstone develops project specifications and puts them out to bid with three to five contractors. While the company will provide consumers with contractors’ names, Connolly noted, Cornerstone asks clients to come up with a least one of their own so there is no appearance the company is favoring a certain group on contractors.
Contractor selection. Once the bids are in, the company helps the customer evaluate the bids. As an additional service, it will make checks on an unknown contractor’s previous work.
Contractor negotiation. Cornerstone will iron out the final contract with the winning contractor.
Work plan. The company develops a detailed work plan, establishing deadlines for each of the project’s phases.
Inspection. Finally, the company will inspect the contractor’s work.
Cornerstone charges customers by the hour, but establishes a limit on the total fee.
On additions, he said, Cornerstone’s price for the full service is about 1 to 2 percent of the total construction price. For example, he said, the Donovans paid about $720.
For new houses, Connolly said, the company’s services cost about 3 to 4 percent of the total construction price.
But what consumers spend for Cornerstone’s help, Connolly said, they more than make up in savings.
"We can prove that for every dollar you spend with the company, we can save you three," he said.
Which seems to hold true among the company’s clients. The Donovans, for instance, expected to pay about $100 a square foot for the addition. They ended up paying about $86. The fee worked out to slightly less than $3 a square foot.
Connolly explained the savings come from buying supplies directly, which eliminates contractor markup on material prices.
Furthermore, he said, contractors are willing to offer lower job prices because Cornerstone’s detailed planning makes it easier to work with consumers. The company is also a source of repeat business.
Contractors’ reaction to the company, he said, "has been overwhelmingly positive."
"(Cornerstone) gives you detailed specifications, which makes it easy to figure the job right up," said Norman Pratt, a Rockland builder who has done two additions through Cornerstone. "You don’t have material problems and you don’t have people changing their minds, which means I don’t have to spend a lot of extra hours on changes."
"I have found it a benefit to the contractor and to the homeowner," said Rosa LaRosa, who with her husband, Joseph, runs LaRosa Contractors Inc. of Marshfield, which has also worked with Cornerstone. "It’s not a confrontational situation with the homeowner because there is a non-biased third party involved."
So far, Cornerstone has had 18 clients, mostly south of Boston.
But Connolly said he wants to begin franchising the business in two years, after he has had a chance to standardize all its operations.
"This is so fair, how can it not work?"
Cornerstone’s customers feel it does.
"We like the idea that they are basically representing us," said Jane Lasdow of Weymouth, who is adding a family room to her family’s Weymouth home.
"If we were doing this ourselves," she said, "we would not know where to begin."