Los Angeles wooden arbor, pergola, patio cover, fence, deck, driveway gate, entry gate, garden gate, tree house and play house designer and builder.

Peter A. Kirsch-Korff

Wood Arbors, Decks, Fences & Gates - Builder


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Hiring The Right Arbor, Deck, Fence or Gate Builder

Finding the right builder can seem a daunting process for a homeowner, especially if it is your first time or you have had a bad experience. But taking the time to find the right builder is a good investment ... if you want to avoid a lot of frustration and headaches, love the finished project and get what you pay for.

Most of the problems I hear about are caused by hiring the wrong person or company for the job or someone who is building beyond their capability or cutting corners to save time and money.

To avoid this, I suggest that you do not have unqualified builders come and look at the project. That wastes your time and theirs and opens you up to the "hard sell" that might lead you into making a hiring mistake for an offer that sounds too good to be true.

 

Finding The Right Builder

To hire the right person or company, you need to find the contractor who can build exactly what you are looking for, at a fair price, in the time frame you want.

To do that, you need to ...

  • Know what you are looking for ... the design features and functionality, as well as your price range (basic, custom or high end). That will help you stick to your budget and not get talked into anything you don't need or want.

  • Have a good set of criteria for evaluating and selecting your contractor. Price and earliest ground breaking date are not the only ones ... you also want to look at skill, knowledge, the ability to do things right the first time, speed of completion and client satisfaction, as well as his or her contractor license history and building track record.

  • Know what is a fair price for the project you want (its fair market value), average wait times and completion times.

  • Understand what you are really paying for ... the completed project and the know-how and skills to build it right.

  • Know the signs of a great contractor and a poor one, so you can be confident in making your choice.

 

Here are a few more ideas for finding the right builder for you, along with more about what to look for and avoid.

 

Know What You Are Looking For

Many homeowners skip this preliminary step, hoping that the builders who come to give free estimates will know what you need and come up with the ideal thing for you. But that is letting the contractors control the process ... and make guesses about what you want and can afford.

What works better is knowing what you want, and seeing which builders can help you make the most of your ideas and meet your needs within your budget.

This starts with you doing some research to ...

  • Learn what you like and don't ... and what features, styles and options you want from what is available. This is easy to do by looking around your neighborhood, browsing library books on the subject, visiting your local book store or going online. The links in my design guides are a good starting point.

  • Learn the fair market value for what you want, so you know you are paying a fair price ... not too much or too little. My pricing information and starting budget numbers will give you a good feel for what things cost in Los Angeles, and you can adjust for your local market.

  • Learn what are the best and most popular building materials and construction techniques used in your area so you know your project is built to last. Check out my guide to selecting the right wood and high quality techniques to get started.

 

When you are done, make a list of the things you want in the design. Write out the features and functionality you need. Next, jot down ideas for the materials you prefer and the style you want, as well as any special features you'd like to see if you can afford. Attach any copies of photos or information that inspires you or illustrates what you want.

 

Have A Good Selection Criteria

The next step is having a clear idea of what you are looking for in a builder. This will save you hours interviewing contractors you are not interested in and avoid hiring the wrong one.

The first place to start is knowing what type of builder you need ... and that depends on the size, complexity, and skills/tools needed to do the job.

There are four types to choose from ...

 

Basic Builder for Basic Projects

Basic builders focus on building simple, small projects and doing repairs. They offer ...

  • prices in lowest price range
  • a few basic designs to choose from
  • average quality of materials and construction
  • quick start dates
  • basic communication skills

 

Custom Builder for Custom Projects

People choose a custom builder for a projects that are beyond the design and building skills of a basic builder, or where a higher level of quality is needed. A custom builder has ...

  • good to excellent construction skills
  • the ability to custom design to your needs and budget
  • many features and options to choose from
  • high quality materials and construction techniques
  • an above average knowledge and use of craftsmanship
  • a cost in mid to upper price range
  • a waiting list to start work

 

High End Builder for High End Projects

For the highest quality or or challenging projects, a high end builder has the experience, tools, skills and building standards needed for the job. A high end builder has ...

  • excellent communication and client skills
  • extraordinary designs for your needs and budget
  • a wide range of special touches, features and options to choose from
  • excellent construction skills
  • superior quality materials and hardware
  • superior knowledge and use of craftsmanship
  • a cost in upper price range
  • a waiting list to start work

 

 

Cheapest Builder for Below Average Projects

There is last type usually causes most of the problems for homeowners due to poor quality construction, a lack of good building practices, poor problem resolution skills and a lack of follow through. Cheapest builders provide ...

  • lowest prices (well below local average)
  • basic design, few features and options
  • immediate start dates but work delays are common practice
  • average or below average quality of materials and construction
  • average to below average knowledge and use of craftsmanship

 

Once you know the type you are looking for, make a list of the things you want in your builder. You can use my ideas below to get your ideas flowing. And then also write down the things you do not want in a contractor ... things to look out for and avoid .. the fly in the ointment that will drive you crazy. You can use past your experience, as well as the suggestions of friends and neighbors to put this together.

 

Things I Want in A Contractor

  • friendly and easy to talk to
  • does work on time
  • stays within budget
  • keeps me informed about construction process
  • willing to work within my budget or tell me that he can't
  • helps me with figuring out the best options for my needs
  • listens, understands my needs and takes action on them
  • does the work or has a friendly, skilled crew
  • offers a choice of materials
  • helpful and knowledgeable about building
  • helps me become better informed about my choices and tradeoffs
  • can work with my ideas
  • is open to me changing my mind several times

 

 

Choosing The Right Builder

Once you have a good list, you are ready to start looking for the right builder. You can go online, ask your neighbors or co-workers. Or try a referral service like Angie's List.

It is nice if you can do a preliminary screening online, to eliminate anyone who is not in the building type you need. Check out their portfolio, prices and client testimonials. See if they have already built something similar and match most or all of your selection list ideas.

You want to look for ...

  • a good history and current contractor's license with no flags (check online in California)
  • previous work that demonstrates a consistent history of great work and satisfied clients
  • designs that match your budget and preferences
  • fair market value prices in line with local pricing
  • good listening skills and ability to discuss tradeoffs in features and costs
  • material choices and recommendations that meet your needs and budget
  • ability to talk about craftsmanship, construction details and lots of options
  • start dates, construction timelines and completion dates that are realistic
  • an estimate that accurately reflects the final cost of the design

You want to avoid ...

  • a bad history, a suspended contractor's license, or complaints (check online in California)
  • lots of promises without a history, previous work or satisfied customers to back them up
  • lack of references or testimonials
  • low prices that are too good to be true or based on using inferior materials (knots, sapwood) or shoddy building methods
  • high prices that are above fair market value
  • narrow choice of designs and options unless you are looking for a basic design
  • never seeing the contractor except when you call for the estimate and pay the final bill
  • unlicensed contractors for large or complex projects (but a handyman for repairs and small projects is fine)

 

You may want to narrow the list to your top three or four ... but sometimes there is one that seems to stand out as the best. If so, you may want to contact your first choice and have them come out and see if they can build what you need.

If you want to shop around, call the others first and see if they can build what you need, then call your first choice. Make sure when getting multiple bids that each contractor is bidding on the same project, so you can compare the estimates you get. Often, designs can evolve with each builder, and the estimates may end up being for very different projects, with different materials or special features.

Trust your instincts, because you are giving your builder more than just a paycheck. You are giving him or her (and their work crew if they have one) access to your home, pets and children.

 

 

 

Permission is granted to anyone who wants to
use my work for inspiration outside of the LA area.


Redwood Garden Arbor - Pasadena
Pasadena Mangaris TM deck before patio cover
Modern Horizontal Wood Fence - Los Angeles, CA
Asian Gate - Los Angeles Gate Builder
Wooden Treehouse with Club House - Malibu
Pool Equipment Enclosure - Beverly Hills, CA

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Serving the Los Angeles area communities of Altadena, Arcadia, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Bradbury, Brentwood, Chino Hills, Claremont, Diamond Bar, Encino, Glendale, Glendora, Granada Hills, Hancock Park, Hidden Hills, Hollywood, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta-Montrose, Los Angeles, Los Feliz, Malibu, Monrovia, Northridge, North Hills, Pacific Palisades, Pasadena, Pomona, Porter Ranch, Rancho Cucumonga, San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, South Pasadena, Studio City, Van Nuys, West Hills, West Hollywood, Westwood, and West Los Angeles.

California Licensed Contractor #701028