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BY ARIAN MODANSKY

It’s a Great Time to Build If you’ve got the money and want to invest in your home, now’s the time THEY SAY THAT EXTRAORDINARY OPPORTUNITIES COME ALONG ONCE IN A LIFETIME. If you are a homeowner who is thinking of building, remodeling or renovating your home, or if you are thinking of building a new home, that extraordinary time is right now. With the economy in a downturn, the likes not seen since the Great Depression, it is the perfect time for those who have the extra cash or credit to build and reinvest in their home. Prices are down for all components of building — from the architect to the contractor to the building materials. As stated in an 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. Like no other time in recent history, it’s a consumer’s market. All over Connecticut and New York, sought after, experienced contractors, 7 8 I S S U E 3 8 . 2 00 9

once only available to the rich and famous, are looking for jobs and are willing to work more personally with the homeowner. Construction companies which have been too busy in the past to bid on smaller jobs, now welcome them. This is a huge advantage to the homeowner, 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 starts with a little extra cash and the willingness to just say “Yes.” Ted Mantz, project estimator for the family-run Mantz Construction, LLC Company in Bridgeport, CT, explains how to begin the process. “It all starts with the architect,” he says. “It’s important to establish a construction budget early in the process and keep to that budget. Define the area of renovation or design work that is most important to you, communicate that to the architect and keep to that schedule; this will eliminate potential ‘sticker shock’ when the building proposals are completed and turned in to the architect.” “Homeowners have the right at any time during the process to ask the architect for a preliminary construction budget for all of the work being proposed, or just a portion of the work. I love the idea of phasing construction projects — that is, isolating an entire project into phases: phase 1, 2, 3. By doing this, the homeowner can be provided a phase by phase construction budget or a menu of pricing, if you will.”


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JMKA ARCHITECTS IDA AWARD

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It’s a Great Time to Build JMKA Architects uses the phasing concept, and it has been well received by all of principal Jeff Kaufman’s clients. Phasing is additional work for Mantz Construction, but well worth the time spent for the client. According to Ted Mantz, the homeowner might get the idea to remodel, expand or renovate. He might have always wanted a fantastic family room, his wife might have been asking for a new, state of the art kitchen. They might have been talking about a master suite on the first floor, in anticipation of their retirement years. Whatever the job, the architect is the person who can draw the plans for the design of their dreams. A tentative agreement is drawn up. Finally, when the homeowner agrees to the design work, the architect will submit the plans to the town for approval. He will then select three to five builders, based on many requirements, and the job goes out to bid. That’s where companies such as Mantz Construction Company step into the process. They, in turn, get the sub-contractors, such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, framers, interior designers, and excavators, to bid on the project. Mantz usually sends out to multiple subcontractors for each trade category. They select the ones who will provide the greatest value without compromising the level of detail required for the project. Mantz Construction only looks for sub-contractors who provide quality and customer service. “If I call Wilton Plumbing,” Ted says, “they respond quickly. They have great customer service and they are always very responsive to our needs. I gravitate

we’re a smaller, boutique contractor. But we know what we do well, and we understand our limitations.” Ted asks, “Why call Mantz? Because we’ve been in business for a long time, our reputation speaks for itself and people like us. We’re every bit as good as the big guys in the field, but we choose to keep the company the size it is. We like to have just two to three projects going on at once. That way, we can ensure quality, integrity, and proper level of customer care.“ As Mantz puts the numbers together for me, the cost to build is much less in the current market. There are many, many examples of savings for clients who have the ability to make the investment in their existing home. Lumber companies are recording material costs at an all time low, as are vendors across the board. Skilled laborers, at one time charging $45-$50 per hour, today charge $25-$30 an hour, depending on the complexity of the job. Mantz explains, ”If I had three carpenters on eight hour shifts a year ago, that added up to $150 an hour. Now, it’s $90 an hour for the same workers, a huge savings I can pass on to the client.” In addition, “if a job comes in requiring seven hours of production, you need to analyze it, be sure the laborer is efficient and organized, and get it down to five hours. No one has the luxury of wasting any time, for time means money.“ Mantz summarizes what all this means to the client. Unlike even eight months ago, projects are coming in on time. Costs are down; people are working harder and paying close attention to every detail of the job. Everyone is involved in working to eliminate oversights. And of course, everyone is eager for work. “Mantz Construction, in the past, would not even consider a job under a half million dollars,” Ted chuckles. “Now, if the job is $150,000, we’ll absolutely take a look at it. We want everything we can get.” To illustrate his point, Ted tells about a family in Connecticut who wanted to renovate their home about a year ago. They hired an architect who drew up the plans, and sent the project out to bid. Mantz bid on it, but the family decided to wait about ten months. They sent it out to re-bid a few months ago, and the project saw a savings of 23%. On a project of two to three million dollars, that’s a substantial savings. On the other hand, he recently submitted a proposal for a project in Westchester County, at a value of $850,000, for a massive home renovation. The client decided to put the project on hold. When they decide to move forward, perhaps even twelve to fourteen months from now, it may not be $850,000; it could be a lot more. This is a great time to build, a window of opportunity because you get better value, and in addition, if you have the money to spend, you are putting people to work and helping the economy. Ted Mantz directs me to talk to Jeff Kaufman, an architect in the Connecticut firm JMKA Architects. “He owns one of those companies that I rely on to deliver trust, confidence, and hands on service; clients love him. He understands the client’s ambition, and he strives to blend the renovation or addition work within the existing neighborhood. He’s very creative. And, when I call him, he picks up the phone or

”Construction is a psychological lift for people. Many are more confident in real estate coming back than the stock market.” towards these subs because if they don’t call me back, how are they going to deal with the customer? It all gets rolled over to the client.” “We’ve been in business since the mid-eighties,” Ted adds. “My brother, Tim Mantz, started the company. Customer satisfaction is paramount to us; you live or die by customer service. If someone calls or emails, there is always someone here to quickly respond and resolve any questions that need answering, promptly. We offer a high level of support and service to our clients. We provide a great team effort for the homeowner and the architect. We work with them at every stage to make certain they are comfortable with the process and happy with our performance. We’re not the biggest contractor in the area; I’d say 8 0 I S S U E 3 8 . 2 00 9


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emails me right back. He understands that a “team” working together and making the client the number one priority makes for a successful project. I have lots of confidence in Jeff and his team,” Ted states. Jeff Kaufman is happy to continue our discussion from the architect’s point of view. “Clients are making out like bandits,” he laughs. “Subs are more competitive than ever. It’s a great time to buy a house or downsize. Empty nesters have equity in their house, and many can afford to sell for less and buy a smaller, more manageable house for a great price. Many baby boomers who have the cash are doing work on their existing houses.” Jeff is seeing smaller projects, but people who still want to put money into their real estate. Many are doing fix-ups, what he calls “feel good” size projects. They might have lost money in the stock market, so they want to renovate their family room because they aren’t traveling as much. They may be home more now, and want their extended family to visit more often. They call him to design an interior project — a small room or a master bath suited to their later years so they can stay in their house as they get older. They want their house to cater to their grandchildren, or perhaps want a hide-away master suite downstairs, so they can have privacy when family visits. Jeff explains, ”Construction is a psychological

STRAW HILL MILL WORK

lift for people. Many are more confident in real estate coming back than the stock market.” He’s seeing more jobs that are not as glamorous as in the past, like renovating an unfinished space so that the family can have a lifestyle change, because it’s better than moving. The economic climate has gotten people to think smaller and less opulent. JMKA architects recently completed a project (decorated by Shelly Morris Interiors) of a ranch house renovated for a family of three: a small house, with lower construction costs, but more efficient utility costs — a win-win. The house was featured on the New Canaan Cares Kitchen Tour, to an overwhelming number of comments like “This is what I want! How simple

and manageable the scale of the residence is.” Clients are thinking more compact and efficient. Jeff notes that house values have gone down on paper, and many people are realizing that their homes are not worth what they were even a year ago. They call him because they understand that they need to maintain their house to keep up its value if they want to sell in the future at the maximum amount. Jeff designs kitchens and bathrooms, master suites, and family rooms, for example, and turns them into up-to-date, state-of-the-art masterpieces. He enjoys working off a client’s wish list, and finds that “people are thinking outside the box now. It is a great time for creativity.” You have to be creative when you have a tight budget. Jeff Kaufman is also designing with more energy efficient, green home improvements. All JMKA specifications include items that are healthier for the environment and the resident. Clients are becoming more in tune with what will be a positive sales feature in the future. He describes a home in Fairfield County where his firm designed into the project a geo-thermal heating system and a green roof. The new stimulus package allows a 30% tax credit. This saves the homeowner of a large house tremendously, and he will be ahead of the curve when it comes time to sell. Geo-thermal saves a homeowner approximately 75% of conventional utility costs; in a large house that can add up to annual savings of $15,000-$20,000 in energy costs. “There are four houses that were just built overlooking the Housatonic River in Connecticut that were built on spec, and included geo-thermal energy,” Kaufman adds. This is the future of home construction — “green” projects will be faster sellers. It’s also a great time for improvements and building in retail and commercial spaces. Jeff is drawing plans for several local retail businesses. “In this economy, shoppers want to see newness and freshness in the stores in their neighborhoods. People always want to check out something new. All this means construction jobs. New restaurants are sprouting up with “green” innovations. They are in tune with what’s going on. This is partly recession-driven, and this will play a big role in getting us out of it. New places get people motivated to spend money. Commercial real estate owners don’t want empty spaces so they have to upgrade, and creative, aggressive business owners can be first in line when the recession is over.” Ted Mantz and Jeff Kaufman believe it’s a great time to build. To get an even clearer view of the market, I spoke with some of Mantz’ top sub-contractors. Don Cote owns and operates Wilton Plumbing and Heating Company, in Wilton, Connecticut. Don and his brother David bought the business eight years ago; it has been around since the early 1950’s. Don explains that today, when he gets a set of plans and estimates the job, the client definitely gets more value for his money. He repeats that there’s a lot more competition for jobs. His is a service business, and suppliers are tightening their margins. Don knows that


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It’s a Great Time to Build his company is quicker and more attentive now. His work is in new homes, remodeling existing homes, commercial properties and service. He always gives a one-year warranty on his work and cautions, ”Be wary in this market of the fly-by-night business. They get your down payment and leave. Check with the Better Business Bureau. I like to work with Mantz, because of their reputation. Mantz Construction has had the same sub-contractors for years. Contractors want to know who to call and be able to trust them. Sub-contractors need to be there when they say they will. We’re dependable, and customer service-oriented.“ Along with Wilton plumbing, Mantz Construction Company recommends NY Gypsum Floors in Larchmont, New York for radiant heating, a fast-growing alternative to conventional heating. Eric Johnson, a part owner in the company, explains the hows and whys of radiant energy. “It started over twenty-five years ago as an enhancement to a house, especially in bathrooms. It was considered a luxury item to keep your feet warm. Europe has had radiant heating for over fifty years,” he adds. Over a period of time, radiant heating moved from just one room to multiple rooms, to whole spaces. Here in Westchester and Connecticut, most new additions get radiant heating. It’s no longer considered a luxury. Eric explains further: “It’s good for many reasons. Radiant heating JMKA ARCHITECTS is efficient and draftless. With conventional heating, you can feel a curtain of cool air; even the ducts aren’t hot. With radiant, dry heat rises; there are no drafts. It heats the objects in a room, and they give off heat. If you sit on the hardwood or tile floor, it’ll be 82 degrees. There’s no dust, because it doesn’t move through ducts. That’s great for allergy and asthma sufferers.” Overall, the homeowner can save a considerable amount on his heating bills — the payback for radiant is four to seven years. Eric sums up, “Wise people are looking for this payback in money and efficiency. Both residential and commercial builders are turning to radiant for that extra value. It’s a great selling point when you want to sell your property.” Another sub-contractor affiliated with Mantz Construction is Strawberry Hill Millwork, in Bethel, Connecticut. Andrew Tucciarone, Jr., its owner, is happy to show me around his state-of-the8 2 I S S U E 3 8 . 2 00 9

art woodworking shop. His company does complete custom kitchen and bathroom renovations, “his and hers” offices, playrooms, dressing rooms, closets, and commercial spaces. Custom wine cellars are a new and popular project category for Strawberry Hill Millwork, and Andrew tells me they run the gamut from room size to small-space customization. Last fall, his company took the first place prize in the specialty category in the “Innovative Design Excellence Awards” at a trade show in Atlanta, Georgia for a customized wine cellar his team designed, built and installed in a Greenwich home (which you can see on his website). His client base is essentially the Connecticut and Westchester County areas. His company was established in 1994 and grew from his love of woodworking as a schoolboy, into a love of making beautiful furniture. As Andy explains, “We pride ourselves on our quality product, and our repeat customer business is a testament to our skill level and the care we take. We work closely with our clients to ensure that their expectations are met. We’re very hands-on, which means we even assist clients in the selection of appliances for a new kitchen, for example, and have been known to pick them up, if it makes things easier all around. I recently made a trip at 5:30 am to pick up a sink which was needed that morning.” He continues, “I love this business. I enjoy coming here, getting my hands dirty. We make every effort to educate the customer so we have a fuller understanding of what direction or style they’re leaning toward. We ask them to cut out pictures of things they like, which helps the project come together more quickly. We will do preliminary sketches for them and then our draftsman will create full shop drawings showing all the details. With regard to today’s bargains to be had, I completely agree with others about the customer’s ability to get far more reasonable pricing now than before. Hardwoods are at the lowest prices I’ve ever seen. All our vendors are competing for our business, which helps us keep costs down. Some of the woods we work with are cherry, maple, quarter-sawn white oak, and poplar, as well as more exotic woods. Our painted cabinetry is made using soft maple. Our finishing work is extraordinary, if I say so myself. Antique glazing is a specialty of ours.”


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Andy’s energy is contagious. “People we work for want the best and we strive to give it to them. We help design their project, use the best materials and deliver quality workmanship. I love to see the customer smile, that’s the payoff.” My understanding of the construction business would not have been complete without a visit to the lumber supplier. Ted Mantz directed me to the Hatch and Bailey Company in Norwalk and Stamford, Connecticut. The company has been in business since 1872. It’s a full service lumber yard, mostly for the professional. They are looking to expand to the homeowner. Michael De Felice, Senior Vice President of operations, explains their philosophy: ”We give the contractors a competitive price, but we wow them with our service. We have same day delivery. We do blue print take-offs. This means the architect draws it up, and gives the plans to the lumber yard. Our take-off service determines the list of building materials that are needed. We do this service free of charge. The quality of our material can’t be beat. We

Geo-thermal saves a homeowner approximately 75% of conventional utility costs; in a large house that can add up to annual savings of $15,000$20,000 in energy costs. use the best quality grade Douglas Fir. We also have pressure treated wood. We need to set ourselves apart from our competition in this market. All our wood is grade stamped and agency approved. Our green products are environmentally friendly. We’re slowly shifting our inventory towards green based on demand.” The Hatch and Bailey have gone through tough times in their long history. Mike laughs, ”We’ll be here after it’s all said and done. In the last six months, companies have gone on the defense. We went on the offense. We’ve hired more sales staff who are quality, experienced people. When this economy turns, we’ll be ready. It’s an investment on our part, that we can handle now. We’re cutting costs in other ways, like watching our energy usage and recycling to save money. But when it comes to sales we’ve invested, and it’s starting to pay off. Sales turn into hiring more drivers and inside people. This relates to a quicker response for the contractor and the homeowner.” From the architect to the construction company to his sub-contractors and suppliers, all convinced me that it’s a great time to build. With a little cash, a wish list of ideas, and the foresight to plan for the future, you too can have the house of your dreams. When the economy comes back, you could be sitting in your radiant heated master suite, bathing in your new, state of the art Jacuzzi tub, or entertaining and cooking in your professional chef ’s kitchen. You can invest in your home, your life, and the economy, and be proud that you did it for much less than you expected. ❉

THINKING OF BUILDING? TED MANTZ MANTZ CONSTRUCTION COMPANY 745 HANCOCK AVE, BRIDGEPORT, CT 06605 203/696-0323 MANTZLLC.COM JEFF KAUFMAN JMKA ARCHITECTS 181 POST RD W. WESTPORT, CT 06880 203/322-1222 NORTH ST., GREENWICH, CT 06830 203/698-8888 JMKARCHITECTS.COM DON COTE WILTON PLUMBING AND HEATING 496 DANBURY RD, WILTON, CT 06897 203/762-9009 WILTONPLUMBINGANDHEATING.COM ANDREW TUCCIARONE STRAWBERRY HILL MILLWORK 12 TURKEY PLAIN RD., BETHEL, CT 06801 203/790-0550; STRAWBERRYHILLMILLWORK.COM ERIC JOHNSON NY GYPSUM FLOORS 2 MADISON AVE., LARCHMONT NY 10538 800-542-4132. THE HATCH & BAILEY CO. IN NORWALK: 1 MEADOW STREET EXT. PHONE: 203.866.5515 IN STAMFORD: 34 FAHEY STREET PHONE: 203.348.7785 WWW.HATCHANDBAILEY.COM


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JMKA

architects

181 Post Road West Westport, CT 06880 203.222.1222 North Street Greenwich, CT 06830 203.698.8888 www.jmkarchitects.com

OF two IDA AWARDS 2009 Winner of IDA 20082008, awards >>>> WINNER


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great time to build  

weston magazine group, publisher of 10 hyper-local regional lifestyle magazines serving the affluent northern suburbs of the greater nyc met...

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