Intro: “Confessions of a Remodeling Contractor” by Michael G. Hutchings

Confessions of a Las Vegas Remodeling Contractor


Where I grew up, in the porous topography and waterways of Southwest Florida; no one that I knew of in the construction industry really started out “by choice” to be a Remodeling Contractor. Everything in that “neck of the swamp” in the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s was all about New Homes, New Construction and New Development.

I grew up with the sight, sounds & aroma of freshly poured concrete all around me. There were fresh CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit) buildings going-up everywhere, even where I played…Yes, I confess; we treated large commercial construction sites like giant post-industrial jungle gyms. Construction was simply abound in that era.

My Father was a large General Contractor and my Mother ran a prominent Architectural firm. So, on weekends we were constantly walking sites, cleaning-up or in some way checking more construction jobs.

Everything in that market, at that time; was brand new. That generation was literally building new cities on the Southwest Coast of the Sunshine State.

We did have some historical homes in Ft. Myers. There were old turn of the century Florida Homes built along the coastline and on inland ranches. There was the well-known historical Edison Winter Home and the Ford Estate. These homes were usually wood-frame with a tin roof and were a mere fraction of the industry at hand. For the most part, new development drove the market.

Later, in the Late-1990’s when I relocated to Las Vegas; this city offered even less history and more unremarkable architecture than Florida. In fact, Las Vegas didn’t really seem to offer any home at all that would bear the cost of a serious remodeling project without just throwing good money after bad.

Let’s face it, Las Vegas is Production Home-Mania, on steroids. When someone uses the term “good bones” in Las Vegas, I have to almost control myself from laughing out loud. There is very little in the way of “good bones” in Las Vegas, at all. But, that wasn’t the deal…

Since its inception, everyone in Vegas just built new and you pretty much gave away the home you were selling for the remaining mortgage pay-off, “if” you could break-even after closing costs. If one made any money at all, it was a plus…It was a lot like the car trading process.

Then along came, 1) The aging and maturation of the market, and 2) The internet and ancillary “Flipping” Shows on television.

The Market Maturation Quotient (MMQ) means that over the last 20 years there are some quality houses “mainly due to location” finally worth putting through the remodel process and they are located in post-emergent “mature” neighborhoods that are worth buying into almost regardless of the quality or condition of the homes themselves.

Neither aspect was the case prior to the recession during the “hyper-sprawl” years. But, infrastructure mainly through the recession and geographic constraints has caught-up. And, thus the builder, per se was no longer king. A hybrid had emerged, and — The Flipper, was born.

Saw Blade

The “Infamous” Flipper

Yes, everyone was a Renovation Tycoon and/or a (Slang term) “Flipper” during the last housing down-cycle. And, now as the Las Vegas Valley sprawls further into the hinterlands and beyond some of the surrounding hills that form the geographic bowl we live within, the organic remodeling craze is spreading like wildfire in and around the core of the valley!

For example, I am a legitimate home builder and even I  was forced to buy an older home and remodel to acquire in the right location for a quality of life that “must” include all the modern infrastructure, i.e. great schools, parks, shopping, restaurants, freeway access, medical, etc. So, we had to remodel. There was no choice. There simply are “no” remaining home sites left to build upon in Green Valley Ranch, period.

For, you Northerners and folks from extremely mature markets, like Back East, and along the California Coast, you already get this phenomena. You’ve observed it your whole life most likely. And, yes; I’m sure there are some General Contracting and Design/Build firms that operate in these mature markets that have set-out from the onset to specialize in Renovation and Remodeling.  And, who actively pursue proper renovation as a profession and to wit, an art form.

Firms like Marmol & Radziner, for example; based out of Los Angeles and who are Architectural Giants, to say the least. These guys are easily the most in-demand firm in California to restore some of our countries most important residential treasures. Remodeling is very complex and high-brow work that is not often found in the modern Sunbelt areas, because we in fact; don’t have many architectural treasures to save!

The good news for people who do qualify to go this route, is that generally patrons or clients of remodeling projects in these more mature markets clearly “get” this concept. It is a highly-specialized profession with immense costs. Clients don’t aspire as doctors, lawyers and financial experts that because they are successful within their given professions they can somehow make a leap into another complete dimension without deference. Then somehow through osmosis become an expert at home-building overnight.

Oh, wait a minute. Sorry…Yes, they do. Indeed some people actually do believe this…

And, of course; this becomes the biggest detriment to both the profession, themselves (meaning the client) and the subject home or project, that people encounter when they don’t take a major remodel seriously. Or, hire the wrong team due to inexperience or no experience and/or try to do it themselves…

Renovation is an actual profession led by Licensed Interior Designers, Architects and Contractors, not an avocation or hobby, although it is oft treated as such. Just watch a Home Depot Commercial! That company is single-handedly responsible for destroying more property within a 5 mile radius of one of their 2,200+ “Big Boxes” than any natural disaster on earth. It just happens one little project at a time.

It’s a great gimmick really – the Home Depot or Lowe’s schtick: Sell the unwitting customer the inferior supplies, tools and materials they are told they need by an in-store journeyman handyman, at best. Then let them go destroy their own house. Then re-sell them the same stuff later so that they can either, 1) Try to fix it themselves, again or 2) Hire a professional the second time. And, sometimes even a third….

It is easy to resent the DIY types. But, over time I find myself rooting for them more often than not. For one, they don’t stand a chance anyway. And, secondarily; I am the first to complain that we have a country of technology based service geeks. Why not, encourage people to get out and learn something about a trade and work with their hands? It’s good for us as a nation, is it not?

At any rate, I hope you’ll follow my new series Confessions of a Remodeling Contractor as we explore in minute detail the $321 Billion remodeling boom that has our country locked in its clutches.

In my mind, remodeling was always more of a survival mechanism to fill time in between “real” jobs than an actual business model. And, true to form, I guess due to my aggressive nature; our company went from adding a closet here and there to tackling some of the largest multi-million dollar jobs found in our market, all in under about 10 yearMy team has experienced the Good, Bad and the Ugly of this industry at hyper-speed. I have unfortunately lost friendships and challenged business relationships through the course of some extremely trying and complex projects. Conversely, I have also met some of the most talented designers and trades our industry has to offer through the renovation vehicle, as well.

This segment of the industry has taught me a tremendous amount about the construction industry, as a whole. In essence, there is nothing more difficult in residential construction than a renovation project. For the ultra-simple reason that you do not have a clear picture of the project until “after” you begin. It isn’t hard to grasp that premise really, but; most of us just don’t want to consider the worst case scenarios. We only want to think about the best possible outcome.

In short, I will be sharing some “tricks of the trade”, new trends, products and hopefully give you some valuable information that you can either save or make money with down the road.

So, stay tuned as I roll out the dirt, no pun intended; and we either Flip, DIY and/or Go Pro!

If nothing else, it is quite cathartic to discuss this subject and perhaps I can begin to heal the wounds from some of those remodels that didn’t exactly go as planned…

Part One of our series will be titled – HGTV: The Beginning and End of Construction, as we know it!

So, when I say stay tuned. I mean it….If video killed the Radio Star. Well, then it also severely maimed the licensed contracting process. Talk soon!

Michael G. Hutchings is a Licensed General Contractor & Home Builder based in Las Vegas, Nevada. His telephone # is 702-2278989 at his office or by via email.