By Kristin Boza
Beverly/Morgan Park resident Joe Oswald began the task of renovating his childhood home and learned so much during the process that he decided to write a book to aid other homeowners in their own renovation journey, “The Homeowner’s Guide to Contracting, Building, and Remodeling: Save a Fortune by Learning What Contractors Don’t Want You to Know.”
“My parents bought this house in 1968, and I moved back in with my family after my mom passed away in 2015,” Oswald said. “The home has a lot of memories and sentimental value; it’s something I want to pass down to my daughter. A contractor will never put the amount of time and concern into a project as the homeowner would.”
Oswald decided to write the book following his two-year long renovation, where he acted as his own general contractor.
“I decided to take everything we did with the house and turn it into a home improvement book that explains how people can save a lot of money without sacrificing quality by acting as their own general contractor,” he said. “The book covers pretty much every aspect of building and renovation, even if working with a contractor. It has over 100 renovation and construction photos and covers everything from financing to ordering materials to working with subcontractors.”
Oswald previously held a real estate license and worked as a new home consultant for a suburban builder in addition to completing a general contracting course and reading several books and conducing other extensive research on the topic.
Oswald’s goal is not to teach someone how to be a professional contractor but share how to save money by learning to control costs. “I saved over $50,000 over the costs of bids I received from contractors for our addition before deciding to act as my own general contractor,” Oswald said.
Oswald’s three-level home addition was designed by local architect Joe Carroll. Oswald worked to hire all subcontractors, researched and ordered materials, planned out the mechanical systems, did some small carpentry work, and made all the decisions to complete the project.
He knew he had to write this book after becoming frustrated with the lack of resources available to homeowners in his situation. “Every resource I looked at was missing key information and details from the homeowner’s point of view that I learned as I went through the process,” Oswald said. “Many books do not focus on the details of renovating old houses like we have in Beverly. This book is written from the perspective of the homeowner and is a road map based on all my experiences during the renovation and building process.”
The book offers helpful checklists and information on financing options, inspiration, builder insights, and installation information that homeowners may not know about.
“The builder markup is the biggest secret of general contracting that many homeowners are not familiar with, and it’s possibly the most important factor in saving money by controlling costs,” Oswald said. “Getting multiple estimates, ordering direct from suppliers, and learning the true costs of materials and labor saved me a fortune, which was money I was able to reinvest into the house. The book also highlights potential expenses that can unexpectedly drive up costs and how to protect yourself from mechanic’s liens.”
Saving money requires the homeowner must do a lot of the research, planning, and work themselves. “Big contractors are fantastic because they have in-house architects, designers, and project managers — you get what you pay for. If you’re able to spend the money, that’s a great option, but you have to be sure you don’t end up spending far more money on your addition than the house is going to be worth when you’re done,” Oswald said.
Oswald also shared his experiences with contractors who didn’t share his vision to ensure the historical accuracy of the addition. “I did not want our addition to look like an addition. The attention to detail, especially architectural and historic detail, was important to me,” he said. “As residents of older and unique homes in Beverly/Morgan Park, we should try to find contractors who also value those ideals and have experience working on older homes and are willing to go the extra mile.”
“The Homeowner’s Guide to Contracting, Building, and Remodeling” ended its 30-day new release period as the #1 new release in Amazon’s Home Design and Construction category. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Kindle edition has color photographs and hyperlinks to renovation videos. Find more information at JoeOswald.com.