My uncle Oren started working in construction when he was 16 years old. In his 20's and 30's, he traveled to Central America and Africa, working as a builder. He has been an independent contractor for 50 years. He builds and remodels high-end homes in Newport Beach. He’s currently working on three homes — two remodels and a 2nd floor addition. He's a hilarious, neurotic self-hating Jew who is quick to laugh at himself, and always fun to talk to. I've let too many of his isms go undocumented. So I wanted to start logging my conversations with him. Here, we talk about his work.
What does it mean to work with a contractor?
An orchestra is lost without a conductor. The building process is a chaotic process. The decision-making is insane and constant — just to stay in general chaos you have to know what you’re doing.
Everything you see hinges on someone like me pulling it all together. People have to trust their contractor. If your client doesn’t trust you the project is screwed. You need someone who can bring in good subcontractors, but still make all the decisions. The concrete guy has tunnel vision — he sees digging out dirt. The electrician sees pulling out wire and rewiring. But I see the house built before it’s even built. You need someone to dream it from beginning to end.
What do fixtures mean for a contractor?
Everything you don’t see — kitchens, baths, and now luxury laundry rooms —that’s where the money goes. Everything else — walls, floor, windows, paint — can go to hell.
Fixtures are all the things you see at the end, but 60-80% of the job is what you don’t see; and that includes what decisions are made for high-end finished elements — every toilet, sink, faucet, shower valve. So choosing finished elements starts before you even pour your foundation. You have to know the height of your stove before the drywall even goes up.
I see the whole thing before the foundation is laid. Even the thickness of the tile matters. You have to see the end before all these stages happen so you can prep for it. Ten minutes can change the outcome of a week’s worth of work.
There are lots of contractors out there. Why do people choose you?
Once I walk in the door, it’s mine right away. It’s always mine. Once they’ve met me, they’re gonna pick me, even if I bid higher. The deciding factor for the homeowner is confidence. It’s not just fixtures, it’s the knowledge a contractor has, because they determine what’s in the walls, underground, and above in the attic to house this thing. I have years of knowledge. And I contract good subs. People love working with me because they know I’m handling it and making it easy for them. I’m there to make sure they have a trouble-free experience.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a contractor?
Construction is an imperfect business in a decaying world. We’re trying to create perfection as the world is rotting and crumbling. I’m trying to make someone happy while the earth is moving and we’re battling the elements. A couple years later no one cares, they’re divorced.
There are good builders and shitty builders. I know a lot of great builders but everyone has their issues and weakness. I still don’t have it all figured out. But if I’m eating shit on a job I’ll go out and get the best materials and make it look the best I can — finish strong.
When you work on people’s homes, you’re disrupting their lives What’s your approach to working with clients?
A job may be stressful, might not go as smooth as you think, but it’s all hugs at the end. Some people want to be treated like customers. Others want to be a part of the family. I want to make money, I want to have fun, and I want to stand back and look at a house and say that’s mine, twenty years later. Some people can’t handle that. They say wow that guys a nutcase. But people know when they see the work of a good contractor. You can pick it out from down the block. I know when I see something I built.
I build it for me. These are all my houses.