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Get to Know Gabriela Narvaez

Gabriela Narvaez of Guild Properties talks to us about her path to becoming a General Contractor. From how job skills from an entirely different career path make her a better GC to how she conquered her licensing exams.

What inspired you to become a general contractor?

In 2008 as the economy crashed and the housing market was taking a downturn, my husband and I saw an opportunity.  We had a daughter and a baby on the way, and we needed more space for our growing family.  So we bought our first home.  A 2,400 square foot town home in the heart of Arlington,VA.  We were elated and also overwhelmed because we had a baby on the way and a new home that needed a lot of work to make it into what we wanted.  In the following few years, and now three kids under our belt, we found ourselves with very little money and big ambitions.  So it was then I started to get creative and figured out that if I acted as my own general contractor and hired out the trades and managed the renovations myself we could save a lot of money.  So we began to renovate the entire townhome one space at a time. Everyone hated it, living in a construction zone with little babies was hard for sure, but I loved it.  I found myself enjoying every single part of it: from planning to demo to final punchouts.  I had arrived.

What was your education process?

I would say 90% has been on the job and actually just doing it, diving head first into renovation projects (my own and investments that I then sold) and figuring most of it out along the way. 10% has been things I have learned from formal schooling or taking classes.

What professional skill do you use in your day-to-day most?

Project management.  A construction project is made of thousands of details that all need to be closely managed and looked out for, since each step is dependent on whether the previous step was completed or not.  Having strong project management skills has come in handy (no pun intended LOL) – in my corporate job I was a budget director and managed a portfolio of funds for graduate programs at Georgetown Universities School of Foreign Service, it required immense amounts of attention to detail and dealing with lots of moving parts, it was excellent training for what was to come! Budgets and excel are my best friend! Keeping close track of debits and credits and what each project is costing is key in the construction industry, I find myself checking my budgets closely on a daily basis.

When did you feel like you mastered being a general contractor?

I don’t think I have mastered anything in my life yet.  I am good at what I do, and my results are excellent but I wouldn’t consider that mastery.  There is AlWAYS room for improvement, no matter in what category of life we are talking about.  It can be being a parent, friend, daughter, colleague whatever.  I can always do better and improve.  But for today I am doing the absolute best that I can, taking notes and remaining open to learning and seeking so that tomorrow I wake up just a tiny bit more knowledgeable.

What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career thus far?

Getting licensed in the state of Virginia with both commercial and residential building licenses.  It was a rough road.  The classes were long and the exams were hard.  In total it’s four exams to obtain both licenses and a total 12 hours of testing. In fact, I failed the commercial exam several times and the residential exam once, but I kept on trying and did not give up.  Every single time I didn’t pass I walked out of the testing room feeling defeated and depleted, telling myself that it was the end of the line for me.  But a little voice in the back of my head kept on saying: you don’t give up until you obtain the results that you want. And I listened and eventually I passed all the exams that needed passing and I got my licenses.  That moment when I saw the “pass” result ha been incomparable to anything else.  I proved to myself that I could do anything I wanted, no matter how hard and excruciating.  If I don’t quit I will get the results I want.

How do you inspire more women to get into the trades?

Being in charge of your own time is really what attracted me to become an entrepreneur, not being tied to a desk and an office on a daily basis from 9-5.  Joining the trades means that we get to decide how much and where we work, we get to choose our own adventure and not fulfill the needs of someone else’s goals.  Getting into the trades means freedom and fulfillment of your own destiny.

What are three tips for folks looking into becoming a general contractor?

Surround yourself by individuals who care deeply about what they do, that their end product is reflective of who they are as professionals.  This is not only for the trades that you will need to hire, but with every single service providers that you will need to hire.  Which brings me to point # 2 – you cannot do it all.  I started my business being ALL the things: marketing, bookkeeper, designer, procurement agent, project manager, copywriter among many other things.  And very quickly did I learn (the hard way) that this was unsustainable and it was taking away valuable time from projects.  So I have invested in my company and I hired a bookkeeper and a social media manager.  Even though I still wear many hats that has freed up some time and I ca focus on things that strengthen my business.#3 – even though this is a male dominated field, and I am always the only woman on any job site (besides my clients!) I do not feel dominated or like an outcast.  I am always in control of my projects and final decisions have to go through me, and my crews and the trades that come in to perform work are very clear on this.  My suggestion is to never doubt your instincts, they are always spot on, so if something feels odd or not right it’s because it is not.  Be true to yourself and allow your instincts to guide you.

What skill are you excited to learn next?

Sketch up! This program will allow me to draw my own floor plans and elevations for my clients, and will streamline the design process for me.

What’s in your toolbox that you can’t live without?

Laser measuring tool.  It’s been my most precious investment and I love it as much as I love my coffee (if you know me well you know how important  coffee is to me!)

Who do you want to shout out? Another woman in the trade!

My ex-sister-in-law Patty Anibarro of @phenixcd – she is a trained architect and general contractor and does amazing new construction projects!

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Positive vibes. No mansplaining. Ever. Follow along to learn about the newest Pros on the MBuild roster, our favorite DIY + renovation tips, and stories about badass women in the trades. Let’s build the matriarchy one project at a time.