Will your Builder Understand your Needs?
As a person interested in building a new home or office; or someone who seeks to improve your current property, you have reservations inherent to customers within this industry. How can you trust in the ability of a builder to translate your building goals into a final product of which you can be proud.
I find it interesting that the vast majority of residential “General Contractors” have no real-life building experience of any substance. The majority are either investors, salesmen, or someone who built his or her own house and saw an opportunity to profit from the experience. Like any novice, they depend upon the integrity of their sub-contractors and tradesmen for quality and timeliness.
A Sub does not have Your Interests at Heart
As a former sub-contractor/tradesman I know that the General’s interest, much less, the customer’s best interest is of little importance to them. The sub is driven by the goal to make enough show to achieve a cash draw by Friday.
I spoke with a couple who were building their own house. This was their first foray into the role of General Contractor. They had retained the services of an upstart builder at the start of their project. Due to his lack of knowledge and experience he found himself in a cost over-run situation before he ever got the project out of frame. He threw up his hands in frustration and turned the home building over to the owners. He was kind enough to offer his continued services as a consultant. Their problems went from bad to worse. Once their framing sub was satisfied that he had completed his work, he requested the final draw. He was paid and released.
Left to their own management, the owners couldn’t put their finger on it, but the house just seemed incomplete. They called me from one of our ads and I visited the site for a preliminary inspection.
I saw major structural errors from the street. The concrete sub had not done his job properly and it showed in the wavy top plates in the framing. Rather than correcting the problem, the framer built the gable walls and roof structure on the plates as they sat. The roof showed no inconsistencies because he had custom cut the gable studs to compensate for the waviness. However, the ceiling joists would ultimately show the waves once the Sheetrock was installed.
Skilled Project Managers are Rare: HGTV is not Real
The roof was not adequately braced to hold the weight of framing and shingles. There were no collar ties in the rafters; the large gable dormer roof structures were unsupported by no beams whatsoever. They would begin sagging as soon as the roofers loaded the shingles in a few days; the roof had been decked before the look outs and Fascia had been installed. As a result, all of the gable walls were out of plumb and out of line – two were out of plumb by more than 2 inches!
Plumbing had been roughed in through the brick ledge, outside of the exterior walls. Interior plumbing rough in had been placed in the middle of bathrooms and kitchens. The slab was a full 3 1/4″ out of square and there were low spots throughout.
Neither the ousted young builder, nor the inexperienced home owners / General Contractors had caught any of these errors. They, as you would imagine, grew angry with the subs. After a few minutes of their bitter comments I asked them, “Did you really expect your trades to manage your job for you?” Their response was: “They are supposed to be professionals and we expected quality from them.”
Austin is Booming: A Mecca for Upstart Inexperienced Builders
Recently, a young man whose only exposure to the industry was a few classes at the local community college took on a major renovation. My bid was accepted to frame the trendy mid-century modern remodel in one of the more upscale neighborhoods in Austin.
I was optimistic in spite of his inexperience in that he had retained the services of a building designer and an engineer. My optimism was ill-founded and a simple 3 week frame/cornice project turned into 9 weeks of fielding all of the issues resulting from a job managed by trades and vendors.
An interesting fact you may appreciate: Every year in most major cities, more than 4,000 complaints, grievances and law suits are file against licensed contractors. It is apparent that a license and the proper documentation does not a trustworthy builder make. (see: Tips to Hire a Reliable Home Remodeling Contractor) Experience is a solid factor but every artisan we have is experienced. Their customer service skills are groomed more for a builder than the end user.
Perform Your Due Diligence: Does your Builder Know?
I believe you must do your research. Even HGTV and the like can give you some insight on the industry. If all doctors were skilled equally there would be no need for malpractice insurance and there would be no leaders in the field. Everyone would be the same. In selecting a builder, consider experience, but test their knowledge. Get several quotes and ask the same questions of each. Compare the answers for consistency and content. Ask for references.
Finally, there is no catch all solution in an industry so easily entered and so numerously populated by amateurs. Your gut feeling on the matter will be right in many cases. In the instance of the people I have encountered over time who failed at the business, all of them had one thing in common. They lacked the knowledge of the basic natural laws of building. All phases, no matter the discipline, adhere to the laws of building. If your builder does not know this he will fail – and likely take you with him.