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Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 03:51 PM   #1
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Building and Closing Horrors

Who has interesting lessons and horror stories related to building their own home and the closing process; any vignettes to share?

PS: Are there any honest contractors out there or is everyone just out for the quick buck?
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 04:55 PM   #2
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

Ferco,

To answer your second question first, yes there are good general contractors out there but finding one is not an easy task. We had a RE agent who we had used for five buy/sell transactions and relied on her knowledge to put us in touch with a reputable, but not inexpensive, builder. My recommendation is to talk to as many people as you can and check every reference possible before making your choice. By asking this question you are already aware a bad builder can crater you financially.

We built in a so-so real estate market, resulting in no real problems in finding experienced subs and actually having them show up within a few days of when they were supposed to. (Well, except for the framing sub, who delayed us for 5 weeks while he finished up a job framing a 15,000 sq. ft. palace for a wealthy Mexican drug lord businessman.) I would hate to try to build now while we are in the middle of a huge boom in residential RE construction.

Iím glad to say we had no major glitches in the design, build and close of our house. Sure, there were some minor things, but I stayed on top of things by visiting the job site virtually every day for the 5 months between clearing the site and the day we moved in. I donít think you can pay too much attention during the construction phase (or the design and financing phases). It was a little stressful but also exciting and rewarding to see something we had started sketching out on paper years before turn into a reality.

There are others here who are much more qualified to offer advice, but my experience was a positive one and definitely worth the effort.

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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 05:51 PM   #3
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

When we rebuilt our house after the '91 Oakland fire, the contractor decided to reslope the steep driveway to add a little more flat space at the top. The result was a steeper bottom, and the first car that came in after we moved in got stuck.

I never want to build a house again, although DW liked the procedure. We also visited every day, but found there were lots of things that could be done in one day that weren't done the way we wanted.

Another problem that was our own fault: we chose a carpet that had lots of little "spots" in it. The ideas was that it wouldn't look dirty so fast. But there's a big difference in how a carpet looks from a little sample and in an entire room. Both DW and I hated it when we saw it. I even did an estimate of how long it would take to clip out the little spots.

We decided to live with it. But that's a good example of the heartache of building a house. You picture this lovely living room, and come by to check and find this bad carpet. You then have to decide: spend $1,000 to start over or live with it?
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 06:56 PM   #4
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

I've remodeled and added on to a 1100 sq ft house three times over 15 years. Now it is a 2100 sq ft house with an attached garage, carport, and shop. In my opinion, organization and especially communication are the keys to look for in a contractor. There are always going to be hiccups in the project...some caused by you, some by him, and some by things completely out of both of your control (building inspector in a bad mood). The key to continued success is open, continuous communication between you and the contractor, with both of you adopting a no-fault attitude. If there is a problem, fix it...don't worry about who to blame for it. Find a contractor whose references all rave about how well he communicated. I used one on two of our jobs who made mistakes like anyone will...but the projects finished on budget, only a little over time, and with me and him still on good speaking terms.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 07:11 PM   #5
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors




One of the problems we had came at the end of the 1st year when the builder was supposed to fix any warranty problems (like drywall, carpet, etc.) We kept getting "Oh, we don't work with that subcontractor any more, and we've told them, and they won't do the repairs." We finally sent a letter via registered mail that said that we'd signed a contract with them, not their subcontractors, and we expected them to make the repairs as promised.
Fortunately, things got fixed.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-05-2006, 07:40 PM   #6
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

It's funny that you post this message today. We just got done meeting with our architect to go over the plans for our beach house. We close on the lot next week and start building in January. We went through three surveyors before we got one that would even do the survey.
It should be interesting converting sq ft into sq mts, the spanish to english conversion, and building during a RE boom here in Panama. Should be an interesting 2007!
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-06-2006, 08:30 AM   #7
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

The only real big problem during the construction of our house that didn't get resolved was the plumber's nephew being a member of a crack gang that came back one night and stole $10,000 worth of our tools and our diesel tractor. That really sucked on any number of levels. Nothing recovered. It set us back emotionally and financially way beyond the actual cost.

Bottom line: if you are planning to leave so much as a hand sander at the house under construction, get a camper and a car to park next to it--even if you aren't likely to stay there most nights. (Obviously applies more to remote areas like where we live).

I enjoyed being the general contractor, designing the house with an architect friend, and working with the big and small subs to get the house built. It was not a job I could have done if I didn't work for a non-profit at the time that allowed for a lot of time off in 30 minute increments to go to the site.

Due to the savings realized on this construction, we will have the small mortgage paid off in a total of 7 years. It was an exhausting process but I am satisfied with the end result way more than if I'd bought an existing home.

But I still wish life-ending bad things to happen to the plumber and his entire family tree every time I see one of their trucks on the road! GAAAHHHH!

Sarah
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-06-2006, 10:15 AM   #8
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

My pain in the butt story is: My wife found a house she liked. Unfortunately it was still under construction. We made and offer and it was accepted. This house is located in a upper end subdivision and is well above the median house for the area. Unfortunately the contractor was going to put in the cheapest fixtures and cabinets the off brand companies had. So we incurred an up charge to get fixtures that actually went with the house. The contractor lied several times to us, things like I only build a house if it is sold, yet we watch him start building houses on lots that are still for sale. They had terrible key control (they left them in the unlocked house), so as soon as we move in we get to replace all of the door locks (minor issue and they would be replaced anyway but the lie to cover it up does not inspire confidence). Their excuse was, "Oh nobody ever goes into my houses, when they are under construction." Uh, bonehead during our first meeting we told you we went inside and we have told you several times that we have seen other people inside. They made a big deal about locking the place up so nobody could go in and take or destroy anything. When they had the doors put in the latches did not match up with the holes in the frame, so to fix this they put wood putty in the holes and said everything was fine.

The dipsnit put down sod a week before the house was supposed to close. Unfortunately the subs were late and resulted in the closing date being pushed back (known the day prior to laying the sod). Of course they don't water the sod or the instant spray on grass so it all died. The concrete subs go out to pour the drive way in a heavy rain. Rather than losing one load of cement they go ahead and pour the driveway and sidewalk anyway. The company was in such a rush they neglected to put expansion joints in. The driveway lasted less than one week before it developed several large cracks. The sidewalk lasted a week and a half. The concrete looks like it has leprosy and belongs in front of a house well below the median price. The contractor stated he was very angry that they still poured the driveway. It took all I had to not ask him, "If you don't like it why should I buy it?"

Overall the bones of the house is upscale. The doors, fixtures, cement, cabinets, and flooring are all bottom basement as stock. The DW works in mortgages and has seen several construction loans come through with much higher allowances (by at least two times) than we had for a similarly priced house. After it was apparent the contractor would not be able to make the second close date, I told the real estate agent I was ready to walk, and if we bought the house it was all the wife's decision.

When the bozos installed the lights they decided it would be good to mix and match the finishes. So I call up the contractor, but she is at a funeral and gives me the number for her partner and instructions on when to contact him. That is good, because he is the one actually doing the building. I follow her directions and call the guy. Call me stupid but all I'd need to know is there is a problem with the lights at this house and it is obvious. I'll go there look at it, and if there is a problem have ti fixed. But nope not this guy, his response is call you realtor. So after that everything went through the realtor, wasting her time, his realtor's time and generally slowing everything down more.

The worst part of the whole thing is I could go in and have everything done in a matter of days, if I did it. All of the closing dates were determined by asking the builder when it would be finished then adding two weeks.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-06-2006, 10:53 AM   #9
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

Things went pretty smoothly for us, but my biggest recollection was of just how many details there were to decide. We had the basic layout of the house decided early on, but there were a ton of details after that which just take a lot of time to specify, which meant weekly meetings with our builder for a couple of months. Fortunately, in the end I think most of those decisions don't really matter all THAT much, so don't despair.

Looking back a year after moving in, my impressionistic advice list would be:

1) You can never have too many closets.
2) " " " " " " electrical sockets.
3) CATV and LAN in all rooms: yes (LAN=CAT6, rather than CAT5E -- cost to upgrade is negligible)
4) Rooms will look smaller in real life than they do on the plans -- but that is actually ok.
5) Hallways and staircases are NOT wasted space -- wide ones really do enhance the flow and feeling of spaciousness in the house.
6) Heated flooring (radiant heating) rocks.
7) Bidet toilets ("showerlets") likewise.
8 ) If you might want to use compact fluorescent lighting for the electricity savings, be careful that the fixtures you get don't preclude their use. We have some stair- and hallway lighting fixtures into which CF bulbs simply will not fit. (E17 bases with tiny clearances for the bulb.)

Probably think of more later...
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-06-2006, 10:55 AM   #10
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

Ferco,

There is a major difference between general contractors and sub contractors, I acted as the general contractor in building my home so my experience below are from working with the sub contractors.

We moved in our new home last April, the greatest lesson we learned is that it always cost more. We spent 200k more than what budgeted (sort of), the overage comes from the attitute of "Ok, do it", not getting enough estimates, some cases no estimates at all, not wanting to wait, can not find qualified sub contractors, sub contractors almost never come they said they would (this causes chain reaction and delays), the list goes on and on. No matters what, always go over the task clearly with the subs and get what it costs on paper, we got cheated pretty good by the Trim Carpenters and Tile layers.

For the most part, I really enjoyed building my own home even while having a full time job. On a week day, I visited the job site around 7 in the morning to get the subs going, then at lunch time to review and make corrective actions as needed and one again in the evening before dark. Building a home is no diiference than developing an application software, we started with the conception, worked with the house designer (the mistake here is we keep making the rooms bigger and bigger on the paper), create tasks plan, execute, make corrections and release. One major challenge we learned is scheduling, the tasks NEVER get completed on time due no shows, weather (rain), material did not get delivered and so on. For 14 months, I spent most of the Saturdays doing clean up and corrections, we still have some thing to do as of this date. A good rule of thumb is to allow about 20% more time for everything including estimated costs.

I learned programming on computers having only 64K of memory, where every byte have to be ultilize effectively so I am used to of being conservative and effient. But, it not so in home building, the waste of material is in the upward of 10%. You will want to prepare yourself for this before visiting the job site.

I learned so much during the building process, one of the key in dealing with the sub contractors is to understand that they live for Fridays... the pay day. Never pay in full until the work is totally complete, try to determine the amount of compeleted work and pay according, you must be tough and strong on Fridays, I have heard from more than one subs that their grand mothers die more than once in the same month, and they need the money up front to go to her funeral.

The myth about taking care of the workers by bringing them foods or drinks is still a mystery to me as we brought them from donuts to barbercues, they didn't seem to work any better, except they do open up to you with a six pack.

To answer your question about honest contractors, there are some out there, trouble is finding them. Of all the ones I used, my concrete (slab and driveway) contractor was very honest, I still call him for my other building projects. Some one said "People are lazy and greedy", it is very true in construction.


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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-07-2006, 08:59 AM   #11
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

So Lets Retire, did you end up with the house? Did everything (driveway, lights, sod) get fixed?
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-07-2006, 02:05 PM   #12
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

perfect timing here. we will be house shopping soon and we are just picking everyones brains about little things we want to include when building that generally we dont think about.

Things like putting in a gas line for an outdoor barbacue
wiring the the circuits we would want on a generator all together so we can just tie a generator in
Zoning the ac and heating unit.

Putting in surge suppression equipment at the panel level..


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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-07-2006, 02:34 PM   #13
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

As an architect, I'd recommend talking to some architects.

Seriously, most of us would be happy to chat with you, even if you are not hiring us to design your house or remodel. In smaller towns anyway, architects will know most of the contractors, and can advise as to which ones might be best for a certain type of construction. A contractor with a great reputation in commercial construction could be a disaster on a residence.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-07-2006, 03:04 PM   #14
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha
So Lets Retire, did you end up with the house? Did everything (driveway, lights, sod) get fixed?
We're still working on it. The second closing date is this Friday. They haven't worked on it since Thursday. There are several goobers on the walls that need to be repaired by the drywallers and painters before the rest of the subs can come in. That's why I didn't put the end in. We aren't there yet.

We found some nice houses to look at Monday when my realtor comes back from a wedding.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-09-2006, 08:17 AM   #15
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

We built about 10 years ago, and although it was painful at times, I'd definitely do it again if we ever decide to move and can't get what we want on the prebuilt market. We absolutely love the house because it's exactly what we wanted it to be.

Here's my $.02:

1) Spec. the project like crazy. Don't feel rushed to sign on the dotted line. Changes (after you're locked in) cost way more than adjustments to the plan before you sign. Also, ambiguities in the contract will cause conflict later. The builder reads the contract with an eye toward minimizing cost.

2) Plan on ultimately spending at least 10%-20% more than the contract price. No matter how well you do with #1 above, you'll find "opportunities" to upgrade or improve things or conflicts that require money to resolve. Ten years later, the only regrets I have are for things I cheaped-out on and didn't do.

3) As other posters mentioned, visit the site daily. Watch everything that's going on. I caught several problems that cost small money to fix because of this. Even if it's the builder's fault, saving him money will ultimately save you grief and money. No one cares more about the house than you do.

4) Don't assume that the builder and subs always know more than you. If something doesn't seem right, use the Internet to research it to come up to speed. Be aware, this will probably annoy the heck out of the builder, but in the end you'll be better off, especially if you can do it tactfully.

Hope this is helpful...

Jim

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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-09-2006, 11:12 AM   #16
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

magellan, excellent advice!
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-11-2006, 10:41 PM   #17
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

We had a home built 6 yrs ago from a "semi-custom" builder and we found out thier idea of semi-custom was different from ours. What really helped us was going to the county with our plans and they explained the inspection process, covenents, blah, blah, blah. The guy from the county was thrilled to explain it all to us and gave us direct access for follow up calls. This was in the roaring 2000's when buyers would accept anything builder's threw together just to have a brand new home. The builder raised hell about how "picky" the county was (builder's 1st project in our county), but I felt the county did a good job looking out for homeowners. We also hired an inspector and they made two extra inspections at N/C (as they were in the neighborhood) which helped us uncover some issues before they could be "covered up". We found the subs to be much more cooperative than the builder.
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Old 10-11-2006, 10:56 PM   #18
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jazz, it sounds like you found the wrong builder. He should be working with you to complete your dream house, not against you to make a few more bucks.
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors
Old 10-11-2006, 11:16 PM   #19
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

DH is 'burning the board' trying to get remodeling plans for our DD's house into the bldg department by the end of the month. He is about cross-eyed squinting at the monitor as the sun sets, muttering about how planning/bldg depts have gone stark mad. If you ever think architects charge too much consider the amount of work it takes to consider what it takes to draw up exactly what you expect from a builder. The only reason he is keeping his licence is to help the kids.

Too bad this project isn't close to our home. Anyone know good contractors in the San Jose vacinity?

I expect we will spend many a day in their spare bedroom when the project gets underway. Nothing like having an anal construction-focused (vs design-focused) architect working for his kid.
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Old 10-12-2006, 04:02 AM   #20
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Re: Building and Closing Horrors

Becareful when using architects. On suzi ormans show she mention she herself made a terrible mistake in the building of her new home. She hired an architect and once the project was underway she was unhappy with him and so paid him for his work and fired him.

What she didnt know was all the work permits were in his name not hers even though she paid everything directly and so he pulled them.

THE WORST PART WAS EVEN THOUGH SHE PAID BIG BUCKS FOR THE PLANS THE PLANS WERE CONSIDERED STILL HIS PROPERTY

He yanked those too. Now shes hung and the project has been stopped
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