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FFCobra Craftsman
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So we have been in our new house for 5 weeks now and a week ago I got a bill from the builder for about $800 in gravel for the driveway. My wife has been here since Nov and moved in two weeks before we moved the whole house. She was real unhappy w/ the drive and sent pictures which I sent to the builder saying the driveway looked like it went to a 30 yr old mobile home rather than to our beautiful house. We talked and he said he could make it better, he had been trying to save us money. My reply to that was that the gravel drive was listed as an item in the original contract. Is this his standard quality of work? I thought an included drive would be a lot better than he provided. We talked more and he said if I would pay for the gravel, he would cover the machine to move it around. That was 2 weeks prior to sending me the bill so I thought he had reconsidered and decided to cover it all. So I got this bill and looked at all the other overage bills. Of around $20k total there was $6500 in additional tree removal/lot clearing, $1500 because the heat/AC guy brought a gas backup heat system instead of electric backup. ( I was convinced it would be better so agreed to pay the extra $1500.) There had also been an extra $2100 for the driveway. So of the $20k, $10,100 was other people's mistakes rather than upgrades we asked for. I sent a letter w/ my $800 check saying I wasn't happy about the situation but here is your money. My backround over the last 25 yrs was working as a flat rate tech. If we gave a quote, and things were tougher than expected, we ate the extra labor. In a few situations, when explained up front before work started, we were able to add in extra labor if needed but that was rare. This builder, which we are extremely happy w/ in every other way, seems to work on the assumption that he can charge extra whenever and just say he is sorry. Is this how the home building industry works?
 

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Wow, I hope that's not the way it works. I'm in the building process now. Plans are finished and paid for, as is the land. We're using a builder who is very accustomed to changes and only builds custom homes. We started this process about 10 years ago but that location had some issues we discovered just in time. This Wednesday we're preparing the last details for the contract. Life events completely changed our forever house from a small highly customized home into a large expensive home. Thankfully, we saved and invested well over that 10 year delay. Good luck with closing out your new home.
 

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Our friends finally got all their drawings updated & approved then went to the builder to start the basement & were told the basement was now 20% more in cost from a quote 2 months ago??? They are wondering what else is going to be added as the build progresses.
Our long time builder friend told us last night at dinner he has to get $250/sq ft to make a worthwhile profit on a new build & to cover contingencies. 6 years ago he quoted us $125/sqft for a new build we planned for our son. At that price we decided to GC it ourselves & we came in around $85/sq ft.
Meanwhile across the border new build condo's in Toronto are going for $735/sq ft, $25,000 for a parking spot & around $1500-$2000/month for condo fees & they are pre-selling in days.
 

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It’s apparently just a sign of the times. We bought some land a few years ago with intentions of building our retirement home. About 18 months ago we went through the process of selecting our builder, which in and of itself was a process. Of the 25 builders we sent requests to only 6 responded and only three would actually provide us with an estimate (not for free though). The builder we went with was considered a pretty good mid range builder.
In the end, we were $23k over budget, $10k was due to the allowances in his estimate didn’t provide for the items my wife preferred. The $13k additional was due to his miscalculation of the slope of our property so there were additional charges for more fill and foundation changes.
And apparently what passes for quality today is not what we’re used to. While we’re fairly happy with our home, there are a few items that are a little annoying.
 

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My family has built a few houses...they ALWAYS cost more and take longer than they are supposed to. ALWAYS. If you end up with essentially what you envisioned/wanted, then you did well.

A good contract is essential. I have had subs try and talk me into cheaper items than I specified in a contract. Almost always I will point to the contract and make them install what is called for. There was a reason a specific item was listed and it was in there during the bid process for a reason. I think that is one of the things I learned very early on...be specific in contracts or the sub will do the least amount of work with the lowest quality products. Not what you want in a "forever home".
 

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All 5 of my uncles were custom carpenters for their entire lives and I apprenticed for them as a teenager. So we are very familiar with costs and time overruns. What annoyed us was the foundation charges as we moved the location of our home at his request to a location he thought was flatter.
As far as quality, the garage lights have no switch from inside the house, and when you open the door to the garage the switch is lower than your knees and 2 feet away. You have to step down the two steps and reach left.
At our lanai door there is a 3 gang and 2 gang set of switches 4” apart and 1/2” difference in height.
In the bath my wife had a rain shower head installed and the fixture coming out of the ceiling is at an angle rather than straight.
I could go on but you should get the idea. It’s just little things, but it shows a lack of attention to detail. And all this is from a better rated builder.
 

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I hear ya, and those things should be addressed. I had a sub once that had ONE GUY working for him that was a total idiot. I gave him instructions and materials for a job and come back an hour later and he has used other material set aside for another sub, cut a hole in the wrong place, AND couldn't even bother to use his level to cut the hole in the drywall! I ended up in court with the sub because of the work for this ONE employee. Not just because of this one incident, but many including cutting in a roof line incorrectly. The sub said he wasn't going to pay for or fix any of this guys screw ups. Court sided with me. I paid the remainder of the contract to another sub to fix what was done wrong. That one guy ended up costing everyone a ton of $$$ and a friendship as the sub was a long time family friend.
 

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I agree that the builders mistakes should not be the customers cost impact. Any additional work should be more money. I've been building houses and remodeling homes for 15 years. I can see both sides. I never charge the customer for any of my mistakes, that is ridiculous. I make the mistake, I eat the cost. I do charge more if the customer changes the requirements or the scope of work. Or the county may change the requirement.

Here is a good example: I built a house last year that had a long driveway with a culvert pipe passing through at the low point. I bid the job and gave a price for the culvert, drainage work and materials to complete this section of the driveway per the county approved storm water and sediment control plan. Last year was very rainy and well over the normal amount of rainfall. The errosion control inspector came out and after a tremendous amount of rainfall, areas of the culvert outlet washed away. The county then held the occupancy cert. until an engineer redesigned a system for the culvert area and then have it installed. This came at a price of about 10k. This customer wasn't happy, but ate the cost because it was something out of our control (mother nature and the govt). I could see some of my past clients saying, well it is the builder's cost since he agreed in a contract that the house and land work would cost this much. The only variation is the allowances. What do you guys think?
 

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FFCobra Craftsman
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Discussion Starter #9
I can see the mother nature problem being somehow split between contractor and owner. The problem I have is the builder was there looking at the property w/ myself and the realtor. 4th one he had looked at with me and he recommended it as a good opportunity. Then when he comes back and says the trees were a lot harder to remove than he thought, I kind of accepted that and agreed to the +$6500. Maybe that was my mistake. Since it was at the beginning of the project, maybe he thought I was going to be easy from then on. When we got to the end and there were the other overages I described, is when I looked back at the total overage list and got pissed off. My thought was he is supposed to be the pro in his field, not me, so if he was off in his estimate, that should be his problem. I am getting over the whole thing because we are so happy w/ the house but it nags at me.
 

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I agree that the builders mistakes should not be the customers cost impact. Any additional work should be more money. I've been building houses and remodeling homes for 15 years. I can see both sides. I never charge the customer for any of my mistakes, that is ridiculous. I make the mistake, I eat the cost. I do charge more if the customer changes the requirements or the scope of work. Or the county may change the requirement.

Here is a good example: I built a house last year that had a long driveway with a culvert pipe passing through at the low point. I bid the job and gave a price for the culvert, drainage work and materials to complete this section of the driveway per the county approved storm water and sediment control plan. Last year was very rainy and well over the normal amount of rainfall. The errosion control inspector came out and after a tremendous amount of rainfall, areas of the culvert outlet washed away. The county then held the occupancy cert. until an engineer redesigned a system for the culvert area and then have it installed. This came at a price of about 10k. This customer wasn't happy, but ate the cost because it was something out of our control (mother nature and the govt). I could see some of my past clients saying, well it is the builder's cost since he agreed in a contract that the house and land work would cost this much. The only variation is the allowances. What do you guys think?
Maybe I see it more from the builders side, but the plan said X. You built X. You charged for X. If the customer now wants/needs Y, then the customer needs to pay the extra for Y. This is not your revision. You did what you were hired to do, assuming everything was done to plan.
 

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In relation to your extra charges on the site prep...

I had a site that required a large cut. We laid out the building according to plan and the dirt guy started moving dirt.

We get about 15 feet down and, while I am off the job site, they hit an outcrop of blue granite. Without my authorization the excavator brings in breakers to pound the rock into submission. I show up the next day and say "WTF are you guys doing?" The operator says the boss ordered them to break the rock up because it was in the way of the building.

It was only towards the rear of the site in the deepest part of the cut, so I get the supervisor for the excavator on the phone and kind of go ballistic. I ask who authorized the new equipment and the work? He says he couldn't get ahold of me and it had to be done to finish the job. I then asked, "why don't we just move the building 5 feet north?" He says that would require a new permit, blah, blah blah. I told him I wasn't paying for the additional equipment because I didn't authorize it, and to continue the job as if moving the building 5 feet was correct. This sub actually turned out to be one of the better ones I have used and we used them on multiple other jobs because they acknowledged their mistake and did not charge us for that.

I try and be on all job sites as much as possible because no one is going to look out for your interests like you will, but sometimes it is hard. Things WILL come up. If you aren't there to deal with them, somebody else will make a decision for you and they probably have very different interests in the job than you do.

There is really no substitute for on site supervision by the person that is paying the bills.

That said, sometimes things come up like the topographic maps not being accurate and there needing to be more dirt moved than initially thought. That is not the dirt guys fault and so I have agreed to pay extra when something like that comes up. When it is all said and done an estimate is just that, and if it is specified as that, then some leeway needs to be considered. I guess I would say you need to go back and look at the language of the contract to clear the property. If it has any language about unforeseen challenges or potential overages, then as long as you agree that more work was done than originally specified, then paying the extra was the appropriate thing to do.
 

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GC'd my home about 30 years ago. I could go into a lot of things, but will stick to one.

Have the plans and contract drawn up by someone independent of the builder and make sure you understand thoroughly what is being speced out. If you don't know what something is, have the architect/engineer explain or show you.

I bought my land just before the state put a building moratorium in place. So, I was carrying the land for quite a few years. When the moratorium was lifted I was in such a hurry to build that I just went around to a few builders with some sketches. The one who I chose quoted a reasonable price and said he could have his draftsman prepare the plans (for a fee) and he prepared the contract.

Well, lo and behold after the plans were drawn up he told me the cost would be higher than expected from my sketches. But, at this point I felt sucked in because I had paid for the drawings. Then, during the building process a couple times his son (who was actually doing the work) would point out that something in the specs was cheapo and I should buy the better option. It didn't do any good to point out that it was his dad who spec'd the cheapo stuff.

Overall, the quality of the work they did was very good and from shovel to move in was only 6 months. (I contracted many of the subs he only did the shell and the finish work.) Additionally, when I did get in a bind on something he would make a few calls and voila, I would have someone lined up to do the work I needed. I am still friends with his family to this day.

So, that's my one lesson if I am ever foolish enough to do it again.
 
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