How Can I Avoid Disputes With My Builder

Most people spend more time choosing their wardrobe than planning for a new home.  The sad fact is that there are too many people in the construction industry willing to take advantage of this situation.  How can you avoid this when building your home?  There are several important ways:

Have a Specific Written Agreement . . .

Years ago most agreements were sealed with a handshake.  Because there are so many construction law suits these days, that is no longer wise.  How can everyone be expected to work together on a very large project for many months, and have both parties remember everything that was said?  It’s impossible.

I received an email from a person who decided to have their home built without plans.  There were so many problems that they took the builder to court.  They were unsuccessful in making their case.  Without a written contract and a complete set of plans, how can anyone prove what the original agreement was?  Without plans, how do you know what kind of materials you are getting, how much insulation you will have, or the exact size of your rooms?  I have seen homes built without plans that had walkways that were too narrow, stairways that were too steep or with ceilings that were too low, and many other problems that were too expensive to correct.  Even a good builder cannot foresee all of these problems without a set of plans.

Some of our local counties have little or no building inspection.  This leaves the homeowner even more vulnerable.  Building a home usually has more of an effect on the finances of a family than anything else.  There is so much at risk.  That is why a contract and a complete set of plans are so important.  Many have been talked into skipping this step, thinking they could save money.  But many have lost far more in wasted time and legal fees, even if they won.  So many problems could be avoided by putting everything in writing.

If during the project the builder and you decide to change something, make sure this is also put in writing and signed by both parties.  If you have any questions about the contract, don't be embarrassed about asking a lawyer.  The lawyer's fee for an hour is much less expensive than a dispute or court case with your builder.  Please be sure you understand everything.  The only dumb question is the one that is not asked.

Choose Your Builder Carefully . . .

Ask for recommendations from your planner, your bank, the builders' association, the chamber of commerce, and your friends.  Speak with several builders before signing an agreement.  There are many good builders to choose from.  But there are also a lot of crooks.  So please be careful when choosing yours.

Are all the sub-contractors insured?  Without workers compensation and liability insurance, you can be sued for something that is not your fault.  What if a worker falls off the roof and breaks a hip?  If he is covered by workers compensation, the insurance company will take care of his medical expenses and pay him until he can return to work.  The law would also prevent him from suing you.  Without this insurance, his lawyer could recommend suing the roofing contractor, the builder, and you.  The more people sued, the more money won.  To be absolutely sure you are protected, ask for the insurance company to send you a certificate of coverage.  This is a guarantee that neither the builder nor the insurance agent is falsely representing the insurance.

Ask to get several references for each builder from previous clients and subcontractors.  Is the builder easy to work with and reliable?  Does he pay his workers properly?  Do they get along with him?  Does he have complaints registered with the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, or area Builders’ Associations?  Taking time to choose a good builder can save you time and money and help you to have a better home.

Educate Yourself . . .

Knowledge is a great protection.  Please don't assume that you are not smart enough to learn about home building.  Ask lots of questions.  Read articles about home building.  Find out why some builders build differently.  This web site and The Mountain Home Show are dedicated to educating people like you.  We regularly add new articles to educate homeowners.  Please visit our web site regularly.  When it comes to your home, get educated and be involved in the decisions.

To show you the importance of knowledge I would like to give you an example.  Most builders in this area use 4" wood studs for the outside walls of their homes.  They would tell that 6" walls are too expensive (with the extra cost of lumber, insulation, and window and door trim).  I have had this discussion with several builders.  But in every case the increase in cost was not as much as the money saved on heating and cooling the home each month.  Would you spend $10 more each month on your mortgage to save $20 on electricity?  Of course you would!  There are so many other important decisions to make.  How do you know if your builder is making the best recommendation?  By educating yourself.