Are my expectations too high?

nhbasketsApril 25, 2014

We are at our wits end with the construction of our new home. Mind you, this is in a development where the builder has the construction loan and we won't take ownership until closing on May 15. However, the builder markets these as 'custom homes.'

We have had battles since the beginning, first with who was going to do our kitchen, the builders 'custom cabinetmaker' who will only do cherry stained cabinets with partial overlay doors or someone else who could give us what we wanted. We won that battle and have the cabinets we want.

Communication has been the issue. We are going through our realtor, who also is the marketing realtor for the development. We also have dealt with the project manager for the builder. Not since the first day we set foot in the development have we laid eyes on the builder, even after asking repeatedly to meet with him.

Last week we were told to have our appliances delivered on this Tuesday and they would be installed (except for the refrigerator, as they didn't want any liability with it getting dinged). DH was there to sign for the appliances (no one showed from the builder) and they were unpacked and set in front of their places in the kitchen (double oven, dishwasher, beverage fridge, and chimney hood). The cooktop has already been placed when the counters went in. DH waited all afternoon, placed phone calls, texted, and emailed, all with no response and no electricians showing up. Here we are on Friday evening and the appliances are still sitting on the floor. Other tradespeople are walking around them, squeezing between them and the island. Glad they were so concerned about just the fridge.

On Sunday afternoon we were told we needed to have all our lighting at that house that night. Since the interior only had one coat of paint on it, we said we did not want to bring the lights on site until the painting was done. We had never been told when the second coat would be done. Back in the framing stage, the electrician had told us that he doesn't install the lighting until right before closing. We were told yesterday to have the lights there this Sunday. After asking in several emails were the electricians going to be there on Monday to install the lights and appliances, we were told today that the builder will not schedule the electrician until the lights are on site, for a week! How rediculous is that?

In the meantime, our kitchen installer is trying to finish up his work, some of which is dependent upon the electricians.

The last straw is we have requested that the house be locked. A week ago they put a lock box on the front door. Problem is, the tradespeople leave the back and basement doors unlocked and the garage is unlocked. I'm waiting for someone to walk in and ripoff my appliances.

Sorry to rant, but I'm just so frustrated by the lack of professionalism by the builder and honestly, our realtor. It's Friday night and I'm ready for a glass of wine.

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You need to tell this builder to shape up or you'll go nuclear on the internet and picket his office.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:17PM
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DH said he was going to put signs in our car and drive around town. He's also talking about getting on the Planning Board, which the builder needs to go in front of. Personally, I'm thinking we should have a chat with the Building Inspector, who we know well, after we close and make the builders life miserable that way.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:48PM
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Personally I would advise them via registered mail that should anything happen to your appliances that you are holding the builder responsible. Maybe that will get their attention.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:12PM
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How locked in are you? Do you have non-performance termination clauses in your contract. If I were you, I'd take my appliances and go home :-)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:47PM
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I like the idea of sending a registered letter. Need to work on that tonight and get in the mail tomorrow.

I can't imagine walking away now. We have too much time and money invested in this house, plus our current house is under contract. We're scheduled to close on both houses on May 15.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:52PM
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Given that you're going to buy this house no matter what, it might be wise to take a step back and let the situation sink in. You might be able to get the builder to do his (or her) job better, but the most important thing is to realize what you can't control and to not let it do you in.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:05PM
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No, no, don't let your hubs drive around with a sign. We had a neighbor who, really truly, scrawled on her garage door in paint a diatribe against her remodeling GC. The police told her to remove it, she had her hubs scrub and then paint over it.

Have a margarita. And some cookie dough.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:10PM
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calumin--I've been trying to keep it together for DHs sake. He got himself worked up so much about the whole kitchen fiasco that he ended up in the hospital with a double bypass. That occurred in early March. I keep telling myself to take a deep breath. It's just so rediculous. Our realtor has told me several times that everything we have questioned is valid. This afternoon she told me that she wouldn't have brought her light fixtures to the house before the final painting, yet she's the one who's telling me I have to do this.

Bpathome--you made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:21PM
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I can understand your frustration. You've made every effort to comply with requests and meet deadlines to make this build go smoothly, and work is being delayed without explanation. I don't see how wanting to be kept in the loop is too high an expectation.

Thankfully, you are really closing in on the end of this build. Try to focus on how lovely it will be - the house foremost, and not having to deal with the builder, developer or realtor again.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:42PM
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so sorry this is stressful for you! it is such an exciting time so it really stinks that you can't enjoy the new house excitement right now. hopefully it is over soon and you can chill out in your new amazing house. i have no building advice for you but i do think everything you are dealing with is common. it doesn't seem to matter if a builder is doing just 1 house or 20, communication disconnects seem to be a theme. i think it is because there are multiple subs all working on the house at once and none of them really coordinate with each other. good luck and i can say from experience that a margarita sounds about right:)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:42PM
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I really get befuddled by these "custom builders". If you're building a custom house, it seems to me that you should be able to negotiate up front before you sign a contract exactly what you want in the house in terms of kitchen cabinets, appliances, fixtures, etc. and whether the builder supplies them or you do. In fact, it seems to me that a lot of these so-called "custom" builders are in fact stamping out sort of cookie-cutter houses using materials, etc. that they're familiar with. It amazes me that people have to fight with the builder for what they want in the house - presumably they didn't realize up front before signing the contract. what's included and what's not. Presumably these custom houses are less expensive than truly custom houses but obviously cause more stress during the build process.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 12:23AM
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I don't think your expectations are too high at all. It is difficult to find true professionals that care about quality work. It sounds like this developer is doing spec houses with limited customization. Easier for him.

Hope your DH is feeling better now. Hang in there as the 15th is so close.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 1:55AM
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weissman-you hit the nail on the head. We were not told when we signed the P&S what was and was not included. Our only discussion was about the kitchen and if we could look at other options other than the builders cabinetmaker. We were told yes, so we obtained quotes from two different sources. We were told the builder had allocated $15k for the cabinets and countertops, so we expected to have to pay for an overage. Later we found out that the $15k was also for the 3 bathroom vanities. A month later we finally received a quote for the builders guy, which was much higher than our other quotes, plus it wasn't even for the kitchen we wanted. That was 4 days before DH was hospitalized. During those 4 days we went through hell not knowing what was going to happen. DH was ready to walk away. In hindsight, we probably should have. We signed the P&S on 1/26. It wasn't until 2/7, 12 days later were we provided with a 'Selection Sheet' where we saw what was and was not included and the pricing for the add-ons. In between those dates we were told we had to choose our slabs, finalize electrical, choose our tile, purchase our appliances, plus many more decisions. I now realize we should have asked up front, however, we had just signed a P&S on our current house and we were under pressure, and excited, to finalize the purchase of our new home.

Our realtor told me yesterday that on a scale of 1-10, most people are at a 5 with their involvement in the construction, but we were at a 10. I told her shame on them for not being involved, however, maybe it's that they just don't care or know any better. We had gone through an entire 1st floor remodel 5 years ago (which went smoothly as we had wonderful subs) so I certainly knew what I wanted when it came to the new house. I've been amazed at the neighbors who have come by when we've been at the new house and have seen our white kitchen. Their reaction has either been, I really wanted white but was told I couldn't have it, or I didn't know we could ask for something different.

Lessons learned.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:00AM
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Sophie Wheeler

You keep referring to this person as ''my realtor'' yet the realtor represents the builder. You do not have anyone on that building site that represents your interests.

In a traditional custom build, you engage the services of an architect to design a home for a specific home site, and that architects helps you to choose from competitive bids on that set of fully specced plans. You get to list everything you want listed on the contract. You own the land, you own the constuction loan, and you own everything your want as long as the budget holds out. And the architect and bank representative are in your corner, to help you through the process.

At best, you have a '''semi-custom'' home being built, but without you in control of the loan, you really don't have any control over anything other than what the builder is willing to concede. Anything you purchase for this home directly by you would be a loss financially if you walked away. That's beyond an awkward financial misstep.

Take this as a learning experience. You are NOT building ''your'' home here. The builder is building HIS home, with only a little influence from you. He has to keep the costs and choices under control in case you DO walk away. He would have to find another buyer. If o want an acual custom home, then live in this home for a few years while you recuperate from the stress and save money. Then you can strt looking at proptyy and interviewing architects for an actual custom build. Which will be substantially more expensive than a spec build with a few personalized details like you are undergoing at the moment.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:59AM
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hollysprings--I realize this is not a true custom build. While I would love the opportunity to do that, it's not in the budget. This is a 55+ development with Geo-thermal heating/cooling, which is what attracted us to it. With DHs medical issues, we can no longer deal with the outside upkeep.

When we were interviewing realtors to list our current house and represent us in a purchase, I specifically asked this realtor who she would be representing, us or the builder. We were assured it would be us. Again, lesson learned.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:09AM
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Pretty normal. We pretty much despised our builder by the time it was all said and done. The workers were nice but in our case, the builder was spread so thin he was never around and when he was he was grumpy and nasty and often insulting. I still can't really bring myself to like him. It should be a fun time but it's not. To your question, no you do not expect too much, but on the other hand, you are not going to get what you expect so best to try to make it to the end without doing yourself in.

On a happier note, we loved our house when it was finally finished and still do, we love our neighbors and love our town so much. It's a great neighborhood with lots of nice people. All the battles were worth it. This part is too funny, my friend told me that she ran into our builder and he told her I was a sweetheart, LOL, what? I admit I was trying to be nice, but I wasn't always as he was driving us insane, but sweetheart? He sure never treated me like a sweetheart at the time, anything but.

Anyway, this too shall pass. It's just the nature of the business. ….They didn't do our final paint until after the lighting went up because they wanted to be able to touch up anything that got dinged in the process. Do try to relax and go with it, honestly, I haven't heard too many happy builder stories though you do once in awhile, it is far from the norm. If you are like we were when we built, we thought we were getting a custom builder so we were going and doing a lot of research on our own and picking out things we wanted but he was of the impression that he was doing all of these things "like he always does them" and so that was the rub. He didn't want to be waiting on me to get out there with my choices so maybe they tell you to have them way ahead of time for fear he will schedule workers and the stuff not be there. You know, covering for anything that might get delayed since he is not totally in control of the situation and working with you in deliveries in the blind. If you are close by, go out and make sure those doors are locked yourself. Sad that you have to but do it anyway so you won't worry. Stealing is big business sadly.

I hope your husband will take it easy and not get himself worked up, it is not worth losing your health over and please take good care of yourselves, it will all be ok in the end, I promise and if there are things to deal with it will eventually get resolved. Take care! Now I will worry about you : (

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:31AM
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I disagree with the certified letter writing strategy. Every time I get one, I think " you're angry, but not enough to file a lawsuit." Trash.

When you plop a lawsuit on this builder's desk, you will have his undivided attention, I promise. His attorney is going to be advising him to settle as quickly as possible. And of course lawsuits are public, the very worst kind of publicity this guy wants.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:36AM
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P.S. Being over is normal, too. We went over budget about 15% at least for the very reasons you list. It seemed like everything was more including the grading of the land. We were stuck because we had purchased the lot separately and there was no walking away without losing the land. We thought so much more was included but when we saw the budgets not until after the fact we were in shock. As you say, they will list $15K for cabinets which is a decent amount until you see that includes countertops, the bathroom cabinets, laundry room and all the tops for those as well. Then it's paltry. We had a 3K allowance for appliances but my refrigerator was more than half that much and it's not anything close to a SZ or Thermadore. I'm not wildly extravagant but I did want double ovens and a flat cooktop, stuff that at the time was much more expensive than a drop in coil stove. I couldn't believe the stuff he was putting in houses at the price range he was building. We felt we did do our homework when choosing a builder but like you said most people are not as involved as we were. The realtor said that most people say call me when it's ready and have zero input and so therefore are not at odds with the builder on anything. It is much different for them and for you when you actually participate in the process.

We actually thought of firing the builder and even threw around the word lawsuit but we would have been even worse off in the end. I'm sure it would have been "he said/she said" and a slap on the wrist for someone and more lost time and angst. People are loyal to the one who signs their paycheck and is bringing in tax revenue to the city. We really do not have any sway. You are very close to the end, press on, pray and try to concentrate on the good things that you like so far. Picture yourself enjoying the new house with new friends and old. It really does end up happening on down the road and this will all be a fuzzy memory in the future.

This post was edited by gr8day on Sat, Apr 26, 14 at 9:54

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:44AM
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Gr8day--thank you so much for sharing your experience and perspective. I do believe once we are in, we will love the house. I've been able to put enough of my own touches in the house to make it our own versus the cookie cutter homes that surround us.

Your comment about about your builder doing things "like he always does them" is so true. This selection sheet they have that describes what we have chosen is such a joke. In our dining room we opted not to go with the wainscot that is their standard. We wanted nothing, figuring we would add something once we move in that more fit our style. One Friday after work we went by and found they had installed their standard wainscot. Monday morning the carpenter who installed it had to rip it out. The trim pieces had been both nailed and glued onto the sheetrock. He wasn't very dainty in removing it which resulted in a mess which the sheet rockers and painters had to deal with. I was at the house that Monday morning and asked him why he had installed it. His reply was just that, "I did what we always do."

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:52AM
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Trebruchet--we are aware of one lawsuit he's already had. He ended up buying the house back from the client. I'm sure at some point we will consult with a real estate attorney.

gr8day--DH and I keep shaking our heads at what he normally puts in these homes. Our appliance allowance was $2500. We ended up spending $11K. We have been asking for an accounting summary for 3 weeks now. Still no reply. Our closing is scheduled for 19 days from now and I certainly need to know where we stand. That is probably the biggest stress that I have now.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 10:04AM
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you have my sympathies as i have had (and continue to have) my own problems with our contractor. this is something i learned along the way, and you need to understand. it's VERY important ...are you ready?

the following may be offensive to some readers, but it must be said: contractors are not typically smart people.
when they use catch phrases like, "custom", it does not mean what WE know it to mean. they think it means something entirely different than the actual definition. they think it means, "i'm gonna do 'dis job over here da way i wanna do it and yous is gonna pay for it."
and while you're hitting your head against the wall trying to have a rational conversation with this person who you THINK understands the language, as it turns out he does not. because as we've already learned, he is in fact an IDIOT.

so try to avoid using difficult words with too many syllables. keep sentences brief. ask him if he understands after each point, and always utilize pictures or drawings -because when you ask if he understands, he will SAY he does, but again, he really doesn't. while it may seem he is able to speak the language, he doesn't know the meaning of each individual word.

this is a very difficult concept for the rest of us to grasp. but these are the guys from high school who who didn't make it past the ninth grade and were definitely NOT sitting next to you in english class.

your contractor sounds like mine. he only builds custom to suit his desires as well. i wish you good luck.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 2:08PM
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OMG kate, are you a comedy writer? Your post is priceless, but sadly, every word is true. Thank you for lightening my day!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 5:07PM
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In our case, our builder was a college grad and former successful accountant. Why he wanted to build houses I'll never know. He would be the perfect no personality, deadpan, humorless accountant, lol. I feel for you nhbaskets because we asked repeatedly for an accounting sheet because that was supposed to be his big advantage having been an accountant in the past. He was going to give us regular updates. When we did finally get it, it was about what we thought but had hoped to be wrong, lol. We put quite a bit of cash in along the way as you are doing to pad the allowances. Such as I wanted to buy my own lighting rather than have the cheapest brass fixtures from local big box stores that are in every other house on the street. Ditto with ceiling fans, faucets, those cosmetic features on the exterior such as trim over and under the windows, exterior lighting. I had to laugh when you talked about the wainscot. I was just getting warmed up on choosing windows and stopped by the house later that week and every window was already in! I was shocked!!! Windows are very important to me because the house we moved from had single pane, ill fitting swollen wood windows that wouldn't open without a body builder's help. They would fall shut. Well, these are the same way though they are double pane. They have those awful pinch in mullions that you can take out to clean the window but they never stay in after that and fall out all the time and then just fall apart. Did I mention that I HATE them? Errr….Some of the things still bug me but life goes on. As it turns out, they cut a swath to a new parkway that I can see from my house now and I almost never have the windows open. So much for my wooded view. I have some french doors that I open for cross ventilation sometimes but it's not peaceful since they put the new road in. Sheesh….it's not right in my backyard but I can see it from a distance and it's amazing how much dust and noise it creates. It must have been badly needed because it is constantly busy!

Looking back on it I would say you are correct, communication was the whole thing that was missing. I thought we were going to have the opportunity to choose everything from insulation to roofing materials but that was not to be the case. He was calling himself a custom builder but what he meant was you can choose this color or that but everything else was by "his book". He was getting good rates on materials for buying in bulk and being a good payer of bills which let to a spotless reputation. That did not include customer satisfaction but if you checked on him he would have a spotless reputation as far as honesty and paying his suppliers and his subs. That can not be said of all of them. I can see now why he would consider us such a PITA but we felt just as put out not understanding that we did not actually have much say in the process. This was at the height of the building boom and he had more business than he could handle and besides building our house he was building an entire subdivision that was going to be his true bread and butter. It sort of bugged me that those houses were bigger and more impressive than ours but cheaper in price. But the difference is when you go outside the margins of mass production the price goes up exponentially. He probably got a better deal on the land as well. I feel now that some of the misunderstanding was partly our fault as we were just so naive and with him being a man of few words and not good with social skills, it just was a disaster waiting to happen. The pros are that it's a well built house, the framing is excellent, we have very few nail pops, we've never had a roof leak or a basement leak or any other major problem with anything "knock on wood". So I feel grateful for that, the big stuff was definitely done well. I've changed a lot of the cosmetic things over the years through updating things as needed.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 7:47PM
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nhbaskets, I'm sorry you're in this situation. It's only three more weeks. Just breathe through these next three weeks and you'll be in your home. Your husband's health and your peace of mind take precedence over this exasperating builder.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:40PM
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Does the builder have insurance? I would hope he would cover the appliances, if anyone steals them or damages them.

I know this seems like a big deal, but it's really not. There is so much else happening in the world...this will all work out and be resolved. That's what lawyers and insurance claims are for...and I speak from experience.

No, I'm not smoking anything (LOL) but I've finally resigned myself to the fact that there are a lot of things I can influence and some I cannot. I just hope the important things (my husband's fact everyone's health, keeping our home, re-building our business) will all work out and I'm going to let the rest slide a bit :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:56PM
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We went out last evening with good friends and got it all out of our systems. You are right that there are more important things in life like DHs health. I'm now stepping back and approaching this as a business transaction, hoping that all parties involved will complete their part of the contract in a timely manner. Sad how something that should be exciting and fun is reduced to this.

I truly appreciate everyone's comments and advise. I'm thankful to have this forum to lean on. You guys are amazing!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 8:31AM
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nhbaskets - I'm amazed at the appliance allowance. To find everything that would go in a kitchen and keep it under $2,500 seems nearly impossible unless you go out of your way to find nearly the cheapest/smallest version of everything, and with a refrigerator you either end up locked in to that size or with a small fridge in a big hole.

At least you get to make it yours in a couple of weeks.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 12:14PM
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schicksal--from what I've seen, the $2500 covers the range, DW, and OTR microwave. They have a deal worked with a local appliance store. Not sure what brand. Fridge would be separate. We ended up going someplace different and will just receive a $2500 credit. You're right, it's not much of an allowance.

Another allowance that wasn't much was for lighting. They provide $900 for dining room, entry and island pendant. My two island pendants were close to that alone.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 2:53PM
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