Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Avoiding Shoddy Home Constrction Defects

A Consumer Reports investigation conducted a couple of years back found that 15% of new homes built during the booming days of building and renovating had serious construction defects. That's probably doubled in today's climate given the length of time these homes have been on the market and the time it takes for defects to show up.

Industry types attribute this to the "face pace" and frenzy that was on going and the lack of skilled workers presented challenges. But builders and contractors alike took advantage of these non skilled workers aka, Mexican immigrants - some legal, some not - hiring them to do jobs they should not been involved in performing due to insufficient training. Add to this low paying wages and little to no supervisoin and you have a recipe for disaster. So it's no surprise with the rise in foreclosures being scooped up by home buyers that they're also facing a myriad of construction defects.

You can read a report from that addresses the most common problems to look for when purchasing a home here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What The Downturn in Residential Construction Has Given Consumers

Last week I spoke with a contractor - whom I hired to do some landscaping that requires the buildup of two small walls - not retaining - with some grading and backfill. Not a big project by any means but we got to talking about the current state of construction and how his business is surviving the downturn. According to him, they are doing OK but his phone isn't ringing off the hook as it did in the years past. They have also scaled down to their original "trusted" choice of subs they've worked with for years and the other sub contractors they brought in during the booming days are now gone.

On that subject, we talked about the difficulty many contractors ran into with taking on new subs that they didn't do any background checks on - because they were too busy to do so - and very often it came back to bite them in the form of shoddy work and complaints from homeowners. Which is why homeowners need to do their own checking on the subs their general contractor chooses and include in the contract that they must be licensed and insured, separate from the contractor himself. Using this contractor as an example of some one who ran an ethical business and prided himself on producing quality work, once he chose to deviate from his usual practice of vetting his new subs to bring on for the added workload, he ended up taking the hit and spending money to correct the problems created by the new workforce. And that's a lesson he learned and when things pick up he states he will be more careful in his choices and make the time to vet new subs. But clearly, that's a problem I've heard from other contractors as to their available pool of so called "skilled" workers. And that's another area where educating the building workforce on meeting industry standards and quality workmanship needs to be fostered on a local level. But does the industry care enough to raise the bar and the need for greater education? If so, it certainly hasn't worked so far. Complaints against contractors for shoddy work is still the number one complaint with national consumer organizations.

Finally, the contractor made an interesting and likely correct assessment of todays' still standing and thriving -albeit much more leaner - contracting workforce. And that is given the downturn and lack of demand for residential construction those contractors - licensed or not - have left the area or have taken on other work as their only interest was to cash in on the renovating boom of years past. These guys were not interested in building a sound business and creating a solid reputation in their communities. A lot of these characters easily got licenses or registrations and jumped on the bandwagon and started basically ripping consumers off. And there were far too many of them; I don't care what anybody says the proof is in the complaints and resulting messes left behind by these con-men and I was sickened by the numerous complaints I received over the last nine years. And the contractor not only agreed with me but shared some stories he witnessed of these so called contractors taking advantage of unassuming homeowners.

It is my intention with the help of my Home Remodeling Boot Camp For Homeowners that the next round of an up tick in residential construction will yield more educated consumer swho ultimately can help themselves avoid a construction nightmare and mitigate the most common problems most homeowners make.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Debunking Conventional Thinking When Hiring Contractors

Over the last year I have had frequent discussions with a construction consultant discussing various ways in which we could help consumers understand the need for educating themselves on the risks and realities in residential construction. For himself, locally with consumers and me on a national scale.

And one of the areas I would like to shine some light on is the notion that everyone suggests homeowners to do -myself included - when vetting their contractors. Here it is:

Consumer agencies and home improvement sites who offer tips to homeowners on how to properly vet their contractor always suggest that the homeowner visit an ongoing project that the contractor has going. OK, well what will that tell the consumer? Do they know what they are looking for and why? Do they understand anything about constructing a house? How important is this in the scheme of things that is important for the consumer to do in their research?

Using our case as an example, we went to a project the contractor from hell supposedly had going and the walls were open so that you could see the studs, joists, brackets and essentially the guts before everything was sealed with the drywall. There were no windows or doors installed yet, but my husband with a background in construction knew what he was looking for but me - not so much. I relied on his expertise. The only thing that could be construed as a red flag - and probably was given our experience with the contractor from hell, was that we had gone by the project three different times over the course of several weeks and no one was ever there working or otherwise.

So the lesson here for the consumer is, with all the other factors that must be researched and considered when preparing to get your project underway ,visiting the job site of someone else's projects tells you little to nothing about the contractor or even how it will translate to your particular project unless you're schooled in construction practices. Otherwise, you're clueless as to what you're looking at and so I have to consider this one suggestion for homeowners as pretty much worthless in the overall vetting of your contractor.

There are so many other essential and critical areas to discern that will truly help the homeowner to achieve a more positive home remodeling and building project and I'll touch on those in future blogs.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mandatory Arbitration Clauses / Construction Defects

Mandatory Arbitration is the worst clause a consumer can agree to as it strips them of their rights to a jury of their peers. And it's no surprise that Construction arbitration firms were either created by or with the help of major homebuilder associations, causing an immediate conflict of interest. I found an article on this subject that is a must read for any one entering into a contract to either renovate or build a home:

Home builders Stack Deck Against Buyers With Arbitration: New Report shines light on unscrupulous practices

Also, construction defects are beginning to rear it's ugly head around the nations a a result of the building frenzy in the late 90's and 2000.

Fallout from the 90’s Housing Boom: Construction defects begin to appear