Today, a client visited my office who had just finished building an expensive new home. More exactly, she and her husband had hired a contractor to build a home according to their plans. She reported they had trouble with the contractor from the beginning, and after closing they made a long punch list of the things that were still wrong with the house.

The Contractor’s response to the punch list was, “Here is a list of the subcontractors, call and see whether you can get them out there.”

I don’t know how this announcement would affect you, but anyone who has had built a house understands that the contractor is the link between the owner and whoever works for the contractor (normally subcontractors, or “subs”). During construction, a builder has no desire to have an owner connect directly with his subs. No builder wants an owner “correcting” the subs, or in any other way acting in ways that might alter the contract between the builder and his subs.

Yet this builder, when the contract was done, washed his hands of the whole matter and told the owner to go directly to the subs.

Today’s houses are built at a higher standard than those built even ten years ago. They are built pursuant to codes recently passed and lessons learned from hurricanes, often in South Florida. If you pay a fair price, the house built today will be worth the money you pay for it. Today’s house should survive longer than you, even through most hurricanes, partially because today’s builders and subcontractors are far better educated in the science of building than their fathers were required to be.

Still, if you are contracting to build, there are lessons you should know:

  1. Visit your lawyer before you sign a contract. A lawyer with experience in building can save you costly steps.
  2. Don’t depend on someone else’s inspector. The bank’s inspector will be reviewing construction with a very special objective of protecting the bank. Long term value is not his game. County and city inspectors are required to be qualified, but are also busy and only looking for code violations. They are not looking to assure that your contract was performed by the builder.
  3. Do not ever represent yourself in a construction lien matter. Construction liens are not intuitive. In some cases, they are not fair and, in all cases, they are expensive. Find an experienced lawyer if you are forced to play in that game.
  4. Involve your lawyer before you allow a draw to be paid.
  5. Do not enter into the trap of directing and mandating things to a subcontractor. You will be doing exactly what you pay your contractor to do. A good contractor will have relationships with his subs that go far deeper than yours. If a contractor tells his subs to make you happy, your chances that will happen are greatly increased. Even if he (or she) doesn’t, you have no contractual relationship with a sub and he has every right to ignore your instruction.
  6. Read the warranty sections of your contract. During the allotted time, put your contractor on notice of punch list and warranty items.
  7. Keep a copy of all written communications, invoices, and change orders. Take pictures of your home’s construction throughout the process, if for no other reason than to make a record of where the wires run through the walls, how the pipes get to every faucet and drain, and how your home is built, insulated, and braced. If you ever remodel your home or are forced to file claims, or even litigate anything about the construction of your home, dated pictures of interior detail that cannot be seen after the house is finished will be indispensable.
  8. And finally, choose your builder as you would choose any other important contract agent. Get references and talk to people for whom he or she has built other houses. You will be treated the same way they were treated.

This article was published in the Coastal Homes publication of the Northwest Florida Daily News on May 4, 2019: