I have had similar experiences in the past, as have many others, which led me to start my own company whose goal it is to provide a great customer experience in working with home improvement professionals. As you already know, the world of working with contractors can be pretty sketchy. The key is to find contractors who are not only excellent at their trade, but equally as good a business person and communicator. The actual physical work is only part of the puzzle, scheduling, project management, relationships with their subs, knowledge of city zoning and permits, etc., are just a few of the pieces that need to come together to make a project work. The one thing that is really the differentiator between a great and a poor experience is the flow of communication between the contractor(s) and the homeowner. The ability to listen to what the homeowners needs are and translate that into a style of work is important as well as keeping them appraised of any problems, delays, changes in a timely manner. It is rare that a project runs 100% smooth without a single hiccup, but it is how those are dealt with and communicated that make the difference. There are great contractors out there, as I have found, but there is also a huge sea of mediocrity that seems to plague this industry like no others. Showing up on time returning phone calls promptly and keeping an open line of communication with the homeowner go a long way in making the experience an overwhelmingly positive one. You really have to know and have spoken to many references of contractors and make sure they have a track record of providing the high level of customer service you’re expecting. I am able to match the homeowner’s project, personality type and service level expectations with the contractor that best matches their criteria which has been a winning formula. Good luck to you and I hope you avoid that nightmare…
I am sorry to hear you had a bad experience in building your home. I hope your contractor will be willing to listen and work with you in resolving the concerns.
Ideas for avoiding nightmare experiences:
1) Research the builder/contractors and their sub-contractors! This involves checking with the state to see if any complaints have been filed against the builder`s license or individual contractor. Check with local municipalities to see if any of the local residents have addressed concerns about the builder, the quality of product used, and the builder`s workmanship. Be sure to speak with the local community`s building inspector and the Planning Department to find out if they have ever had to issue a stop work order and/or at any time prohibited the builder from working in the community. They may be willing to share public information even when they keep their personal opinions to themselves. (It is not uncommon for fire marshalls, building inspectors and planning staff to know which builders provide the bare minimum in building standards verses those who deliver high quality building materials. Although they may not volunteer what they know about the builder some questions such as what information is on the public records (site plan reviews, blue prints, recorded meeting minutes, etc.) may disclose tell tale information such as if the builder is using minimum standard products for their builds or premium grade building products. Also ask for references from prior clients and visit them to see first hand if the exterior grading is level; if there are any cracks in the foundation or porches; is the tile work waving or cracking from being applied to an unlevel surface; are the grout lines spaced and/or visually straight within any tile work; are there any leaks or standing water in the basement or around windows; take a level to verify that cabinets were hung appropriately; and watch for small details such as if there are any visable gaps appearing in/around baseboards and/or crown moldings. In other words make a list of things to look for then check their references for client satisfaction and visually inspect work they have done. (Keep in mind depending on the soil composition it can take ten years before a house will settle. Therefore if the contractor has been in business for over ten years it might be worthwhile to visit homes they recently built, a home which was built over eighteen months ago, and one they built ten years ago.)
2) Ask if your building project will have a construction project manager and/or if the trade/contractor would be willing to work with the one you hire. Be specific with the construction project manager and contractor on the details of the site, the quality you expect in both workmanship and materials used, the time frame you wish for the work to be completed and any other expectations. (Just as with any job there are many talented people but not everyone is a good fit for the task at hand so ask lots of questions.)
3) Hire a local attorney who specializes in real estate law for the review and/or crafting of all contracts and addendums. Above all else make sure all agreements and expectations are expressed in writing before any work is conducted or money exchanged. Your attorney should be able to advise on what options best meet your needs for negotiating safe guards like placing funds in escrow with specific stipulations on how, when and under what conditions partial payments will be released.
5) Don`t assume--verify for yourself and ask questions at various stages of your project.
6) Easier said then done: try to set aside the excitement and emotional ties related to the home.