Can You Afford To Save That Much Money?

Sad story, sad but true… a builder I know is working on a major remodel on a 10 year old house. I know the house and the owners interviewed me for the job but ended up choosing an architect who offered a low fee and selected a builder with a reputation for “reasonable” prices. Well the builder is gone and he didn’t have insurance. Neither did most of his subcontractors. The cost of the needed repairs exceeded the original amount they spent on the house, around $800,000. EVERYTHING was a mess: framing, roofing, flashing, plumbing, windows, stucco.

They managed to cobble together a settlement of only $200,000 and their attorney’s fees had to come out of that. In the end, they were left with only enough money to keep water from pouring into the house during a hard rain. They’ve been fighting the battle for over 5 years and are heart-sick. They live in a house that is falling apart around them. They can’t afford to fix it and they owe too much to sell it.

Feel sorry for them? I don’t. They were warned but they couldn’t resist a low price. They thought they knew enough to make intelligent choices but they didn’t know enough to know what they didn’t know. AND, they trusted the wrong people. It is a mistake to think that “just because everybody does it” means, when applied to residential construction, that you’ll have a house of reasonable quality that can be safely left out in the rain.

With some notable exceptions, almost all “advances” in building technology in the last 75 years have been to make houses cheaper and easier/faster to build. The major purchasers of building materials are large “tract home” builders, that’s who funds building product research. These mega-builders have other issues worthy of another post, but they know how to test, evaluate, modify techniques and stand behind products that have a very small margin for error in installation. Small builders don’t generally have the processes in place to handle these materials but low price forces them to use them. Residential architects are promised by product representatives that these products are fool-proof and have the full backing of whatever seemingly large/deep pocketed companies they represent.

(These large companies have the benefit of settling material lawsuits as class-actions resulting in pennies on the dollar to the homeowner if they jump in early enough and absolutely nothing if they don’t.)

When these products fail or poor installation causes problems after a few years or your builder and architect combined old methods and new products in a way that causes unintended consequences, you may recoup some part of the cost through litigation. Will it be worth your initial savings?

Our competition will tell you that our houses are “expensive”. I think that if the couple in the story above could have a do-over, we could have saved them a lot.


About More Than Architects

I’m Rick Clanton. Michael Ruegamer and I are architects and the principals of Group 3 Design on Hilton Head Island, SC. We provide architecture and interior design services for homes in the US and the Caribbean Islands.
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