Why You Probably Won’t Get The House You Think You’re Getting

Well, it’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged… lots of reasons, not the least being my tendency to rant… so, for good or for ill, here’s a new rant to share.

We have worked very hard to develop a team of 4 or 5 builders who we have confidence will take the time to understand what we’ve drawn. It has really been an arduous task for each new builder. We start them on small remodeling projects so that we can judge not only their ability to build but their ability to see what’s actually in the plans and specifications.

You might think that what’s in the plans and specifications should be blindingly clear and it really is unless you don’t look closely. Why, if you’re a builder wouldn’t you look closely? (I’m speculating here.) Because you think that you already know what’s there. You think you know what’s there because you’ve built a lot of houses and lots of people have told you what a wonderful job you’ve done. Armed with immeasurable self-confidence, you know what’s required at a glance so careful review isn’t really necessary. This same “knowledge” and “confidence” (in your sub-contractors) means that you trust your sub-contractors to understand the plans and specifications as well as you do and unfortunately, they do.

I’ve just gotten off the phone with a contractor building a home from our (very detailed) plans. He’s been working on the project for months and with every question that he asks, it is more and more apparent that he doesn’t have more than a passing familiarity with my design. We’re not providing what the AIA contract describes as “administration of the construction contract and construction observation” (don’t even think of calling it “supervision”) so we only field questions. That doesn’t give us enough input to keep the project on path, but the sad truth is, with a builder like this, if we were there once a week, it would still be almost impossible for the owner to get the home depicted in my drawings. Your initial response might be to sue the builder and stop the project. I’ve never found that to be a viable option. The owner loses valuable time and must submit to an open-ended battle without any guarantee of anything except ever mounting legal fees. Your best, maybe your only, hope is to hire the right builder before you start and, if you don’t intend to use your architect during construction, a frank analysis of the builder’s capabilities from your architect would be money well spent, although, sadly, that probably won’t help too much.

I know this sounds self-serving but my experience has taught me that unless you have an architect working very hard to design a house that truly represents what you’ve described AND that architect is skilled in getting those designs built AND you find a builder that understands the architect’s role AND you have a proper team assembled (don’t forget an interior designer selected early in the design process), you are probably either going to be very happy because you never really knew what the house was supposed to be anyway or very unhappy because you’ll be frustrated by your builder at every turn. Be careful out there.

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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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