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The Dark Side of Building Your Own Home

Building a house can be an extremely emotional process; one where emotions on the full scale can be experienced. There's the joy in knowing the house you're building is really your own. It's a place where you get to express your creativity and where things will be done according to how you live your life. The kitchen and the bathrooms will fit your own lifestyle.

Then comes the anger and frustration when unexpected events take place. Those miscalculated events usually evolve around money or time. And even if it is a time issue, that ultimately translates back to money, doesn't it?

In my case, my General Contractor resisted accountability. He resisted with such force that when anything was challenged he became extremely defensive and stated that he was going to just quit. This came up each time I requested receipts and cancelled checks for work he claimed to have done on the house and for which he wanted reimbursement. These items were something we had agreed on my having at the very beginning, even in the contract. He insisted on meeting weekly to discuss them but refused to do so once the project started.

If you could envision an 5-year-old child standing with his hands over his ears screaming "I can't hear you and you're not the boss of me" that's what I experienced with him. There were several occasions throughout the project where his response to being challenged to anything was to just stop the project. Those threats were always in response to proof regarding expense.

Two houses were being built simultaneously. One of them was mine, the other was a Spec House. A spec house is a "speculative venture for the builder, meaning it was built with the intention of selling it for a profit, as-is or with minimal changes". Chicago Tribune. My GC planned on selling that house to a buyer once it had been finished. He did not have a buyer when we started but did sell it once it was completed. That was his house to do with as he pleased. Unfortunately, he mixed the accounting between the two houses and possibly with other projects he had going on as well.

The problem with my house was he didn’t see it as my house; he saw it as his house to sell to me. So, we were having major problems as he wanted what he thought I should have in my house and not what I actually wanted. These were not issues where I was adding costs to the construction of the house; actually, I believe it to be the reverse. He was making changes to my house and not discussing them with me. I found out after the fact. This forced me to scramble to find places in the budget where I could compromise in order to bring down the cost of the build. Had I not hired an attorney and forced him to provide me with his accounting, he would have bankrupted me.

I observed that he tweaked a lot. He added a lot of steps that may or may not have been necessary. For so long, he had been the only source of advice and guidance on my home building process. He also would not remember anything we discussed. That was probably the absolute most frustrating aspect about working with this G.C. And I don't know if this was an act or if it was real.

As stated in the title, this can become the dark side of building. Not every GC is perfect and not all are bad. At the start, I believed that my GC was honest and ethical but as I began to experience that other side of him I began to wonder. I had never seen him as a bad person who was trying to cheat me or take advantage of my trust but again, in hindsight, I have to wonder. I can tell you this for sure, he destroyed every ounce of joy that came from building my house.

This is why I advise you to vet your General Contractor. You want to meet his CLIENTS, not people who have worked with him on projects. Many of the people my G.C. hired and introduced me to were people within a very tight circle. They were all loyal to one another as they had history going back many years. As I discovered, those were not good resources. I never met or spoke to his clients. That was where I failed. Don’t make that mistake, too.

When you trust someone to build a house for you, you are trusting them with a tremendous amount of money. Your builder can easily fall into the habit of treating you like a blank check against which they can charge anything they think they can justify. Their actions, or inaction, can have a huge financial impact on you. Do your research!

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