Set Realistic Expectations on your new home construction goals
All buyers want their new home to be built with love and perfect in every way. But this is not realistic.
Although a new house is everything to the buyers, it is just a day job for most of the people who build it. It won’t be built with love; it will be built to the normal standards of the industry. A certain amount of imperfection is inevitable and acceptable.
When I am inspecting pre-owned homes, small cracks in walls, uneven floors, and doors that don’t fit perfectly are all part of what I call character. However when looking at a brand new home I have a higher standard that I inspect to. Cracks, uneven floors and doors that don’t fit correctly are signs of poor workmanship and need correction.
Unfortunately, accepting some degree of imperfection does not come easily to most buyers, especially when they’ve put their life savings into their new house. The cosmetic problems are the easiest to spot, and in our experience generally rattle buyers the most.
This is where buyers have to pick their battles. The distinction is important because most cosmetic concerns are not code related, and the builder is contractually not obliged to fix them. Wasting your energy and the builder’s good will over trivial matters lessens the chances that he will address things that really matter. In my experience most builders really want to build a great home but schedules and costs frequently force a compromise. For example, getting lathered up about scratches on a window that are barely visible to the naked eye and only under optimal lighting conditions, or about subtle differences in the hardness of carpet padding that can only be felt in bare feet, or about a minuscule chip in the concrete driveway will not produce the desired result — a new window, new padding or a new driveway.
When a cosmetic defect is obvious, however, the builder should agree to correct it, and he will in our experience. Carpet seams that are visible from the front door, sagging countertops, a shower floor with a low spot so that water will pool at one end every time it is used or the wrong carpet color are unacceptable by most measures. Even in the face of obvious error, though, it is still important to stay calm and go easy on the visible flaws that you may uncover on the final walk-through before taking possession of your new house.
Why? Because you may also find less obvious flaws that will matter more in the long run. For example, you want to be able to park both cars in your two-car garage. The only way to be sure that they will fit — and that you can get in and out of both easily — is to park the cars in the garage during the final walk-through. When you park them, other garage problems may also become obvious, such as that you can only get into the garage by driving onto the neighbor’s lawn or that the steep angle of the driveway will cause you to scrape the bottom of your car every time you go in or out.
We occasionally discover a house built with no attic insulation as we did recently in Anacortes. This will cause owners to have very high energy bills during the heating season because only a half-inch sheet of drywall will separate the room that the heating system is struggling to warm to 68 degrees from the 30-degree attic above. Few buyers are willing to climb up and examine the roof or explore crawl spaces, but these must also be checked. We inspected a new home and the roofer forgot to add the flashing boots to plumbing vents. Without it, when the next rainy season came, there would be water damage inside the house. While you might spot the garage and roof flaws, you probably don’t have the expertise to recognize problems with the heating and cooling system; for that an experienced home inspector’s assessment can be invaluable.
Very large houses may have heating and cooling equipment in both the attic and the basement, and this can occasionally be a problem as well. In one house, the smaller units were supposed to go in the attic and service the second floor while the large ones were to go in the basement and service the basement and the first floor. Unfortunately, the installers reversed the equipment and put the smaller unit in the basement and the monster in the attic. We have also seen where the AC compressor was installed but never charged with Freon. The customer wouldn’t have realized this for months until he really needed the AC.
At the end of the final walk-through, every buyer will have a list of items to be addressed. The builder will not agree to fix everything, but an experienced home inspector can help the buyer to prioritize them. He will also know how to press to get mistakes corrected and when to bring out the heavy artillery to get action. It’s also important to remember that you as the buyer will have a hand in determining how well your house is built. If you constantly complain to the builder about every perceived flaw as your house goes up, your relationship will quickly turn adversarial. But if you put yourself in his shoes and think how you would want to be informed of a mistake, you’ll realize that shrieking, “You idiot! You ruined my basement!” is not productive.
When you visit the site, bring coffee and doughnuts and make it personal. I have seen two houses side by side with same problems. The screamer didn’t get much satisfaction, but the nice buyer who calmly described his issues, got them fixed. As professional home inspectors, we can help identify the real issues, document them and help present them to the builder in a non-confrontational manner. In many cases, after reviewing the inspection report and our pictures, the builders will fix them.