Ponder the pressures: Customers wanting their home completed yesterday; builders calling on snappy, quality performance from their subtrades; subtrade bosses demanding high production from their employees; and salespeople assuring customers they’ll get what they want, when they want it and for the right price (and the weather laughs in scorn).
Tally the toll: Like all systems, home building is sensitive to weak links, which can be any one of the aforementioned entities. There is little doubt the ease and integrity of the build defines the quality of life for the period of time in which a customer’s future home is under construction – and the first few years thereafter.
My first taste of the wild ride of a building boom was in Toronto in 1987. Tens of thousands of homes went up that year and there was a great disparity between the honourable builders/tradespeople and those who knew the shady tricks of the trade.
It was common knowledge that some guys hanging soffits would short-change on the backings, giving them just enough reinforcement to last through the first few years until the warranty had run its course. Sooner or later, a stiff wind would pull them loose and they’d start flapping like so many hungry seagulls.
|Kenton Friesen photo, Business Edge|
|How the work gets done depends a great deal, but not entirely, on who's wearing the workboots at a housing construction site.|
Somehow the end result was justified by the time it saved the installers.
Then there was Paavo Pulkki, the old Finnish installer who took his time and got the job done right. Not that he was excruciatingly slow – he just didn’t chintz on the installation procedures.
Move west a few provinces and up to 2003, and the same challenges exist. There are those who are doing the job right, but scattered among them are the builders who will buckle under the timeline demands of the customer (demands that may have been planted and germinated by an over-aggressive sales staff).
It’s a fact that there are conscientious tradesmen who risk riling their bosses by refusing to take the shortcuts demanded to get the job done faster and/or cheaper. Micheal Webb, president of MacLachlan & Mitchell Homes, estimates about 15 per cent of work done under normal growth conditions falls under the careless banner, and that has risen to about 25 per cent in the current boom years.
As a third-generation owner, he should know. His company has built more houses in the Edmonton area than any other in its more than 60-plus years of business.
In a world where customers expect it all, some old-fashioned rules still apply. If you’re looking for a builder to deliver competitive pricing, high quality and top-notch customer service, you’re going to have to pick the two that mean the most, because it’s not fair to expect all three, says Webb.
There has got to be some due diligence on the part of the homeowner to scope out the right company, and then some realism instilled to avoid inevitable disappointment.
Webb emphasizes that unsupervised visits to the construction site are not the recommended way to keep on top of the building process because of the potential safety hazards and insurance risks. Stories abound of customers and their families strolling through their home while tradesmen working overhead pray their apprentice won’t drop a sheet of plywood on a child’s head.
Technically, the home is not owned by the customer until the final papers are signed and the keys are handed over, though most builders are quite open to supervised visits to the site at appropriate times.
The Alberta Building Code stands guard against trash being built in the name of housing, providing a standard that must be met by law. Fortuitously, the code is an evolving organism, continually prodding the industry toward safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly building systems.
But just because a home gets a stamp of approval from the government inspector does not mean it is a meticulously constructed building. A foundation poured a few inches off square may meet all the requirements of the building code with regards to thickness and steel content, but it doesn’t bode well for the trueness of the home to be built on it.
To keep an experienced eye on the construction process without the safety challenges of self-inspection, some new-home buyers are turning to contracted inspectors.
The last 10 years have seen a substantial rise in the percentage of used-home buyers utilizing the services of home inspectors to validate their choice and point out any potential problems or pending repairs. There was a time when realtors feared home inspectors scared off potential purchasers, but the mood is changing and inspectors are increasingly seen as providing critical information to the buyer to help make a more educated decision.
New-home inspection services have not parallelled that growth and acceptance, but Tim Bokenfohr of From The Ground Up Inc. says many quality builders are welcoming the eye over their shoulder. In its best application, it can mean catching minor errors before they become major, saving the builder time and money and the homeowner grief.
In next week’s column we’ll continue the discussion by taking a closer look at new-home inspection options and talking to a number of other contractors and key players in the industry.