Our Home Building Horror Story

Our Home Building Horror Story

“You haven’t moved in yet?!”

Hi; remember us? I know, it’s been a while.

You’ve probably noticed that updates have been sparse around here; now that the worst months of our living nightmare seem to be drawing to a (thankfully) positive conclusion, I think it’s time to give you an update on exactly what happened to us.

In short: we chose the wrong builder.

If you’ve followed our blog for a while, you’ll know that we launched this geeky online journey to compliment the exciting process of getting to build our dream home. We saved and planned for nearly 9 years of our marriage, and when we finally decided that it was the right time to kick things off, we expected that the hardest decisions we would have to make would be which gadgets we bought first and what colors we should paint the walls. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be an average 7-month building process turned into a worst-case scenario that has eaten up nearly two years of our lives.

I wouldn’t normally document this sort of thing here, but I’m going to post all of this in the interest of being transparent, and hopefully to help your family from going through the catastrophic mess that we’ve had to endure.

“What on Earth happened?!”

Honestly, things started out pretty normal.

We bought a beautiful piece of land in the woods a few years ago, paid that off, and then decided we were ready to design a floor plan and build our dream home. Like many of you, we asked friends and family if they knew any builders, which led to discussions with several large builders in our area. We ran into a bit of initial sticker shock (building is EXPENSIVE, you guys), so we looked through the homes of some lesser-known builders in our area. This lead us to our initial builder, which I’ll refer to as “OIB” from here on out.

OIB didn’t have many completed homes, but the ones we saw were impressive, especially given a cost-per-square-foot that came in at far less than the rate of the larger builders we talked to. After a few initial conversations with only minor reservations on our end, we signed the dotted line to get things going in October of 2014 (around the same time we started this blog).

It didn’t take long for the problems to start popping up. Even in the beginning stages, we noticed their staff and project managers changed constantly. Things seemed to move full speed ahead through the winter as they worked on our foundation, and then construction suddenly came to a dramatic stop in January. What they described as a small issue with our septic area turned into a 5 month delay where environmental put a stop to all progress on our house. Though they never admitted it to us, we later discovered that they had failed to pull the correct permits to begin work on our home, which left us with a first floor foundation exposed to the winter elements for months on end.

During this time (not knowing what we know now), we tried to remain optimistic and ride out the delay by making selections for paint colors, granite, and other parts of our home. It was during that process that I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach… something else had to be going on. When local vendors asked about our builder, we began to see subtle eye rolls and head nods at the mention of OIB’s name. When I dug deeper, a consistent story began to develop: we weren’t the only ones having trouble with these guys.

Still, despite the initial warning signs, we decided to continue on according to our contract with OIB; they were extremely friendly to us, very apologetic, and seemed willing to bend over backwards to get us into our home “by the end of the summer.” Work resumed, but not without constant issues. What we first perceived as “normal construction delays” became a weekly occurrence. It took them numerous attempts to pass a simple framing inspection over the course of two months, blowing us right past our initial contract date and a second “promised” move in date. Meanwhile, we continued to hear horror stories through the grapevine of lawsuits from their other clients, which they assured us were just litigious customers that were mad when all of their customizations cost more than expected.

We were promised an October move-in date. After they missed that (along with dozens of mistakes), we were told that we would absolutely be in our house by December, and they instructed us to sell our existing home. We were naive enough to continue to believe them, so we sold quickly, then moved in with my (very gracious) parents for “three weeks” until they “worked around the clock to wrap things up.”

After the turn of the new year, with no work taking place for weeks and little contact on their end, I knew something was seriously, irreparably wrong. We had a home inspection and discovered countless errors on their end. A trusted advisor in the building industry that had been expressing his concerns to me for months finally flatly told me, “you need to run away as far as you can. They don’t ever plan to complete your house.”

We hired an attorney expecting to cleanly cut ties and just move on, but that’s when things really began to hit the fan. I began hearing from dozens of subs who hadn’t been paid (even though we paid OIB early for every “invoice” throughout the project). We began receiving certified letters from suppliers trying to place massive liens against our property for delinquent payments (from as far back as the previous summer). Probably the most emotionally devastating development for us was our house being vandalized by an angry subcontractor in the midst of this, kicking in drywall and breaking many of our finally-installed cabinets. This spring was the first time in my life I’ve ever experienced anxiety-attacks and persistent anxiety. It was unbelievably awful. Did you know that they can repossess granite? I do now.

After cutting ties, we discovered that OIB committed more than $100,000 of fraud against us, leaving most of the subs that worked on our house high-and-dry for months while they started and continued several other building projects. Almost immediately after we cut ties with them, they filed for bankruptcy.

Thankfully, that was the beginning of the end of the nightmare, and the beginning of our journey out of this mess. State laws protected us from financial ruin in the midst of this; we paid the subs that we could and weren’t held liable for OIB’s fraud against the rest. Where it has left us, though, is living out of our suitcases with my parents for the last 8 months and struggling to finish the “dream home” we began nearly two years ago. We’re moving forward with a trustworthy new builder now, and after fixing OIB’s unbelievable mistakes, we finally have a realistic move-in date on the horizon.

So, that’s where we’ve been, and why things have been so quiet around here. Why would I even share a story like that? Well, I feel like I have the unwanted burden of handing out some advice to anyone else planning to build a custom home. Here are a few “nuggets of wisdom” that I’ve gathered in retrospect…

Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs

We originally wrote off a lot of the scuttlebutt we were hearing as “just a grudge” or “a weird coincidence,” mostly I think to make ourselves feel better and avoid the hassle of having to switch to a different builder. We should have cut OIB loose much sooner than we did, but I think we fell into the trap of assuming that “it will be different for us.” We could’ve saved ourselves a lot of heart ache.

Vet Your Builder

In hindsight, it’s insane that we didn’t do more research on OIB before we trusted them with hundreds of thousands of dollars. We liked the houses of theirs that we looked at, we liked their personalities, and we assumed that they had integrity since they are pretty involved at our church. We should’ve been alarmed that they skirted past requests for references and shouldn’t have trusted them based off of surfacy “gut” feelings. Trust, but verify.

If It’s Too Good to Be True…

One of the larger reasons we chose OIB initially was because of what they claimed they could do for tens of thousands of dollars less than the other guys. Trusting that was a naive and ridiculously costly mistake for us, as we’ve had to pay out the nose to fix their mistakes on top of trying to complete our house. It was definitely a case of “you get what you pay for.”

Make Sure You’re Financially Sound, and Plan for Emergencies

After this ridiculous mess, I’m so thankful that we’ve followed Dave Ramsey‘s advice for years and were positioned to weather this storm. We went into the building project planning to spend less than we could afford, and leaving that wiggle room has served as a protective hedge that is allowing us to finish our home (though definitely not at the price we were expecting). It’s so easy to start a project like this at the top of your budget, and that would’ve ruined us.

It’s Just Stuff

Just to be transparent, this mess has been really awful for our family. It’s hard to feel like your entire life is on hold for an undetermined amount of time. It sucks having to put your parents out and invade their space, and it sucks living out of a suitcase for months with two little kids to manage. It sucks feeling constantly discouraged and like your life is completely out of control.

Right in the middle of the darkest part of this ordeal, I got some phenomenal advice from a guy I serve with at church. “You’re alive; your family is healthy; life is good. Don’t forget at the end of the day that this is all ‘just stuff.’ A really big ‘stuff,’ but ‘stuff.'” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to that.

God has been so good to us, and blessed us with so much, but it was so easy to form my entire identity around a large material possession or the ordeal we were going through. I’ve watched friends and family battle cancer. I see freak accidents killing young children in the news, and refugee families struggling to survive through the day.

As I’ve told Lauren dozens of times when I need to recenter myself, “the biggest problem in my life right now is that my dream home isn’t being built quickly enough.” God is good, and life is good.

What’s Next for Us

So where does that leave At Home in the Future? Well, we’re just getting started… Again.

The house is beginning to come together beautifully, and I have several reviews waiting in the wings for some incredible new products like Rheem’s smart water heater, Ring’s video doorbell, extensive coverage of smart light switches from Leviton and Lutron, and a huge implementation of the MyQ system for garage doors.

Now that we’re through with that nightmare, it’s time for us to kick back into high gear and explore the ways technology can enrich your family’s life at home. I can’t wait to tell you about more projects that are just over the horizon!

Author

Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).

3 comments

  • As my wife and I prepare to get the ball rolling on building our own house, I appreciate this transparency. Everytime I get the itch to start the process, I quickly realize that saving more money is so important.

    Reply
    • Yeah, prepare for the absolute worst, and then some. Ideally, be prepared to go over by 20%. Also VET YOUR BUILDER. Can’t stress that enough. Good luck on your project!

      Reply
  • I commend you for your honest self assessment of how the project got started wrong. It is human nature for us all to believe what we want to hear. When someone says that they can deliver the same product at a substantial discount in a highly competitive market, we should all fight that urge to believe. Construction is a highly competitive business and nobody can provide the SAME product (as opposed to substituting less expensive stuff) as the rest of the field. Of course it is possible that a builder or two may provide pricing in excess of fair pricing and customers need to understand the pricing structure, but someone coming in lower (or one group of contractors coming in lower than another group) should trigger a lot of questioning as to how’s and whys.

    The comment that the bigger, more well known builders were more expensive is a common one. Few people choose to ask “why?”. Is it possible that they cost more because the tell the truth about what it really costs to deliver the product and building experience that leads to happy clients or do you jump to the conclusion that they are making “excess profits” at your expense because of their name? If a market has more than one builder in a quality category, I would submit that basic economical theory shows that pricing for the SAME products will be pushed towards very fair pricing. Any substantive discounts will come from substituting materials or labor of different levels (including gross incompetency and outright fraud).

    Thanks for sharing your story honestly and sorry that you had to go through it.

    Reply

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