Archive for the ‘News’ Category
I built and remodeled houses from 1975 to 1997 when I became a full-time professional inspector. Since then I have inspected over 11,000 houses in the DFW area, many of which were under construction. My understanding of the home building industry is both broad and deep. I have watched the quality of construction in the residential arena devolve over time to an almost unbelievable all time low.
For years a certain subgroup of our population has been attempting to limit if not prevent immigration of workers from Mexico. They finally achieved this and even a negative net immigration figure from our neighbors to the south during 2009 – 2014 according to Pew Research Center.
At the front lines of the push to curb Mexican immigrants were the Texas home builders. No real ill effects of this maneuver were obvious during the George W. Bush – induced economic meltdown. Fast forward to the fourth quarter of 2016 when the home building industry as a whole is flourishing and the DFW builders simply cannot keep up with the number of new houses being sought by buyers.
Add to this the fact that for decades Americans have been led to believe that construction-related professions are below them and that a college education is the only way to go. This has led to the near extinction of trade schools.
All of the above has resulted in a severe labor shortage in the home building (and other) trades. And this just when we need more laborers than ever. But wait, it gets worse.
In order to keep up with the tremendous demand for affordable houses while still making a profit, and while the building codes have become gradually more restrictive, home builders have resorted to using cheaper materials and construction techniques. Examples of this are the glorified cardboard sheathing seen in abundance, “advanced framing” where up to 25% of the lumber is omitted from the structure, inherently defective vinyl windows, cut-rate builder grade appliances, slap-dash cabinetry, builder grade HVAC equipment, water heaters, plumbing and electrical fixtures, etc. ad infinitum.
When one cuts corners by using fewer structural materials, cheaper sheathing and finish materials, bottom of the line budget plumbing and electrical fixtures, et al., achieving satisfactory results takes an enormous amount of skill on the part of the tradesmen building the houses. Said another way, it takes more talent to effectively apply lipstick to a pig than to finish out a well constructed home.
Further, with the severe shortage of any kind of labor, the tail is now wagging the dog. Builders cannot find even semi- or unskilled warm bodies, not even at the labor pool in the Fiesta parking lot. They dare not fire incompetent workers for fear that they cannot be replaced. Workers who have been looked down upon, taken advantage of and nearly run out of the country on a rail for decades are now in command of the building industry. Good for them. Not so good for you though if you are looking to buy a new home.
The heightened demand for new homes and the decline in the availability of skilled workmen have also resulted in a lack of competent supervision on the jobsites. Site superintendents, who refer to themselves both euphemistically and optimistically as “builders”, are usually undereducated, inexperienced corporate employees who perform no other task than that of production expediters. Most have never built a house, are unfamiliar with the building codes, and rely solely upon the knowledge possessed (or likely not) by their subcontractors and the municipal inspectors.
In no way do I wish to be the apologist for the builders, but the homebuyers are also to blame for the decline in craftsmanship in new homes. Buyers demand more and more fashionable amenities for less and less money. This is not possible to achieve while maintaining even the lowest degree of quality. Granite countertops (which are so passé that I’ve seen them in $50K condos), wood floors (in all the wrong places), pot fillers that leak on the wood floors, frameless shower stalls that leak profusely, 20 foot plus ceilings where changing light bulbs and replacing smoke alarm batteries requires a $700 ladder, painted brick veneer, . . . the list of inane choices is long.
So, who is looking out for your best interests? According to the International Code Council – the authors of the International Residential Code used in Texas, subtitled The Worst Way to Legally Build a House, that job falls to you and, if you are wise, your independent third-party inspector. This is true whether you are buying a starter home for $200K or a mansion priced in the millions. All of the houses are built by the same contractors, being supervised by the same “builders”, using the same materials, and are being overseen by the same municipal inspectors.
Even if you wake up and realize your responsibility to perform due diligence during the construction of your new home, there will be hurdles to jump. The builders will fight you tooth and nail to avoid having competent third-party oversight. They will attempt to enthrall you with illogic such as:
(1) We have our own independent inspectors.
(2) The city of Podunk will inspect the house. They have really tough inspectors.
(3) Your inspector will have to conform with our schedule so as not to impede the production line schedule of your “custom” home, though we will not give him proper advance notice, will not provide him a set of plans to refer to, and
(4) Your inspector will need to carry liability insurance in an amount much greater than our own contractors.
(5) Your inspector is welcome, but has only one hour to perform the inspection.
(6) We will not repair anything your inspector finds to be out of compliance with the building code if the city already approved it.
That list could go on for pages, but you get the idea. So then, what is a new home buyer to do? At a minimum:
(1) Hire a competent attorney before you sign a contract with any builder. Not your family attorney who does wills and divorces, but one experienced in dealing with builders.
(2) Hire a competent inspector prior to the onset of construction. Not just any inspector, but one with a minimum of 10 years experience as a licensed or registered builder, and 2000 inspections of new construction at all phases while certified by the International Code Council as a Residential Combination Inspector. Verify their credentials here.
(3) Heed the advice of these two professionals.
(4) Take a proactive hands-on approach to dealing with your builder.
(5) Get all communications with your builder in writing.
Drones Role In Construction
by Jessica Kane
Drones have many uses in the construction industry and architecture. Each month a growing number of people in these fields use them to save time and money and bring convenience to their jobs.
Savings and Access
Using small unmanned aerial vehicles weighing under 55 pounds, people involved in the design and construction of homes and buildings can show clients in-progress pictures without having to hire a pilot with helicopter and an aerial photographer. This is a real cost-saver.
Drones also permit construction managers to spot conditions that are hazardous to workers. UAVs enable engineers and other professionals to inspect bridges, highway overpasses and underpasses and other areas that are difficult or dangerous to access.
Uses for Architects
Videos taken from above can be converted to three-dimensional pictures to be fed into a computer using software that makes comparisons with the architect’s plans. This setup can also automatically alert construction managers about what specifically may cause delays so they can try to keep the project on track. On some large projects, drones fly over the site every day work is in progress.
The Seattle architecture and design firm SRG Partnership used a drone to photograph many views of the atrium with skylights and clerestory windows at the Center for Student Success in Olympia, Washington it designed. The drone allowed the designers to see complete views of the lighted atrium from above even after construction was complete. Drones are kicking drawings and models to the curb as marketing tools because accurate re-creation of topography using technology and 3D scans serve the purpose.
UAVs permit architects to see the actual surroundings around the projects they are designing so they can see them in context. Drones also eliminate the need for them to make frequent trips to the site. Drones equipped with surveying software do surveying in real time. They save many hours over traditional surveying methods. Depending on the size of the project, drones can help a developer obtain survey results within hours rather than days.
Government Regulations and Insurance
Unmanned commercial drones have to be registered with the FAA before they can fly. Businesses that use them should ensure that they have insurance coverage for drone flights that may be involved in accidents and for the potential invasion of privacy issues that drones present. Despite these issues, drones are here to stay. In many areas of construction and design, their advantages outmatch traditional methods.
A Survey of Builders
According to statistics released by the National Association of Home Builders, 22 percent of builders of single-family homes have already used drones. A whopping 66 percent of the respondents knew that drones had a placed in the construction business. Larger builders—those with 99 or more starts—were more likely to use drones than builders with under 6 starts or builders with 6 to 24 starts.
The possibilities offered by drones are endless A sea change in construction and related industries and professions awaits. Most businesses will be wise to plan for these changes.
Yunhong Liu is the founder of We Talk UAV, a new drone community and news site launching later this year.
This article from the Texas Realtor magazine explains apparent discrepancies in property measurements.
This Doesn’t Add Up Article
As a home builder and inspector for 40 years I cringe whenever I hear a person say that he or she is building a new house. While I can certainly appreciate the fact that your money may be financing the project, you are not actually building anything but a large future mortgage payment project. (The only exception here is the daredevil who intends to act as his own general contractor which I will address in a future article.) Let’s face it, your college degree ill prepared you to mix and pour concrete, saw lumber, and hammer nails. Regardless how often you shake your butt at the fitness center you would surely perish after a mere 2 hours of carrying 12-foot panels of sheetrock upstairs or bundles of laminated shingles up a ladder.
Professional tradesmen who have been plying their trades for years or decades make the work look easy. And, let’s not forget HGTV where everything is built by professional actors in compressed TV time over just the few minutes between commercials while never breaking a sweat.
So we can agree that you are not really building your new house. That does not mean that you should just kick back and let the process roll unguided by you. In fact, that is the last thing you should do. Every person having a new home constructed needs to take an active role in overseeing the construction from the before the model and sales office all the way to the moving van.
If you are a professional such as a doctor, engineer, attorney, etc., you understand the need to rely upon experts in fields outside of your realm of expertise. Specialists can make one’s life much easier by filling in the gaps in your knowledge about processes that are foreign to you – like building a house. Your builder is already doing this by hiring subcontractors in every field to construct your house because he is not sufficiently knowledgeable or competent to perform all or even any of these tasks himself.
You should consider employing the assistance of at least three specialists during the construction of your new home; an attorney, a real estate broker, and a professional 3rd-party building code inspector. An attorney can help you to understand to what extent your rights are being violated by your builder’s contract and what you can do to mitigate some of this. A broker can guide you through the maze of locations, choices, upgrades, school districts, etc., so that you do not end up in Podunk with a house full of unaffordable upgrades and a 2-hour commute to endure just to pay for them. Finally, an ICC-certified residential inspector can insure that you understand the building process as much as any layperson can, see to it that your home is constructed in strict accordance with the building codes, and assist you in dealing with both your builder and the municipal inspectors.
It is important here to note that you must not hire just any lawyer, Realtor or inspector. Your lawyer should be well versed in residential construction contracts and defects litigation. Your broker should be a seasoned professional who is not tied at the hip to any builders and is experienced in dealing with new home sales. Your inspector must be, at a minimum, certified by the International Code Council as a Combination Residential Inspector (R-5).
Many builders will not even accept an inspection report from an inspector who is not R-5 certified; and with good reason. This certification proves your inspector’s knowledge of the codes to which your builder must conform. Lacking this, you inspector can be compared to an attorney who has not attended law school or an unlicensed broker who has never sold a house.
Take control. Build your new house with the confidence you will gain by hiring the right support team.
I am building a list of movies about houses or house building. If you have any suggestions, please send them to me.
Life as a House
The Money Pit
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home
Are We Done Yet?
The Last House on the Left
The Amityville Horror
Winchester Mystery House
Monticello: Home of Thomas Jefferson
Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater
The Whitehouse Documentary (History Channel)
The Queen of Versailles
America’s Castles: Biltmore Estates
America’s Castles: Newport Mansions
America’s Castles: The Astors
America’s Castles: The Vanderbilts Abroad
America’s Castles: Andrew Carnegie
Here is a recent article from the Journal of Light Construction based upon a 2013 joint study by the International Code Council and the National Association of Homebuilders titled, Common Code Violations Survey.
Top Ten Code Violations
This is a national survey and reflects a lot of what I see on a day to day basis. I would like to add a few issues that were not mentioned, perhaps due to their being a localized problem in the North Central Texas area.
- Lot Grading and Drainage. This is found on nearly every house I inspect. In the expansive soils we have in this area inadequate drainage leads to differential foundation movement and structural damage.
- Window Installation. On 9 out of every 10 houses I inspect the windows are not installed in accordance with the code, manufacturers’ installation instructions or other applicable industry standards.
- Electrical Installations. About 60% of the homes I see have multiple electrical installation code violations.
- Framing. Flagrant wall and roof framing code violations are common.
- Foundations. Foundation formwork and reinforcement violations are on every house.
Local consumer Watchdog Dave Lieber holds forth on garage door repair scam.
Watchdog: Carrollton-based garage door company’s ex-manager fesses up