What You Need to Know About Building a New Home in Texas
In Texas if you are an avid shopper (buy things cheap), have a penchant for attracting semi-skilled laborers (regularly cruise the day-labor centers), and choose to hold yourself out to the public as a home builder, you’re good to go. That seems odd in a state where one must be licensed, bonded and squeaky-clean to teach an aerobics class, cut hair, or decorate interiors. Those folks in Austin sure do have a (very sick) sense of humor!
Your builder’s sales agents are also not required to be licensed. Unlike real estate agents who are licensed and regulated by the Texas Real Estate Commission, builders’ sales representatives have no education or experience requirements and must adhere to no code of ethics. In short, much like the used car salespersons they resemble, they can tell you anything they wish, true or not, without being held accountable. The most important thing to understand here is that builders’ agents not only do not represent you, they cannot. They only represent the interests of the builders, their employers.
Also understand that Bob Villa and Norm Abrams will not be building your house. Some of us may remember Bob and Norm from their TV show where crews of meticulous master craftsmen spent hours mulling over the proper procedure for installing a window or shingling a roof. This sort of painstaking attention to detail does not exist in the real world for the most part. The current Canadian TV DYI heartthrob Mike Holmes will also not be overseeing your new home’s construction. Mike would not approve of what passes for construction in Texas.
Once upon a time talented and driven individuals rose up through the ranks of the building trades through skill and persistence to become builders. This is no longer the case. Most residential superintendents today are merely construction managers with a diploma from a six-week crash course in residential construction. They are referred to in the profession as “checkbook builders”. Even the very few who come from a true construction background are limited as to the quality of work they can perform by their employers’ myopic bottom line orientation, the overbearing workloads imposed on them, and the fickle and often mind-numbing decisions made on the part of often autocratic municipal inspectors. Those who can prevail under these harsh circumstances do not last long. They are quickly replaced by others who spend less time on quality construction and more on increasing the number of homes built.
A prevalent urban legend (perpetuated by the builders themselves) would have you believe that the purpose of the municipal building inspector is to protect the consumer from poor construction practices. Nothing could be further from the truth. Municipal inspectors are charged only with enforcing the building code. Even this they often do in an unpredictable and slipshod manner we like to refer to as “selective code enforcement”. The building code is a set of standards having the effect of law adopted by the community to insure that minimum safety standards are met in the construction of new buildings in order to protect life, limb and property. These guys are not there to insure quality of construction or adherence to best building practices. They are only there to insure that your home does not blow up, burst into flames or fall over on someone, and, oh yes (I almost forgot), they are there to collect taxes in the form of permit fees. Add to that the fact that many city building inspectors are not required to have engineering or construction experience. And then one must consider that, as with most public servants, city inspectors are overworked and underpaid. And did I mention that at least a few of them are incompetent and/or unethical? You simply cannot rely solely on the municipal inspector to protect your interests.
Smaller incorporated communities often do not even have full-time municipal inspectors. These duties fall to the already overworked firemen or police officers who, though perhaps well meaning, just simply are not up to the job for lack of education and experience. If you live outside the limits of an incorporated community there is rarely oversight of any kind in the construction of buildings. Though the State-mandated requirements are in place for your builder to construct according to the mandates of the International Residential Code and the National Electrical Code, who will insure that this is done? Note here that beginning in September of 2008 Texas has mandated 3rd-party inspections during the construction of new homes in certain rural or unincorporated areas of the state. And, even then, the new law will allow TREC inspectors who are not required to be code-certified to conduct these inspections.
We find on average 120 flagrant building code violations on each new home we inspect! THESE ARE FUNDAMENTAL DEFECTS. And this does not include the even more common lack of adherence to the materials manufacturers’ installation instructions.
The heart of the problem lies in the speed with which homes are constructed due to stiff competition among builders and the low skill rate among subcontractors who will work for the absolute lowest prices. Many builders, especially those “checkbook” builders using almost exclusively subcontractors and suppliers to do the actual building while they prepare more work or find land, are aware that speed is necessary, but risky. A common check and balance is to undergo more in-house and municipal inspections. But according to Frank Alexander, the director of quality programs at the National Association of Home Builders Research Center (NAHB-RC) in Upper Marlboro, Md., in-house and municipal inspections alone aren’t enough. “Trying to inspect quality into your work won’t work,” he says, even if a contractor schedules a conscientious series of them layered with supers, subs, and building officials. “All you’re doing is throwing a bucket of water on a wildfire.” That “wildfire,” as Alexander puts it, is one of the industry’s – and individual builders’ and remodelers’–biggest challenges.
The anecdotal evidence of the “problem” with faster building are issues ranging from low-end workmanship in high-end houses to whole subdivisions filled with failing buildings. Consumer Reports said in its January 2004 issue that approximately 15 percent–or about 150,000–new homes are built each year with “serious problems” and said that the rapid pace of today’s building industry is to blame. These consequences of haste are hitting home builders from all directions: The resulting building failures have triggered construction defects lawsuits costing the industry untold millions of dollars and a more well-informed buying public (due primarily to the Internet) that is increasingly dissatisfied on many fronts.
Even those few items that are actually covered by your warranty will likely be repaired by the same folks who installed them wrong in the first place. Someone who cannot build something satisfactorily from scratch is not the one to call to repair something that has already been poorly constructed. Remodeling is much more difficult than new construction.
Who's the Best Builder?
You could also try referrals from friends who have recently bought new houses. The problems with this tack are myriad. Your friends may not be as discerning as you (else they would have read this site as you are now doing), or they may have been in the house long enough for the passing of time to have eroded the acrimony which they developed for their builder. They may just be reality TV aficionados who can’t tell the difference. Whatever, it can’t hurt to ask them, maybe.
To paraphrase the late George Carlin, “Most builders don’t know what they’re doing, and a lot of them are really good at it.”
The mere flipping of a coin is probably your best bet. All kidding aside, we find little or no difference between production builders. Bear in mind that they all use essentially the same subcontractors, and are all in heated competition with one another and simply cannot afford to do more than their competitors when constructing your new home.
Three Types of Builders
Top Shelf vs. Bottom Line Builders
The Bottom Line Boys build starter homes for first-time home buyers and/or retirees that offer a minimal number of floor plans to choose from. They also offer and will allow no or minimal upgrades. The key term here is minimal and it applies to everything they offer and do. Since they build primarily, if not exclusively, starter and retiree homes, they could not care less if you are a satisfied customer. On your next move, you’ll likely be moving up to a home built by the Top Shelf Guys or to assisted living.
The Top Shelf Guys both lead and allow you to believe you are building a custom home by offering you a slightly larger selection of canned floor plans and an almost endless variety of very pricey upgrades that are sure to make your mortgage lender start looking at new luxury cars and exotic travel brochures. Their houses are built ever so slightly better than the ones constructed by the Bottom Line Boys (maybe).
The reason it’s important to understand the term “custom builder” is so that you realize that the vast majority of builders are simply incapable of producing the sort of quality buildings that are being built by the true custom builders. More often than not those pricey upgrades that you order will be installed by the same semi-skilled laborers that slap together the remainder of your new home. The results can be, and usually are, less than splendid. It is also helpful to realize that all of the “custom” upgrades available from your builder can be had for much less money and can be installed by much more highly skilled workers that you hire yourself after you move into the house. The customary builder’s upgrade price mark-up is 300%! And, add to that, these usurious upgrade fees will then accrue more costs as an addition to your mortgage. You’ll be paying for them for decades.
“Every time you’re exposed to advertising in America you’re reminded that this country’s most profitable business is still the manufacture, packaging, distribution, and marketing of bullshit. High-quality, grade-A, prime-cut, pure American bullshit.” – George Carlin
Builder Evasive Tactics
(1) “We don’t allow third-party inspections of our homes”. You have a legal right under the Texas Commercial Commerce Code to have the property inspected by your agent prior to purchasing it. Further, the International Code Council’s, Legal Aspects of Code Administration, admonishes home buyers that, ” . . .it is up to the purchaser to determine the soundness of the building prior to the finalization of the purchase or to hire a professional inspector”. These are the very folks that write the codes that the municipal inspectors are supposed to force the builders to comply with. Scary, huh?
(2) “The City inspector passed it so it’s OK”. Right. This should be transparent.
(3) “We have already had the home inspected by Dewey, Cheatam & Howe Inspection Company, an independent firm that inspects all of our houses for our clients”. This should be even more transparent than the last ploy, but many people fall for it. There are a number of inspection companies that will gladly work for the builders regardless of the blatantly obvious conflict of interests. Even more divisive are the “independent inspection companies” that are simply the builders’ employees being paid by the builder to act as third-party inspectors. If the builder is paying them, do you honestly believe the builder’s inspector has your best interests in mind? T-H-I-N-K.
(4) “We will allow you to have your own inspector, but we are under no obligation to fix anything mentioned in his report”. If the issues observed in the report are obvious code violations, your builder is obligated by the laws of the State of Texas and the municipality to bring these items into compliance.
(5) Your builder may play the scheduling game where he fails to give you any or adequate notice of readiness for inspection at any given stage of construction. You then will not have ample time in which to schedule your independent inspector. Worse yet, the builder will inform you that the home is ready to be inspected at a particular phase when it is actually not ready. Upon arrival at the site, your inspector will be unable to perform the inspection but will charge you for the trip, thus likely damaging the relationship between the two of you. After a couple of these false starts the timid home buyer may simply resign himself to forego the inspections.
(6) Intimidation. The Greater Dallas Association of Homebuilders, as well as members of the Building Officials Association of Texas and the North Texas Chapter of the International Code Council has filed formal complaints against Texas Inspector with the Texas Real Estate Commission for full disclosure reporting. We have received numerous only moderately-veiled threatening phone calls from builders and city building officials concerning our reports.
(7) Just Outright Lying Through Their Teeth. Some of the cheesier builders tell unsuspecting clients that “we do not accept inspection reports from third-party inspectors until the final stage when the house is completed. This is just bullshit. Don’t you dare fall for it.
(8) Tiny Forms. One local builder whose name rhymes with Heritage now tells clients that they will not accept third-party inspector reports unless they are written on a tiny one-page form with insufficient room to write even the most spartan of comments. More bullshit.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” – George Orwell
Starting to get the picture now?
“It’s a more insidious threat to truth than lying is. Because the liar, after all, recognizes the difference between true and false. And, he’s concerned about that difference. The bullshitter is just not interested in that. That’s not his program. He’s interested in selling his product . . .”, Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Princeton University in his book On Bullshit
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”, Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935)
“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”
SO THEN, DO I THINK ALL BUILDERS ARE CROOKS?
How to Choose an Inspector for Your New Home
New home inspections from Texas Inspector require a much more comprehensive understanding of building construction than that which is held by almost every inspector of solely existing or resale homes. A thorough knowledge of both construction techniques and the prevailing building codes are essential from Texas Inspectors.
Common sense requires that inspectors of new homes be certified as Residential Combination Inspectors by the International Code Council or be a licensed Structural Engineer. To verify that your inspector is so certified visit this link for ICC certification:
or visit these links for Engineer affiliation:
Also inquire as to the background of your Home Inspector or engineer. A minimum of 5 years in full-time residential construction is required. And more is surely better.
Hire a REALTOR®
A licensed REALTOR® buyer’s agent will cost you nothing and the benefits you will receive from their representation will likely be worth thousands of dollars. They can tell you the truth about many things like future expectations for home evaluation, how to find a service oriented lender, when it’s financially reasonable to stop adding those pricey upgrades to your new home, et al. The builder’s agent cannot tell you the truth about anything except when it will benefit the builder.
The Types of New Construction Inspections We Perform
- International Code Council’s (ICC) “International Residential Code” (IRC), Locally Adopted Version (Minimum 2000 Version)
- International Code Council’s (ICC) “International Energy Conservation Code” (IECC), Locally Adopted Version (Minimum 2009 Version)
- National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) “National Electrical Code (NFPA 70, or NEC), Locally Adopted Version
- Post-Tensioning Institute’s, “Construction and Maintenance Procedures Manual for Post Tensioned Slab-On-Ground Construction”.
- All Systems’ Manufacturers’ Installation Instructions
Phase 1 - Foundation or Pre-Pour Inspection
For Unbonded Prestressed Post-Tension Slabs-On-Grade
NOTE: It is important to point out here that the International Residential Code defers to the International Building Code (IBC) when it comes to regulating the construction of foundations on expansive soils. The IBC further requires that inspections of these foundations be carried out only by Special Inspectors with special knowledge of these critical engineered systems. The Post-Tensioning Institute requires that inspectors of post-tension slab-on-ground foundations be certified by the PTI. The American Concrete Institute has similar requirements for inspectors of concrete foundations. Texas Real Estate Commission licensees are not required to possess this information or be so certified.
- Building Code Compliance (IBC, IRC, IECC, NEC and WRI/PTI)
- Post-Tensioning Institute Compliance
- Compliance with Engineer’s Design
- Compliance with Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions Shoring and Re-shoring
- Form Placement
- Form Board Sizing
- Lumber Condition
- Footing Depth
- Footing Width
- Cushion Sand Placement
- Moisture Barriers
- Bolsterer Placement
- Post-Tension Tendon Positioning
- Tendon Sheathing Damage
- Tendon sheathing Repairs
- Tendon Exposure
- Tendon Anchoring
- Fixed-end Anchors
- Stressing End Anchors
- Pocket Formers
- Tendon Support
- Tendon Support Spacing
- Tendon Sweep
- Tendon Drape Profile
- Tendon Wobble
- Center of Gravity of Steel
- Center of Gravity of Concrete
- Chair Placement
- Intersectional Chairs
- Wire Ties
- Strand Damage
- Wire Damage
- Rebar Placement at Re-entrant Corners
- Backup Bars
- Bursting Steel
- Steel Ties
- Plumbing Positioning
- Piping Glue Joints
- Piping Anchoring
- Electrical Conduit Positioning
- Conduit Anchoring
- Subterranean Termite Control
Phase 2 - Pre-Drywall Inspection
- Building Code Compliance (IRC, IECC, and NEC)
- Compliance with Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions
- Slab Repairs
- Post-Tension Tendon Repairs
- Tendon Stressing End Finishing
- Wall Framing
- Wind Bracing
- Shear Hardware Installation
- Foundation Bolt Installation
- Ceiling Framing
- Attic Service Floor Installation
- Joist Hanger Installation
- Roof Framing
- Truss Installation
- Roof Member Bracing
- Rafter-to-Plate Connector Installation
- Roof Decking
- H-Clip Placement
- Roofing Underlayment
- Knee Wall or Step Flashing Placement
- Drip Edge Flashing Placement
- Roof Jack Installation
- Sheathing Utility Penetrations
- Window Installation as per AAMA 2400 and ASTM E 2112
- Metal Flashing
- Butyl Flashing
- Electrical Rough-In
- Cable Placement
- Cable Stapling
- Junction Box Placement
- NM Clamp Installation
- Fixture Placement
- Fixture NM Clamp Placement
- Cable Protector Plate Placement
- Plumbing Rough-In
- Vent Sizing
- Vent Routing
- Piping Protection
- Dryer Vent Installation
- Dryer Vent Ducting and Termination
- Exhaust Fan Installation
- Fan Vent Ducting and Termination
- Air Conditioning Placement and Installation
- Furnace Placement and Installation
- Water Heater Placement and Installation
- Fireplace Construction or Installation
- Chimney Construction or Installation
- Fireplace Fresh Air Venting
- Gas Line Installation
Phase 3 - Final Inspection
- Building Code Compliance (IRC and NEC)
- Compliance with Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions
- Interior Finishes
- Exterior Finishes
- Trim Carpentry
- Crawl Spaces
- Lot Drainage
- Retaining Walls
- Roof Coverings*
- Gutters and Downspouts
- Electrical Systems
- Roof Structure
- Exterior Walls
- Water Penetration
- Interior Walls
- Stairs and Railings
- Plumbing Systems
- Heating Equipment
- Air Conditioners
- Built-In Appliances
- Gas Leak Tests
- Sprinkler Systems
- Outdoor Cooking Equipment (Built-In)
- Swimming Pools/Spas (Optional)
- Appliance Lifts (Optional)
- Elevators (Optional)
- Detached Buildings (Optional)
- Evaporative Coolers (Optional)
**The Inspector is not required to and may not physically walk on some roof surfaces. All roof surfaces will be inspected from a ladder at the edge of the roof (if the inspector deems this safe using a 17-ft. ladder), and through the use of binoculars while standing on the ground. The Inspector is not required to determine or report the age or life expectancy of any roof coverings. Roofs that cannot be accessed directly by the inspector may have defects that are not visible from the ground or roof’s edge.
Aaron is a Certainteed® Corporation certified roof installer. Most industry professionals do not recommend walking on roofs because there is a serious potential to cause damage while doing so.
Additionally, some roofs are just too steep to mount and dismount without OSHA-approved safety harnesses (PPE). That said, we have binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses that permit us to see most defects on a roof from across the street.
End of Builder Warranty Inspection
As the end of your first year in your new home approaches you will receive a ton of junk mail soliciting your business for an end-of-warranty inspection. These will be from the local inspection companies that are not qualified ICC-certified inspectors. They run under the radar because the Texas Real Estate Commission does not have the resources to police these illegal activities. Suffice it to say that, in choosing one of these firms, you will have done something tantamount to hiring an attorney who has not been to law school.
The Texas Inspector Advantage
Homebuilding in the North Texas area and elsewhere is both highly competitive and fiercely antagonistic. Texas Inspector understands the builders’ techniques used to remain in charge of unsuspecting buyers. Their goal is to be in total control of you every step of the way, beginning in the model home tour, all the way through the construction phases, and ending with the closing. It is the responsibility of the builder’s sales agent and the builder assigned to your home to manage your expectations throughout the process. Homebuilders spend millions annually developing and promoting their image as the undisputed experts in quality residential construction. Beware. Someone offering you all of the answers can be a very powerful and alluring thing.
Fortunately knowledge is more powerful than well-blown smoke. We will educate you and act as your expert advisers to allow you to gain control from the outset. You’ve already taken the first, and most important step by informing yourself of the possibilities.
Call us today at 214-616-0112 to schedule an appointment.
Aaron D. Miller, ACI, CEI, CMI, CRI, RCI is in fact certified by the International Code Council as an R-5 Combination Residential Inspector. So, in this respect, he is most certainly certified by ICC and therefore could be considered by a reasonably sane person as ICC-certified.
Since the ICC authors the building codes for the State of Texas, and Mr. Miller is certified by the authors of that code as a combination residential inspector one might also imply that he is “code certified”. This would be inaccurate in that the “code” consists of not only the ICC-promulgated regulations but also those interpretations and amendments as set forth by the officials of each municipality.
Though Mr. Miller is an avid reader on the subject it is practically infeasible for him to keep up with every nuance of each pontification that issues forth from the lips or pens of the building officials of the 88 or so municipalities in which he serves his clients. Much of this information is not readily accessible to the public, and perhaps purposely so.
Building officials quite officiously refer to themselves as the “Authorities Having Jurisdiction”, or “AHJ”. Mr. Miller is not a municipal employee, a government official, or the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Mr. Miller considers his goals to be somewhat at odds with the goals of the AHJ’s. It is the AHJ’s responsibility to represent and protect the interests of the municipality (corporation). It is Mr. Miller’s responsibility to represent his clients.
The terms “autocrat”, “bureaucrat”, “AHJ”, “authority having jurisdiction”, “building official”, “chief building official”, “politically motivated”, “selective enforcer of the code”, “city employee”, “firmly attached to the city tit”, or “government worker”, have never nor shall ever be aptly applied to Mr. Miller.