Houzz Logo Print

The perfect build followed by the punch list from h**l

14 years ago

I'm in a quandry, mostly about how to handle things from here with my contractor. I know what I need to do, it's how to actually go about doing it that I've been agonizing over for the past month.

Compared to so many of the nightmares I'd read about on here for the past three years, my build went perfectly. I'd been preparing for this for two years, and by the time my GC put together his contract, I had stacks of photos to show him how I was going to want things done. He took everything with him, and it stayed in a folder on the job so it could be consulted as needed. His crew was here every time I came up. The site, and afterwards the house itself, were kept immaculate. His crew were kind, courteous and friendly to me. I walked the job with the plumber and the electrician, pointing out where switches and plugs were going, making sure they knew about about details like the air switch for the disposal, the in-deck soap dispensers everywhere, RO filters under three of the sinks, my vintage light fixtures, just everything I could think of. Everyone nodded, took notes, and to me, everything was perfect.

At least, for the first 12 months. Little things started coming up in August, a month before the house was to be finished. The electricians were grumbling about my wall sconces. Somehow the outlets in the walls were too large, and the carpenters were having to make wood plaques to go behind the sconces in order to cover up the holes. They put a switch in the wall for the disposal, and everyone (plumbers and electricians alike) were completely mystified by what to do with the air switch I had already bought. The plumber said it was impossible to connect my kitchen RO filter to the fridge for filtered ice. And after telling my GC for six months that my dishdrawers needed to be installed differently from a regular dishwasher (thank heaven for this forum!), it took three installations of the durn thing (along with calls from my GC that it had to be defective) to get someone to bother reading the manual and getting it right.

But the house was turning out exactly as I had hoped. After all my agonizing over paints, tile, flooring, granite and everything else, everything was coming together better than I could ever have hoped. The you-know-what didn't hit the fan until after I moved in.

I need to say now that I had a fixed price contract. It had the standard wording about requiring change orders in writing in advance, and stipulated a contractor overhead/profit of 18% (where I live the norm is 20 - 25%). We had a written agreement, however, that he would only receive 10% up front, with the remaining 8% due after completion.

The first set of problems all involved the plumber. I moved in on a Friday, and by Monday three sink drains and two of the RO filters were leaking water all over my nice new cabinets. Two sinks wouldn't drain at all. GC and plumber alike blamed the RO filters, which they said couldn't be hooked up securely so as to avoid leaks. It took a little more than two weeks to get everything working correctly, and my GC told me he had let me move in before he had a chance to check all the plumbing to make sure it was working. Meanwhile, somebody said something about how everything had been installed, they just hadn't finished tightening it all up.

Meanwhile, one of the soap dispensers and one faucet had been installed so far back from the sink that they were unusable. My contractor shook his head, and said he'd pay for me to buy a new faucet with a longer neck, and a soap dispenser with a longer reach.

Other than that, the punch list seemed so minor I counted myself lucky. My GC sent his guys out immediately to take care of everything.

We had to wait for the county to issue the actual CO (I moved in after the final inspection had been done, but it takes our local government three weeks to issue the piece of paper itself) to go into my lender for the final draw. There were still funds left in my contingency fund so I asked my GC to fax over his change orders I'd signed (which I couldn't find because they were still apparently packed), and pulled together the receipts for all the things I'd paid for myself. I knew I had signed change orders for about $41k in additional items, all of which I'd paid him for up front.

The actual stack of change orders I got totaled almost $100k. While many of them had dates from last March and April, I'd never seen them before. They included things like an extra $2500 for the septic system, $6000 for the electricians, $23k for finish carpentry and, my favorite (not), almost $6k for the punch list! On top of all this, the builder overhead/profit added on to every one of them was either 20 or 25%, not the 18% called for in my contract.

Meanwhile, simply from living in the house I was discovering things I hadn't noticed before. When I couldn't fit my daughter's birthday cake in the fridge, I discovered they had installed it so the doors couldn't open any more than 90 degrees. When I couldn't fit my lateral file into the closet I had specifically designed for it, I discovered all the bi-fold closet doors I had spec'ed out in my drawings had been converted to sliders. I had OK'ed one closet door change, and somehow never focused on the fact they'd changed all of them, even going so far as to buy the appropriate hardware for the bi-folds. The tile work in the master bath looked so nice, I had never bothered to view it from the perspective of inside the toilet area. That's when it became obvious the corner tiles were off by a quarter inch, and the huge grout line so quickly attracted our local red dirt that I couldn't help but notice the poor mitering job.

That was about the same time I realized that all my nice white grout was already staining in the master bath and my daughter's ADA shower room. My GC promised to send a cleaning crew out to clean and seal it again (which still hasn't happened).

I didn't discover that the plumber hadn't hooked up my steam shower correctly until I had been in the house five weeks, and the shower door finally was installed. The steam head was upside down, and my nice thermostatic grohe shower valve allowed me to scald myself as much as I wanted but couldn't put out cold water. This time around, I insisted my GC pull in another plumber, and that we make sure that everything else had been installed correctly.

About this time I happened to read on the bathroom forum about how changes in plane for tile needed to be caulked, not grouted. Curious, I went through the house. Not only did I find no caulk (even in my steam shower!), I found cracking grout in every room that contained tile. It took three weeks to finally get my contractor out here with the tile guy, at which point the tile guy announced he would just "prime the grout" and add some caulk where it had already cracked. My GC assured me that I had a year warranty on the house, and whenever any more grout cracked they'd be out in a flash to fix it. Caulk, he told me, was ugly and just could never look as nice as grout. It's taken two subsequent conversations with my GC for him to admit that there's no such thing as priming grout, but it's only after he snapped at me about how I needed to stop reading things on the internet. I'm still waiting for all this to get fixed.

Then came the wonderful call from the county building division that about two-thirds of my $35k photovoltaic array had been built inside the flood setback on my lot. I knew we had been waiting for the permit for the foundation, which was the main reason I hadn't been pushing the financial issues. For that matter, my GC hadn't been pushing them either. My GC's first reaction was it was an inspector that was being too picky. His second reaction was that I never needed to disclose it, and could pretend not to know. When I finally got him to go down to the county, the inspector actually had him fake a new drawing of the array, showing it outside the flood setback, in order to continue with the approval process.

As of yesterday, a permit based on the phony drawing was issued. Next week my GC is supposed to take the permit to the electric company so they can finally, two and a half months after I've moved in, get my net metering system installed.

It's time now for me to deal with all the financial issues. I know I need to write my GC a letter, but writing it without any of my frustration coming through is a challenge. This is a small community, and I had heard from my GC continually about how the clients he built for before me had jerked him around and refused to pay for $50k in change orders. The idea that he could start talking about me like this is unpleasant, to say the least. Interestingly, I have a completely new perspective on it now that I too have been hit with all these previously unknown change orders.

I know he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on to require me to pay any of the change orders I never signed. Somehow, I actually feel kind of sorry for him over that, which isn't helping my general outlook towards writing this letter. On the other hand, I really do NOT appreciate the way he's handled all of the issues with the tile guy, making every excuse under the moon and trying to intimidate me into backing off on the caulk vs. grout issue. Then there's a few other comments he's made to me: When I mentioned my ventahood was making rubbing noises when it was installed, it is obviously a manufacturing default. I still don't know if there's anything different about installing one of these as opposed to a regular vent hood, but I do know they had never heard of the brand before. As to why my gas fireplace (a Lennox, another brand he'd never installed before) barely puts out a four inch flame, he's told me that altering the gas pressure in order for the flame to appear correctly would create a dangerous situation and disburse soot throughout the house (there's a glass front on it!). It's been more than a few weeks now since I've had the growing feeling that all the lines about a woman not knowing anything about construction and believing anything she's told are coming true, something I never ever felt during the construction itself.

Please help me figure out how to deal with communicating the real issues, without letting my frustration and growing anger get in the way! I don't know if I'm just too close to it right now to see my way clear, or too conflicted, or what, I just know I can't see my way through what now seems to me like a morass of tangled issues related to finances, quality of construction, and emotional frustration over the way I feel I'm being treated now.

Sorry this is so long!


Comments (16)