When building a home, private inspections and oversight pay offOriginally published by the Houston Chronicle
By Jaimy Jones
At least one Bellaire homeowner is experiencing a $400,000 devaluation of his property from Harris County Tax records due to repairs it needs from what he alleges is faulty construction by a local builder and permitting processes by the city.
Paul Smith, owner of the home, told the Houston Chronicle that city officials gave a pass to homebuilder RG Homes on some red tag items, while ignoring larger issues like a hole in the roof. Roy Gabbay, founder of RG Homes, has been charged by Harris County District Attorney for tampering with a government document after a Bellaire city employee became suspicious of a document the builder submitted to the city for code inspections.
The legal wrangling has just begun for homeowners. And Bellaire City Manager Paul Hofmann says the city permitting process is there to ensure that buildings are up to code, not as a quality control measure. So what precautions can a home buyer take to make sure contractors not only abide by city codes, but use best practices in the industry to avoid costly repairs in the future?
Mike Dishberger, owner of Sandcastle Homes inside the loop, has 34 years of experience building custom homes in Houston and was a past president and current member of the Greater Houston Builders Association, a member-based trade association. Dishberger said when owners build high-end, luxury homes, it's even more important to spend the extra money on a private inspection of your home, to never move in to your house until it's completely finished and to have the entire scope of work in writing.
"I'm sure those Bellaire inspectors did a good inspection, but nobody is perfect," he said. "And I always recommend, before you do walk through, hire a private inspector who works for you. Everyone always gets an inspection on a used home, it's just as necessary on a new home. The city is out just for code issues: the right number of nails, outlets, etc. A private inspector checks that and other functional and mechanical things, and spends two to three hours at the home."
Most would be surprised what items are not included in a city inspection, he said, making a private one all the more valuable.
"A city inspector is not looking for a crack in sheetrock - believe or not that's not a code issue. The floor is out of level, there's no code on the levelness of floors," said Dishberger.
When an owner hires a private inspector, they work solely for the home buyer, he said.
Another pitfall frustrated buyers can fall into is getting impatient and moving into the home before it's completely finished, said Dishberger.
"Moving in is accepting your house. You've lost all your bargaining and the builder has his money and he can take his time," he said.
But moving in comes at the end of the building stage, it's just as important to get started on the right foot with a contractor.
"I tell this to my own family and friends: 'Before you do any construction, you have to have two major things,'" he said. "Have a set of plans, a blueprint with all the details. You don't buy a home on a one-page drawing. A detailed blueprint will be anywhere from 15 to 20 pages. And you need a detailed scope of work specifications."
A scope of work details - down to every door knob - how much will be spent on appliances, fixtures and even door hinges. A homeowner should know if the master bathroom is going to have a Moen MODEL: 82922 Series faucet, or something else.
"Everything needs to be in writing," said Dishberger. "At the end of the day if it's not in writing, it may not get done, or be forgotten. Whether in a contract or a change order, it's a part of the contract."
Valuable documentation is something commercial developers know about too.
Brian Altus, managing partner with MultiVista Construction Documentation in Houston, works with builders on large hospital districts, school districts and other large commercial projects. The company photographs construction sites from start to finish as a way to offer transparency that could prove priceless in the event that something goes wrong. His company is hired by builders who want that extra protection and to offer a value-added item to buyers. Altus said not as many residential home buyers know about services like MultiVista provides, but that it's something they should look for when choosing a builder or contractor.
"Look for a builder that's offering transparency," said Altus. "They're going to promote quality work because they have nothing to hide and it's permanent evidence of what's inside your walls before the sheetrock went up."
He said his crew, which often is mistaken for inspectors by subcontractors working on a project, walk every inch of a space, inside and out, taking pictures before and after various phases of work.
The photos are linked to detailed blueprints in a software program and laid over them so that the internal components to the house are documented and as obvious as the color of the paint on the walls, and, he said, there's no finger pointing after the home is finished.
In full disclosure, RG Homes has been a member of GHBA since 2014, but the association declined to comment on the status of his membership in the future.
Date : 8/9/2017