Good relations with builder raise chance of good job

SMART MOVES

October 17, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

You're getting a home built.

Stopping by on your lunch hour, you meander into the house to check things. "These kitchen appliances are supposed to be almond, not white!" you yell to the subcontractors on the job. The building superintendent is called in, and a heated argument follows.

What's wrong with this picture?

Obviously, you're entitled to appliances of the right color. But by making your demands during an unannounced visit to your home construction, you risk aggravating your builder. And if you aggravate your builder, you could be the loser in the end.

"Buying a home isn't like buying a piece of candy. It's a very emotional experience. Obviously, relationships are going to come into play," says Anne Madison, director of marketing for the Columbia-based Ryland Group, which builds houses in 17 states.

The relationship between homebuilder and buyer can be a long one. It can last for six, eight, 12 or more months during the construction process. Then it can continue for another 12 months or longer during the warranty period.

"The relationship is like a marriage. You really do work closely together. And you've got to have good communication," says Roger Glunt, president of the National Association of Home Builders.

There are many hazards to an adversarial relationship between builder and buyer. It can slow the building process. It can lead to more construction mistakes, rather than fewer. And it can discourage the builder from doing extras for the buyer -- such as planting more trees in the front yard than are required in the sales contract.

"When he's dealing with a buyer who has a 'nothing-pleases-me' attitude, it's very difficult for the builder to want to try. It seems like a fruitless effort," says Ryland's Ms. Madison.

Of course, some builders ask for trouble through shoddy workmanship or the failure to communicate with their customers. About 5 percent of the time, relations between builder and buyer deteriorate seriously before the house is done, estimates John Gornall, editor of the Housing Executive Report, a newsletter for the homebuilding industry.

"No one wants to be sold a house and then treated like a number. They want to have a relationship," Mr. Gornall says.

*

But even if your builder doesn't have an active customer relations program, there are steps you can take to encourage a harmonious working relationship -- without compromising your standards. Here are pointers from homebuilding specialists:

* Make sure that you and your builder are in sync on what is expected and set these expectations down in writing.

Suppose you originally ordered cherry wood cabinets for your kitchen. Then you changed your mind and decided to go with oak cabinets. Unless you clearly communicate your desire to change to oak, you could be disappointed to find that cherry cabinets have been installed.

After first calling the builder to tell him of the change, for instance, you should follow with a note confirming your discussion, recommends William C. Young, director of consumer affairs at the National Association of Home Builders.

* Schedule appointments to visit the building site rather than dropping by unexpectedly.

To be sure, you're welcome to drive by your new home during construction. But if you wish to go inside, it's best to arrange your visit with your builder's sales representative or construction superintendent in advance.

Safety hazards are the main reason that unexpected visits are a problem, says Ms. Madison of Ryland. To protect you -- and to observe federal workplace standards -- your builder wants you equipped with a hard hat and other safety equipment before you go into the construction site, she says.

Some builders, such as Ryland, routinely schedule a couple of "orientation" sessions for the buyer at the building site to answer questions. One such session typically occurs before ground is broken. Another usually happens after the house has been framed but before the drywall is put up.

In addition, all buyers are entitled to a preclosing "walk through" at the property to be sure that everything -- from electrical outlets to air conditioning -- is functioning to his satisfaction. Even before the walk-through, however, you should be able to schedule visits every few weeks.

* Don't go overboard in the demands you make on your builder's time and attention.

"If the customer shows up every morning at the construction trailer demanding to know the status of his house, that could make him unpopular," says Mr. Gornall, of Housing Executive Report.

It's not always necessary to go to the building site, interrupting work in progress there, in order to get an update. While it's rTC probably excessive to request an on-site visit on a weekly basis, a weekly phone call to the builder is not unreasonable, says Mr. Young of the homebuilders' association.

(Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

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