Building a better way Dwight Griffith worked for years to be a part of a book that would define builders' responsibilities and describe buyers' expectations.

February 16, 1997|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

In the end, he couldn't even cast a vote. But when the vote came among his peers, Dwight Griffith knew that it was a new day for homebuilders not just in Maryland but perhaps throughout the country as well.

Last week, the Home Builders Association of Maryland (HBAM) became the first trade association in the country to adopt and endorse performance guidelines for its industry.

The guidelines are spelled out in a 98-page booklet published by the National Association of Home Builders. It covers 12 chapters and 245 different situations. Its intent is - for the first time - to give builders, subcontractors, homeowners and homebuyers a written, credible reference for determining acceptable standards within the industry.

At its best, it can be included as a part of a contract. To a lesser extent, it can be used by builders as a marketing tool to assure buyers that their standards meet or exceed those specified in the booklet.

Eliminate the confusion.

Eliminate the bickering.

Eliminate the possible litigation or arbitration.

There it is in black and white.

And you can thank Dwight Griffith for that.

Now Griffith, who with his brother, Darrell, and partner, George Brilhart, operates a custom home and remodeling business, wants to spread the credit around to HBAM President John Bowers and past President John Martonick.

And when the vote was taken in January to endorse the guidelines, ironically, Griffith, HBAM president in 1995 and board member last year, had no standing.

He had no vote.

"This has really been his passion," said John Kortecamp, executive vice president of HBAM. "While there have been other people who have been supportive, frankly, if not for Dwight and his conviction, this may not have happened."

So in an industry in which so many homebuyers know so little, and spend so much, why should any builder care. They say they already have enough regulatory guidelines to protect the consumer.

That wasn't good enough for Griffith. Someone had to step forward.

"Customers now have a greater level of expectations," Griffith said. "At some point in time we have to say what is and what is not acceptable. I wasn't concerned about being a White Knight, I was concerned that this was something that we should do."

Building and remodeling

Griffith-Brilhart Builders primarily construct homes and do remodeling in Baltimore and Harford counties as well as in Baltimore City. Much of their work has come in the pricey Falls Road corridor, Greenspring and Upper Park Heights avenues and up through Tufton.

Hard to believe that Dwight Griffith started it all 20 years ago as a 21-year-old cutting lawns.

He had some carpentry experience and knocked around jobs doing paneling and drop ceilings. He had never done a home addition before, but through word of mouth he started to get home-improvement jobs.

That led to him sending out letters to builders, who then hired him, his partner and his brother as subcontractors. Dwight and George took care of the construction; Darrell began a landscaping division.

"We always took pride in what we did, but we didn't always know what we were doing," Dwight said. "But we always took care of it and we learned very, very quickly."

In their first year, the company went from the original three to 50 carpenter subcontractors. But their big break came in 1979, when a builder of a partially completed custom home skipped town and left the homebuyer in a mess.

Griffith-Brilhart Builders stepped in.

"They trusted us, even though I was 23 with hair down to my shoulders," Dwight said. "We finished the house and bailed them out. The architect of the project really liked us and said the next time he had a house designed we could bid on it, and we got it.

"It was a quarter-million-dollar house, and that was 1979 when a quarter-million got you a whole lot of house. We did it and everybody was tickled pink and all of a sudden we were custom-home builders."

Now they were builders, remodelers, landscapers who later added their own paint and home inspection companies.

It was through doing the home inspections that Dwight's reputation began to grow in the industry.

The man in the middle

When there was a problem between a homeowner and a builder, Dwight found himself being dragged into some sort of mediation.

"Either the builder was having a problem with the client or vice versa," he said. "They would ask me to come in to either be an expert witness or be an arbitrator.

"What I found was that a lot of the problems - not all of them - could have been resolved by having clear documentation in terms of what was entered into the contract or by having some point of measure of which you could judge workmanship. And that's all you would need."

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