a home inspector, I am often asked to evaluate new construction. Generally there
is a good bit of conversation about the project and some questions from my end.
you signed a contract?
phase is the construction in?
agreements or contingencies are defined in the contract?
is your right to inspect described in the contract?
you have background information on your builder?
been through this process a few times myself, having acted as a general
contractor, and having constructed my first home from the ground up doing nearly
all the work, I find that when pressed for my opinion on how to enter into
similar projects, I do have some thoughts on the subject.
the years, I have helped several friends develop house plans and set up
agreements with their contractors, and more then once I’ve helped others sub
out their own project. I have found that putting some of my recommendations on
paper simplifies things a little. Now, when asked for advice on building a new
home, I print out my prepared speech and offer it up as food for thought. Of
course, there are many books on the subject and unlimited information on the
Internet. I advise as much research as possible.
since the person asking for advice has realized the need to ask, usually that
means there has been little or no prior planning, the contract has already been
signed, and the project started—a little late to start the planning now is
what I’m thinking.
F. Kennedy provided apropos advise on planning ahead, “The
time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining." Anyone entering into a
major construction endeavor would be well advised to consider those words.
the rare occasions where I am contacted early in the planning stages, I offer my
prepared notes on the topic. They are provided below:
A Custom Home
do I begin?
a custom home can be accomplished in a number of ways—every situation is
different; one important consideration that is common to every case is that
pre-planning is a good idea. The more planning and legwork before the contract
is signed, the less the chance of running into difficulties during construction.
There are a few ways to approach the planning process, from entering into a
contract blind and allowing the builder to dictate the conditions (this will
result in an extremely short and non-specific contract heavily weighted to favor
the builder) to a thoroughly pre-planned contract specifying every detail that
the buyer (you) want fulfilled. Surprisingly, many builders like this second
approach; they know exactly what you want and can provide an accurate bid to get
you really want a house built a certain way, with specific things included, the
only way the builder can know what you want is for you to spell it out.
Developing such a list requires a great deal of research. I suggest visiting
suppliers (plumbing, electric, hardware, etc.) and shop for the items you want
in the house, and then provide a list to the builder, complete with
manufacturer, type, and model number for every item (door hardware, windows,
roofing, trim, sinks/faucets, etc.). To make the process a little easier, the
following Building Materials form provides some items to be considered;
the blank lines provide places to write down the manufacturer information. The
list should be expanded to include everything that you want the builder to
install and any unusual specifics about how it is installed (for example, and
this is an actual request I’ve seen, you may want a specific model dishwasher
to be installed, and you want it installed so that the front of the
dishwasher aligns evenly, or flush with, the adjoining cabinets; not flush with
the cabinet doors, but flush with the cabinet shell). The builder may not be
accustomed to installing dishwashers this way, and most people probably really
don’t care, but it may be important to you.
this seems like too much work, another option is to find a house that your
builder has already completed, and write into the contract that your new home
will be of the same quality (or better) workmanship and materials except where
otherwise noted in your contract. You can then also add a materials list that
only specifies certain, important items that you want to define.
more detailed your contract, the more likely you will end up with what you want.
method of including your list into the contract is by a statement, which can
read something like, “Builder agrees to utilize the attached ‘Building
Materials List’; any changes or substitutions must first be agreed upon in
writing by the buyer”. Sometimes,
all pages of the materials list are signed and dated by both the buyer and
builder to ensure the list doesn’t get changed by either party. Both parties
get a copy of all portions of the contract with signatures.
may be a good reason to select a specific manufacturer/model of many of the
following items, and it is highly recommended that advice from an experienced
person (specialist who you can hire, or a friend or family member who has been
through the process) be consulted when developing this list.
details may be called-out on the plan drawings. Typically, things such as the
type of shingles, size and locations of doors and windows, type of siding, roof
pitch, etc. can be specified on the blueprint, but usually in general terms;
anything that isn’t described in full detail on the blueprints, which is
important to you, should be on another list.
is a very simplified overview. There are many books on the subject of building a
home with the help of a general contractor, and the more you read, the less
likely you will run into problems. Another option is to hire someone to help
step you through the process, and even act as a liaison between you and your
following list is only a short sample of the type of form that can be used to
detail the building materials.
NOTE: The following is a short sample of how a materials list might be
developed. Click here to view a
fairly complete list of items in your new house that you might want to describe
in specific detail to your builder.
the windows on the drawing and using each window number to describe it here is a
good idea. The same process works well for the doors.
Model or Type:
the list of windows until each one has been described)
1: size: Manufacturer:
Model or Type:
the list of windows until each one has been described)
pressure and regulator: (water pressure should be below 80 psi and a pressure
regulator on the water main is often a good idea.)
material (copper, PVC, or galvanized)
Bibb Locations (call out on drawing or describe here)
of Hose Bibbs
System (separate sprinkler system plan may be needed)
Sink Faucet Set
form continues for 10 pages and includes nearly every typical item that can be
specifically described. At the very least, using a prepared list will activate
the thought process and increase the probability of identifying major concerns.
addition to being specific about the features of the house, there are a number
of questions that are important to have answered before getting started, which
may or may not be included in the contract. Some of these concerns include:
What type of sewer system will be
Is there a question about how
well the property will drain and will a French drain be required?
Will retaining walls be necessary
and if so how will they be built?
Is landscaping provided?
Are sidewalks provided?
How wide will the drive be?
Is the mailbox provided; if so
Are the property boundaries
All Manuals and warranties should
Are special operating
instructions necessary for any system?
Does any system require propane
and if so is the tank provided?
Are there any undesirable or
possible undesirable problems with the neighborhood?
Is a flood zone nearby?
Will the electric service be
above or underground and what is the amp rating?
What is the water pressure in the
What is known about the school
How close is the nearest fire
hydrant and fire department?
Are there any neighborhood
problems? (This could include barking dogs, neighbors who do not keep their
property maintained as you would expect, known soil contaminants, air
quality problems, etc.)
Is a fence to be provided?
The surrounding soil should be
graded and raked clean and smooth, even if sod will be provided.
Will the crawl space be cleaned
and if so to what extent?
The soil should be treated for
termites before the footings are poured.
Will a vapor barrier be provided
in the crawlspace?
Will a vapor barrier be placed
under the slab?
What type of crawlspace vents
will be provided?
Everything should be done
according to local and ICC codes.
What type of warranty is provided
to cover problems that develop due to poor workmanship or materials?
Where will the telephone jacks be
Where will the TV cable
connection be located?
Are there any special light
switches or outlets necessary?
Is there a need do have the
fireplace and mantle described specifically?
Is there a need for special
detail descriptions for any exterior work such as fancy cornices or dental
Will window screens be provided?
Does the dryer vent thru the
roof, is there a long run of dryer vent, and is the proper material to be
How many coats of paint will be
provided, what kind of paint, how will it be applied?
Will there be a good waterproof
paint in the bathrooms, or possibly elsewhere? Is water resistant drywall
used in the bathrooms?
Will shower doors be provided?
What type of doorbell?
Where will the smoke detectors be
Is there a need for a CO
Is a security system required?
Will the garage be finished, and
to what extent?
Where will the attic access be
located? Will there be pull down stairs?
Will there be a separate switch
for each fan and fan light?
Are there any three-way switches
Is there a dedicated electrical
circuit for any future need, such as an outdoor Jacuzzi?
Will the electric panel have room
Is there a separate GFI for each
Is there a need to request a
higher than normal ceiling?
Is there a need for any special
features for a disabled resident?
Are there plenty of outlets over
the kitchen counter?
Are there special requirements
for computer hook-ups?
Is there a need to pre-wire for a
Is a built in hidden safe
What type of closet shelving will
How will the roof be framed and
is there a need for special framing to allow for storage. Is there a need
for extra floor support for attic storage?
If there is a need to change room
dimensions, or make plan changes, what type of extra charge can be expected?
Is there a monetary penalty if
the project is not completed on time? How much for every day it is late?
What type of earnest money will
What are the rules for backing
out, and not following through with the purchase if the house is not
Is there a problem with utilizing
professional home inspectors to oversee the project?
All windows and doors should be
installed square and plumb.
All walls and framing should be
square and plumb.
All painted surfaces should be
well filled, nails holes filled evenly, and paint cut in neatly.
A thorough walk through should be
allowed at least a week before closing to identify problems and develop a
All items identified on the punch
list should be fixed prior to closing.
Is there a need for any special
drainage systems, such as a French drain or sump pump?
A professional architect should
describe any non-conventional framing or structure.
All manufacturer guidelines
should be adhered to for installation of their products.
Can the builder provide
references and two or three homes in the area that can be seen?
Investigate the pros and cons of
building on a slab verses a crawlspace.
Are there any easements
associated with the property?
Is a Radon test important to you?
Is there a homeowners
Are there CC&R’s that
If there is any doubt about the
quality of water in the area, have it tested.
Are you sure you want to do this?
above information, both the materials list and the list of additional items,
include much of what should be considered before entering into an agreement with
a general contractor. All of these issues may not apply, there are items that do
apply that are not on the list. Many of these concerns have a number of possible
solutions and each solution will vary with each different home and homeowner. No
home has ever been constructed that has answered every question perfectly, ahead
of time. My recommendation is to seek advise of an experienced professional for
assistance, and do plenty of independent research.