Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Posts Tagged Builder

Contracts Are Your Friend When Having A Tiny House Built

More and more people are turning to builders of tiny homes to build their house.  When I first started the tiny house movement everyone was building their own tiny house, but that isn’t the case today.  Over the years I’ve found several really great builders, but I’ve also found a lot of really terrible builders.  My only advice is that buyer beware is the best advice I can give.

contracts are common sense

I felt the need to write this post today because there is clearly a need for people to understand how to protect yourself during this process.  I’ve seen countless examples of people not using common sense when it comes to hiring a builder and so here I am making this P.S.A.

When you hire a builder you need to make sure you have the following:

  1. Signed contract
  2. Build and payment timeline
  3. Detailed set of plans
  4. Process for changes
  5. Plan for when things go wrong
  6. Vetted references

builder contracts

Before I get into what each of these things are, I feel the need to justify the need for these things, not because they require justification, but because people seem to think they’re not needed.  It honestly blows my mind when I hear a horror story of a builder and I always ask, “do you have a contract?” 95% of the time the answer is “no”.

A contract does the following:

  • Gets people on the same page
  • Reduces disagreements
  • Highlights future problems before they happen
  • Can help ward off bad builders
  • Gives you a leg to stand on in court if need be

If you’re entering into any agreement in life that’s more than $1,000 you should have something signed. The bigger the price tag, the more time you need to spend on the contract.  When I am considering whether to put together a document, I ask myself this: “Am I willing to lose or walk away from this money?”  If the answer is no, I draw up a contract.

I need to put a bit of tough love on all of you here, because most people I’ve run into think contracts aren’t necessary.  You need a contract and several other documents when hiring a professional to build your house.  If you don’t, I have a really hard time feeling sorry for you when it all goes bad.  Being a responsible adult means taking common sense steps like drawing up a contract on things like this.

So let’s get into what is involved with each of these things:

 

You need a signed contract:

Before you give over one dollar, you need to have a contract signed.  Why?  Because a contract is simply a tool to make sure everyone is on the same page.  People shy away from contracts because they sound complicated, they could be expensive, they are so formal or too “corporate.”

This is the exact opposite of how you should feel.  I love contracts, seriously!  I know it’s a little weird, but I really do.

The way I like to think about contracts is, they’re a tool that lets me understand the other person.  That’s it!  In life I’ve found that most disagreements happen when I do something when the other person expected something else.  If we can both agree on what we expect, most disagreements won’t happen.

So we use a contract to carefully outline what we want, what we expect, how we are going to go about it, and what the plan is. What I’ve found is we outline these things, sit down with the person and we suddenly find out we were thinking different things.  That’s great because we can align our thinking and fix it now.

A contract is best to be drawn up by a lawyer, but really any good builder should have a template handy.  You can get free templates online and customize to your needs.  Be wary of anyone who seems hesitant to work with you on a contract.  Bad and dishonest builders shy away from contracts. Quality builders love contracts because a contract lets them understand their customer and prevent disagreements.

You should have a detailed timeline:

contract timelines

In addition to the contract, you need a timeline.  A timeline outlines who does what and when.  You should outline when each phase of the build is to be completed.  Break down the build into milestones: Design finalized, construction starts, walls erected, roof completed, siding/windows/doors, interior finishes, etc.  For each of these things have a due date and tie those due dates to payments.

Along with a build schedule I would recommend insisting on a formal update every 2 weeks. Write this into the contract, along with what defines an “update”.  It can be a simple email with photos, but honestly I’d do it in person or do a virtual check in where they Skype or Face Time you and walk around the in progress house.  You want to see your house – actually lay eyes on it, don’t take their word for it!

For updates I’d stipulate in the contract:

  • Summary of work completed since last update (100 words or so)
  • 5 photos included with each updated, showing work that was completed
  • Summary of any delays and actions to fix it
  • Summary of work to be done by next update
  • Any items that need to be discussed or addressed

An important note here is you need to compare the work done to the timeline you’ve setup. Compare the last set of updates “work to be done” with the subsequent updates list of “work completed.” The update list should match. If it doesn’t, the builder should have a plan to catch up and explanation.  You should build in some time for setbacks. Be reasonable because delays happen, but set expectations for how much of a delay is too much.

You need a detailed set of plans:

house plansA set of professionally generated plans are an investment to achieve a successful build.  Plans are an effective way to communicate exactly what you want.

Plans will typically cost $1,000 or more, but it’s something that you shouldn’t skimp on.  You want the plans to include specific dimensions, electrical, plumbing, and other utilities.  The other very important aspect to plans is the materials list.  You literally need to spec out every material in the house along with any mechanical or appliances.

Why so much detail in the material list?  Because it will help the builder price correctly and remove any questions when it comes to what needs to go into the house.   Really shady builders will often swap materials for cheaper versions and pocket the difference.

You need a process for changes:

changes will happen in buildingThis is typically a good signal of a quality builder, they rely heavily on rigid processes and insist on “change orders”.  In your contract you need to specifically state that any changes not signed off BEFOREHAND are not allowed and you aren’t responsible for paying for them.

A change order is simple document that states that you were planing on doing one thing, but for whatever reason something needs to be changed.  It should outline what the change is very specifically and needs to include the change of charges.  Even if there are no additional charges, it needs to specifically state that the cost is $0.00 in the document.

 

Things to require change orders are:

  • Changes to materials, parts or appliances
  • Agreements on delays
  • Changes in build, layout, design, colors or other elements
  • Any additions
  • Any changes to final billable costs or credits
  • Anything that wasn’t planned for

Have a plan for when things go wrong or disagreements happen:

Building a tiny house is a complex and things will go wrong.  It most likely won’t be a big deal, but it will happen.  Both sides need to be reasonable and considerate, but you also need to know when to draw the line.  The best piece of advice I can give here is that things are best resolved through productive conversations and understanding.

Be clear about what is bothering you, calmly state what you thought was going to happen, what did happen and propose possible solutions.  When you talk about issues, make sure you stop talking and listen when they’re speaking and ask for the same respect.  Do your best to keep your emotions in check.

Before you even start building, while you’re putting together your contract, sit down with the builder and say “I want to figure out a good way for us to resolve issues if they ever come up and want to work together on solutions together.”  If you have a specific conversation about this it can prevent a lot of heartache later on.

Often contracts will have a mediation process, where a third party hears both sides and determines what the fair thing to do is.  I’d suggest having the following:

  • Define a process that can help the situation early on
  • Define a mediation process
  • Define the location or jurisdiction for any legal proceedings if it needs to go to court
  • Define who pays for what in mediation and legal fees

Vet every builder with multiple references

First off, if a builder has never built a tiny house, run away as fast as you can.  Even if they were a builder of normal homes, that’s not good enough.  Why would you take the chance?

Any builder you engage you need to talk to multiple references.  In those interviews I’d strongly suggest you going to meet them in person and ask ahead of time to see the house they had built.  Most homeowners are proud of their house and love to show it off.  It will give you a chance to see the quality of the builder’s work and give you a chance to see real world examples which can be useful in your own build.

If a builder even blinks when you ask for references you should walk away.  If they aren’t quick to provide several references, you need to run away.  Seriously.  Why would any good builder not be willing to have you talk to previous customers?  Quality builders love references because their work will shine through.

A really important note: if there is anything at all, that seems not right about any of the references choose another builder. If your gut says something is off, don’t use that builder.  I’d rather be wrong than sorry.

Good builders love contracts, timelines, and references because it improves the outcome and shows their quality work.  Bad or sketchy builders will shy away from these types of things.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have?
  • What lessons have you learned from working with builders?

To Build Or Buy A Tiny House – Experts Share Their Advice

I sat down with the top tiny house experts to ask them a bunch of questions, today I am sharing their responses to the question: “What advice would you give to someone trying to figure out weather to build a tiny house or buy from a builder?” The question weather to strap on a tool belt and build your own tiny house or hire a tiny house builder is a tough one. Hopefully thoughts from those who’ve been there can help.

kristie-wolfe

Can you afford to buy? If not I’m certain you can acquire the skills to build!

steven-harrell

Focus your due diligence around money and time. Building yourself will cost less money and LOTS of time. Having one built for you will cost more money and much less time. Which is more important to you? Where does your gumption lean towards, spending time or money, saving time or money?

alek-lisefski

If building, ask for help and hire help for stuff like the electrical work at the very least. If buying, really do your homework on the builder you choose. There are so many new builders popping up each day and many are in it for the money and nothing else. Make sure you really get to know your builder and talk to people who they have built for in the past. If there are any red flags, find someone else.

ryan-mitchell

It really functions on budget and time.  I’m convinced that almost anyone can build a tiny house themselves with enough time and hard work.  A tiny house that is built by someone else is going to cost 2 to 3 times more than a DIY tiny house. Understand that when you hire a builder, they have to pay the wages of staff, tools, overhead, insurance etc.  If you do go with a builder, make sure you have a very solid contract in place.

dan-and-jess-sullivan

I would say, look at your reasons for doing this, and what kind of tiny house market is in your area. If it’s about simplifying your life and reconnecting, it could go either way, you could build or buy. If you are in a location like NC, where several tiny house companies provide some pretty great options, and you have the budget, then buy. If it’s about financial freedom, independence, self-reliance…I absolutely recommend you take on the build!

deek-diedricksen

IF you have the time, the space, and the knowledge that you WILL make mistakes along the way, and that the build will take AT LEAST twice as long as you think it will, do the DIY route- you’ll then have a chance to craft the house to your specific needs, and will addition know you home inside and out, when it comes to future fixes, tweaks, or needs.

ella-jenkins

Building one takes FOREVER. Like way longer than you think. And then longer than that. No, really (mine took me 13 months). But it is also extremely gratifying. Buying is of course more expensive and you typically get less opportunity to make changes along the way if you come up with new ideas, but it is faster and the logistics are someone else’s responsibility. If you’re physically unable (or unwilling), don’t have the time, or are the kind of person who has trouble finishing projects, buying is a great option.

ethan-waldman

Decide if you have 800+ hours to devote to building your own tiny house, and also decide whether your body can handle 800 hours of hard labor.

gabirella-morrisson

Time is money. If you don’t currently have employment and have a lot of free time and the desire to DYI, then a self build is a no-brainer. The decision becomes murkier if you do have a paying job because your time away from your work will obviously mean a decrease in pay assuming all other aspects remain the same.

jenna-spesard

Consider the time, money and resources it takes to build a Tiny House versus buy one. It’s a commitment, and you need to be passionate.

laura-lavoie

Make sure everyone is on board before you start. If you have a partner who is uncertain about tiny living, you need to have a longer conversation about it. If you think you can “convince” someone to live tiny, you can’t.

macy-miller

DIY, you are capable even though you may not feel that way. You can learn the things you don’t know. You don’t have to know how to do everything, just know how to find answers.

kent-griswold

Take a class or work with someone to get an idea of what construction is all about. This is a house and it needs to be built correctly and if you don’t have the skills it is better to hire someone who has them.

andrew-odom

Would you put your mom in a house that you built? Would it be safe enough for even your mother? If not, buy one that is.

 

A very special thanks to the folks who participated:

Your Turn!

  • What tipped you in favor or building or buying?

Welcome Alan and Marie

P1000290

A few months ago I did a post about forming a Tiny House Cohort to connect with other people that were building a tiny house at the same time I was.  The idea was that we could meet up and share thoughts, problem solve and have fun through our building process.  From that post I found a couple that was building the same house as I was, at the same time, in the same city.  Not only was it great to find someone, but it further confirmed my belief that Tiny House people are awesome, and Alan and Marie defiantly verify that theory.

So please join me in welcoming Alan and Marie to the ranks of The Tiny Life.  They will be joining us and sharing their story as they build their tiny house.  Here is a little bit about them:

We’re total neophytes when it comes to building, but we have a very strong drive to live as simply and freely as possible, with as little negative impact on the planet as possible. Walk softly and carry very few sticks, (unless they’re 2x4s, in which case, always carry at least 2 extra). Alan’s works in money, and I work in market research, but our focus is on getting ourselves out of the rat race as soon as possible, and if that means living in a 130 square foot house, so be it. We’re in our early 30’s, no kids, one dog, two cats. We decided to build Big Red in 2011, bought plans in 2012, and “broke ground” in 2013.

As they post you can follow their posts specifically here:  http://www.thetinylife.com/category/alan-and-marie  They will of course show up on the regular blog so you can see them along their journey.

[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-slide-open-holder"]
[class*="-slide-open-holder"]
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-body"]
[class*="-slide-open-holder"]
[class*="-slide-open-holder"]