10 Things Home Builders Aren't Telling You


As a home builder, I’m a general contractor.  A GC is responsible for the overall coordination of a project. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of “10 things” lists -- they’re all over the web, newspapers, and magazine.  Here’s my own list of 10 things general contractors aren’t telling you about home building.  Enjoy.

1. We don't do the work ourselves.

A general contractor might be a jack of all trades, but often we are masters of none.  Instead, our expertise is knowing how to hire the best experts, get you the best pricing (I didn’t say lowest), supervise the project, and bring it to completion on time and within budget.

So it’s really important that you understand the GC’s history and experience. How long has the GC been in business?  What kind of relationship does the GC have with his trade contractors? How long have they been working together? At Solluna Builders, we treasure the long-term relationships we have with our long-term trade contractors, and we value their quality work.  (Make damn sure your GC is not just picking up guys in front of a big-box store to turn loose in your house.)  Does the GC carry proper general liability and builder’s risk insurance and warrant his work?  Do the trade contractors carry general liability insurance, too?

2. We’re not going to be at your project every day.


While the GC might not be at your job site every day, that doesn’t mean we’re not managing your project. If we’re not physically on your job site every day, our trade contractors certainly are, so there’s even more reason for you to understand the relationship between the GC and his trade contractors.

As many as forty or more trade contractors and vendors are involved in the construction of a home. Much of the GC’s work happens at the office – making phone calls, lining up the next trade contractor, and getting materials selected, ordered, and delivered.  In a well-orchestrated project, work is carefully scheduled so that materials arrive at the job site in a timely manner and the work of the various trade contractors flows smoothly without interruption. If your project is a renovation, you’ll want to make sure your GC has a work schedule plan, and that there’s a plan for parking, restroom (we might to place a portable toilet), and where and how materials will be delivered and staged.  Please know that we go to work early in the morning. We really don’t want to see you in your pj’s any more than you want to answer the door that way with your first cup of coffee in hand.  And, yes, breakfast tacos or donuts are always welcome.

3. You are watching way too much TV.

Ok, let me enlighten you right now:  All home improvement problems cannot be solved in 22.5 minutes.  I know -- I’ve been there, done that.  Just check out my Greenovate tv show from years back.

Building or renovating a home takes time and careful planning.  It’s nasty, dusty, noisy, physical work.  Please ask questions and make sure you understand what’s going to happen.  The outcome will be beautiful.  But during construction, you’ll need patience and the ability to tolerate us being in your life.  Sure, I’ll have another donut with that cup of coffee.

4. You really can't afford to do what you want.

Welcome to construction in Austin, folks. The building boom in this area has caused labor and material costs to rise.  Right now, the good contractors and trades are really busy, and they are not negotiating prices.  With plenty of work to go around, they really don’t need to offer discounts.  And the guys that are available -- you might not want them doing your work.  In this business, it’s a true fact that you really do get what you pay for.  Just remind yourself that good quality workmanship with sustainable materials will last, thereby saving you money in the long run.

5. In Texas, your hair stylist has more licensing than we do.


We have rule in Texas that you need only three things to be a general contractor:  a pickup truck, a ladder, and a dog.  It’s possible I’m overqualified, since I own two dogs and several ladders.  Now, there was a time when Texas builders were required to register with the Texas Residential Construction Commission.  My number was 2497.  However, the TRCC was abolished by the Texas legislature in 2010.  Frankly, I would welcome the licensing of builders.

Meanwhile, our booming economy has brought a raft of new builders into the area eager to ride the building wave. You’re wise to check the credentials, background, and references of any builder you’re considering.  Know who you’re hiring.

6. Texas doesn’t require that employers E-Verify or carry workers compensation insurance.

E-Verify is an Internet-based program run by the U. S. government that enables employers to verify a person’s eligibility for employment.  You should know that in Texas, E-Verify is voluntary; the Texas State Legislature has not enacted laws requiring employers to E-Verify.

Texas, unlike other states, does not require an employer to have workers’ compensation coverage.

More good reasons to make sure you know who you’re hiring. And make sure your GC knows the proper paperwork he must have in place to establish an independent relationship between the GC and the trade contractor.

7. If the money flow stops, so does the job.


There is nothing that will slow a job down quicker than the lack of funds.  Mary, our business manager, will tell you, “Money is the tool I need to run this business and get your job done.” In order to get the best service from our trade contractors, we pay them upon completion of their work, which gives us a huge leg up over other companies that take weeks to pay.

So please, before you dive into a construction project, make sure you've worked out your money situation from the beginning to way past the end of the job.  Also, keep some money in reserve because it’s likely you’re going to make changes along the way and spend more money than was set forth in the budget.  Why?  Human nature.  You like what you see and you want more good things while you’re at it.

8. Actually, we can do better than the Internet or big box stores on pricing.

A good GC has spent years developing relationships with the best vendors in the area.  Price is never the best or only way to judge the value of a product.  What about the extra service, such as jobsite delivery, in-house design teams, special orders, warehousing, and so forth?

Finding a “steal” on the Internet might not the bargain you hoped for. You will quickly learn the true cost of that light fixture you ordered on the web – you know, the one that arrived late and broken, and now you have to return it and wait and meanwhile the electrician will have to charge more money because you held up the job and he has to make extra trips. Think about it -- wouldn’t you really rather just come on the jobsite and watch the progress while you enjoy your coffee?  Oh, and bring me another donut will you.  What do you mean you couldn’t find Round Rock Donuts?

9. You should learn to do some things yourself.


Ok, so this is where watching a little TV might come in handy.  Or maybe a how-to video on YouTube.  Seriously, there are some things you just need to know how to do yourself.  Everyone should have a basic tool kit and know how to do some home maintenance.  Come on, go for it.  The folks at those big box stores will help you out.  Look it up.  If you take care of some things yourself, it will save you money in the long run.  Sure, a GC will be happy to take your money to make fixes and improvements, but why defer maintenance just to pay more for it later?

10. We want to make you happy. We just might not be able to figure out how.

Over the years I’ve gotten really good at following my gut.  I remember going to the first meeting with a prospect and he keep pointing to things and asking me how much it would cost to change it.  I kept asking, “Change it to what?”  He couldn’t tell me what he wanted but was frustrated because I couldn’t tell him how much it would cost.  After a dozen iterations of this back-and-forth, he said he didn’t like my attitude.  I said I didn’t think we could work together, thanked him for his time, and left.

My point is you need to know what you want.  And please be realistic.  We can do just about anything, but I will always ask, “How much do you want to spend?”  Sometimes things just don’t make economic sense, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point this out.  Please let your GC make you happy – start by letting him figure out what you want.

'Til next time,



Editor’s note:  Please don't feed the builder donuts, no matter how much he begs.