Monday, June 10, 2013

Builder Shares His Frustrations with Readers

One of my modular builder friends, Harris Woodward of Finish Werks in Savage, MD, sent me a series of emails from a couple that want to build a modular home because they feel they can save money by being their own GC. He sent me this interaction between the parties to show how complicated building a house can be today compared with just 5 years ago before the states tightened up the regulations to the point of strangulation.

What follows is Harris explaining to them the difficulties now facing anyone that wants to be in charge of building their own home in MD and the couple’s, Jim and Jane (not their real names) responses.

You can tell that he is frustrated with the new regulations put in place in MD, one of the toughest states in the nation to build a new home.

I’ll let the builders among the readers comment on this and maybe some of their own experiences in similar situations.

June 4, 2013

Harris - here is the rest of the information.

I guess for the set, since you are talking about GCing that portion of it, and you will not be setting the house directly, please provide the breakdown of what you will provide (services), crane, oversight, testing once complete, and the set price.  We can compare that to the other pricing that we got to see what will work - ie the set price only.

Good speaking with you, please let me know if you have any questions.


June 5, 2013 5:45 PM

Hi Jane – sorry for the wait. We are still waiting on speaking with set crew, but I wanted to give you at least some information as promised, by today.

Ray and I agreed that we would schedule the Set (time the factory convoy, set crew, and crane to the weather), manage the crews (orchestrate scopes between crane and set crews), arrange steel erection prior to module placement, and oversee the set including all shiploose parts for as long as the sun shines on that day. It will be Ray, our key man Don Althoff, and I onsite all day to make sure this most critical part of the project goes off with minimum trouble with the benefit of our decades of experience.

Fee for all preparation planning and a full day onsite: $xxxx
Fee for additional set-related management: TBD
Set Crew Price: best available secured directly (no markup by Finish Werks)

Talk to you more, tomorrow.


June 5, 6:29 PM

Thanks Harris – do we really need 3 people there to watch it – is it possible to have less people and have it be less expensive?  The steel will be temporarily set by the foundation contractor – I want to make certain that all sealing is done properly and all strapping, columns and leveling etc.  Should this set be done in 1 day?  I got the impression it might be 2 days.

The other pricing that you will give me is the pressure test etc to have it released or will you just hire someone to do that.  Please let me know when you have more information.  As am FYI – I took the modular course at MHTI, and have seen one set, of course, it doesn’t make me an expert, I think I at least understand what I don’t know.



June 6, 2:07 PM

Jane, I’m glad to know you took the training course. This makes you a wiser owner.

Like the Set of a modular home, we don’t do the work ourselves on the blower door testing of our homes. This can only be done by a RESNET certified HERS Rater. This person is a specialist with specific training no different from an AHRI certified HVAC contractor. Or an experienced Set Crew with thousands of dollars of rigging equipment. As an experienced GC and home builder, we are the proverbial “jack of all trades” with expertise in predictably managing ALL trades in a fiscally prudent way. We are the glue that brings it all together.

We’ve seen/heard about so many Sets gone bad over the years, usually due to a lack of experience (with the precursor being a desire to save money by cutting out middlemen). We’ve also witnessed the legal entanglement of owners acting as their own GC’s and attempting to separate scopes of work with distinct accountability.

Building modular has gotten so difficult in Maryland just with the Maryland Codes Administration. I reviewed the attached documents (required starting this year) and they definitely enjoin the owner and licensed builder to the end of the project. We can no longer simply work part of the job, and remove ourselves from the rest of it. We are legally obligated until U&O.

I spoke with Set Crew owner and he confirmed that they are being pressured to get MHBR numbers by modular factories selling into Maryland. But even if they do, they will not allow their number to be used to build the building because of the inherent problems of being drawn into legal entanglement. They have challenges enough when owners and inexperienced builders attempt to pin blame for their construction finishing problems on their Set. They often get called back for problems not of their making. Regardless, entanglement is now inevitable with the obligation written into the attached paperwork. We are on the hook, by law.

So while modular construction has value in speed and quality, it does not erase code and regulatory obligation (County and MD) and financial accountability (particularly with bank financing).

Finally, and this is the most sensitive issue of all to discuss with anyone in an objective, “politically correct” way, is the issue of cost cutting. We have found over the years that owners acting as their own GC’s have gotten into trouble on their projects more often than not. Attempting to build to IRC 2000 was admirable and achievable. Then IRC 2006 hit, then sprinkler systems, then IRC 2009 with energy, then BAT septic systems, then elaborate site plans with Storm Water Management and sediment control plans, and now IRC 2012 with blower door testing and duct pressure testing. Building one’s own home has gotten so difficult that there isn’t a bank in the land that will lend construction money to anyone without a builder’s license. For the very same reasons Cecil County is requiring licensing to protect them from liability. For the same reasons, any seasoned, experienced builder will not get involved. The liabilities are simply much too great, no matter how friendly the project appears from a subjective standpoint.

The way we are reading the tea leaves on your project leaves only 2 possible outcomes as we see them:

- Finish Werks contracts with you to build the entire house, including Set, Sprinkler System design and installation, IECC 2012 testing with our RESNET certified HERS Rater, finishing construction, trades, etc, OR
- You secure your own MHBR number and General Liability insurance policy and attempt to GC your home yourself.

Jane – there’s a lot to discuss here. We would like to bid your entire project, but we don’t want to work with anyone that doesn’t fully understand “the process” and our process. As the investor you deserve that much, too.

Best regards,

(And just when Harris thought the couple understood everything, this email shows up)

June 6,  3:52 PM

Harris, we are not required to put sprinklers in since we got the permit in prior to the deadline.  The head of the department has approved this.


Anonymous said...

Builder and manufacturer need to run away from this customer. Simply not worth the effort to explain any further.

Anonymous said...

agreed with the earlier comment.
Sometimes the best deals we make are the ones we don't.

Julius Marstrand said...

Whilst I agree the customer appears to be a liability, I don't think the manufacturer was very helpful in his attempt to explain the complexities of the regulations to the client.
All of his e-mails to the client appeared to be couched in jargon and technical acronyms designed to demonstrate his knowledge and the client's lack of it.
Personally, manufacturer and client appear to deserve one another!

Anonymous said...

Harris is not a manufacturer. He is a builder that could have his license revoked if he does things the way these people want him to do.

Run Harris, run

Harris said...

Good news, Coach.

I just got off of the phone with Cecil County... a fine gentleman by the name of Jeff. He said that after all that has happened with this project (started in 2010) that he would allow us to set the owners' modular home with JUST OUR license, and not require the Set Crew to carry a Maryland license as well. After all, he said, Maryland was already a huge pain the @$$ and couldn't bring himself to shut down the job entirely.

He and I agreed that as long as we could do what we could to prevent the owners from killing themselves with spreader bars and flying cables, they should be free to attempt to build their home like any other law abiding citizen.

Just don't come calling if/when the project goes to hell in a hand basket for lack of experience!