So you've committed to build your dream house and it's time to start bidding and finding your general contractor (GC). The cost of home building may be the largest purchase of your entire life so it's important to get it right without leaving anything on the table. But being too pushy and nitpicky can have negative effects because GCs can deprioritize your work and be incentivized to hide quality issues or even seek legal action if you push too far. You have to decide how to navigate this complex relationship in order to thread the needle between maintaining high quality and maintaining your positive working relationship.
First we'll start with two affirmations to repeat to yourself:
Which Hills are Worth Dying On?
As an owner, you have power to withhold inspections, sign-offs and funding draws if things are not up to standard but home construction contracts are written imperfectly and lack the detailed 1000+ page specification books that often come with larger commercial projects. So when you are not happy with the quality, your only practical recourse is to ask your GC politely to 'make it right'. You have a finite amount of political capital here so it's important to prioritize issues that need to be fixed and deprioritize issues that aren't that big of a deal in the grand scheme.
Our recommendation is to apply the following means test to decide if it's worth spending your limited leverage:
Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer who was coming to do a professional home inspection of the finished house. What structural, mechanical and building envelope issues would be flagged? What aesthetic issues would you first notice? You need to prioritize the issues that would be obvious problems to a prospective home buyer and de-prioritize issues that would be unlikely to come up. Let's take a look at some examples:
|Category||Issues to Prioritize||Issues to Deprioritize|
|Drainage, Reinforcement, Waterproofing, Frost Depth||Minor cracks, Lack of Smoothness, Out of Level|
|Framing||Header Sizing, Truss Integrity, Fire Blocking, Nailing Patterns||Minor Chips or Checks in Lumber, Missed Nails|
|Building Envelope||Window / Door / Roof Flashing||Minor aesthetic issues with siding, caulking imperfections|
|Mechanical / Electrical / Plumbing||Pressure testing, Pipe / Duct / Wire Sizing, Code Compliance, Joist Integrity||Ugly routing, excessive hole cuts|
|Flooring / Casework / Millwork||Underlayment, Waterproofing||Minor Scuffs, Minor Aesthetic Issues|