Living in a TentBuilding a custom home is not for the faint of heart. Seriously. I've decided that building is like having a baby. It's extremely long and painful, but once you're done you forget the pain — just long enough to decide that you'd like to do it again. And when you remember the pain, it's too late to change your mind.

Due to the fact that we paid for the land outright and then still had to fork over ridiculous amounts of cash just to close on the construction loan, our personal contingency funding was long gone. And the budgeted contingency was gone before we had a single wall to call our own.

Months ago we had a big cost overrun for the concrete footings due to some misunderstandings and/or miscommunications between the engineer and the cement guys. Later the lumber went about $14,000 over budget due to a price spike between the bid and the order when the bid price lock wasn't monitored or renegotiated.

If that weren't enough, the “bids” from the electrician, the plumber, and the HVAC guy — obviously a huge part of a building budget — were unwritten, unspecified, and (apparently) subject to change.

When Sam and I look for subcontracted work, we always get multiple, competing bids (at least three). They are always written, very specific, and negotiated carefully before we move forward. Unfortunately most of the subs our general contractor brought in have nothing but memory of months-old conversations to go on. That pretty much works to our disadvantage at every turn.

Then there are the details. A few months ago we walked up to the house only to find a huge vent coming out of the roof right over the front door — even though we had specifically designed the HVAC system to avoid this unsightly mess and even though we had discussed the issue. I pretty much had a cow and demanded that they move it to the back. They did. But the hole stayed there for weeks and weeks. In spite of repeatedly requests to fix the hole, it was only taken care of after a big rainstorm (by Utah standards) that poured in the roof, through the attic, into the utility closet through the floor, and out the vent hole to the main floor. I freaked and the hole got fixed. Finally.

Sam and I have been trying to make sure windows aren't open during storms, people don't trudge through newly poured/painted/polished/stained surfaces, and stuff doesn't get broken. We have door damage and tub damage and a number of days ago we cleaned up the flooded garage ourselves.

Last week a guy on the crew was installing the second series of stairs. When he left (we were working on the attic flooring) he said, “The stairs going down are already getting scratched. You probably want to cover them up so they don't get worse.”


It seems to me that either in the capacity of “general contractor's crew” or in the capacity of “stair installer” he might be the one to cover the stairs to make sure they don't get damaged. Instead it was the homeowners doing the job.

And now it seems we are in slowdown mode. The house was first scheduled to be done in May. It's nearly September, the owners of our rental home are back from New York and wondering when we'll move out (we have to empty the garages for their stuff tomorrow), my family is ready to move my dad, and we're the only ones over working on our house some days. The seating guy and the countertop guy and the appliance guy are waiting on the cabinet guy — who isn't there. The landscaper is waiting for the driveway — which isn't being poured. There are trim and stairs and other details needing to be done — and no one is working and no one answers the phone.

So if you send me a letter and it gets returned next week, you'll know that our landlord got tired of waiting and we're living in a tent in our future back yard. Won't that be fun?