Your new home is a giant jigsaw puzzle, made of thousands of components, often assembled on your lot by teams of contractors.
Each team completes a portion of your home’s construction, then hands off your home to the next team.
To organize all of this, your builder will typically act as a general contractor and coordinate all of the specialized trade contractors who construct your home.
Scheduling each step in your home’s construction is an art and a science — and each crew depends on contractors prior to their work. Your builder will set a timeline in place and monitor construction throughout. The foundation crew provides a solid base. The framing crew’s job is to construct a skeleton of your home that’s square and true. The sheetrock crew installs drywall, creating a smooth surface to hang kitchen cabinets.
In addition to scheduling and monitoring each team of specialized trade contractors, many builders provide homebuyers with one or more interim inspection during the building process.
No matter how skilled each crew is, how diligent the builder, or how thorough the interim inspections are, anything with so many components made by hand by human beings will have items that need attention at the end. That’s why your “final walkthrough” is so important. Typically scheduled after all construction is complete — before you close and take ownership of your home — this inspection is an important opportunity.
As a buyer, you and your builder will typically walk your new home together and mark items needing attention. To deliver as problem-free a house as possible, some builders perform their own final inspection before the customer walkthrough, so blemishes, scratches and dents can be repaired before the buyer ever lays eyes on them.
Mark items that need to be addressed with painter’s tape
One of the most important tools you’ll see on a final walkthrough is a roll of blue painter’s tape. As you walk each room, you and your builder will look carefully for items that need attention — a bit of wood trim not painted, a missing cover on an electrical outlet, a crack in a tile. Typically, you and your builder will mark any items that need attention with painter’s tape. This creates the “punch-list” of items that your builder will correct.
Establish Timeline for Additional Work
The key thing is to establish a timeline for all work. Ask for larger issues to be addressed before you close. Get agreement on when other work will be complete. Ask who’ll do the work. Some builders have a dedicated crew or staff person to complete punch-list items. Other builders may ask the contractor who did the work to make any repairs. The difference may not matter to most buyers. Most owners just want to know what work will be done when. For work to be done after you close, ask for appointment times that work for your schedule. Keep a record of punch-list items that have been completed and others that still need to be addressed.
At Lexington Homes, a long-time Chicago area builder, “a number of quality control walkthroughs are performed by construction managers to make sure everything is okay,” says Co-Principal Jeff Benach. Lexington Homes also does two walkthroughs with buyers, one a week before closing to spot problems and another on settlement day. The latter, says Benach, is “to make sure the customer is satisfied with the fixes.”
Pulte Homes, which delivered 18,000 houses last year, does three walkthroughs, once before the drywall goes up, followed by a quality check by various inspectors, and a “final tour” prior to closing with customers, according to spokesperson Valerie Delenga.
More typically, though, you’ll be asked to make your final inspection a day or two before the scheduled close. Afterwards, you will be given a list of the flaws — maybe a window that won’t open or a small crack in the drywall — which you and your builder find.
Some of the items on this punch list will be repaired right away. But if not, waiting 15 to 20 working days to get them fixed is not unusual. However, emergencies such as a plumbing leak that pose a safety or health problem or lead to further damage, should be taken care of right away.
List Additional Problems
You’ll also likely be asked to make a list of any problems you discover after you move in. Some builders ask for a list in 30 days, others at 60 or 90 days after you move in. Whatever the timing, don’t phone it in. Mail or email your list so your items won’t be lost in translation. Remember, the person answering the phone is not usually the one who handles call-backs.
In addition, you may be asked to submit another list in the 11th month of your occupancy, before your builder’s one-year warranty on workmanship expires. By this time, your house should have stopping moving — settlement and shrinkage are the major causes of problems like nail pops or a creaky floorboard.
Realize, too, that most of the problems you experience will be minor irritants that you can live with until they are repaired. Things like hairline cracks in the concrete, or windows or doors that don’t close precisely are cosmetic defects that won’t interfere with your livability.
In contrast, major structural defects that must be addressed right away are very rare, according to the 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty Corp. of Denver, a firm which backs the work of some 8,000 builders in 48 states.
Overall, says National Risk Manager Paul Thomas, just 1 percent of new homes that they cover experience a major problem during their 10-year warranties. That’s just 10 houses per 1,000 built, about the same percentage of houses which experience major fire damage.
After Move-In: Read Builder Manual
After you move in, read the manual that many builders provide that explains how to take care of things in your new house. How to and when to change air or water filter, for example, or why the grade of the lot slopes away from the house (for drainage) and why it should not be changed. Familiarizing yourself with the manual could save you from experiencing many headaches in the future.
Lexington Homes gives its buyers a 38-page Home Owners Handbook when they sign a purchase agreement. The book, “Your Guide to the Use and Maintenance of Your Lexington Home,” also is online at the company’s website, as is Pulte’s warranty, seasonal maintenance and home-care guides. Lexington’s handbook “spells out everything,” says Benach. “Most people don’t read it all the way through, but they keep it to refer to later.”
Kindly Reach Out to Builder With Questions and Concerns
When you uncover an item needing repair or attention, ask when you can expect the fixes. Schedule a firm appointment time or at least a range of time. That allows for traffic or for appointments just prior to yours work where work may take less or more time than expected.
Your home can be your largest investment. Most builders understand and respect that. As in other areas of life, emotions can run high if an appointment is missed or if items on your punch-list appear to be neglected. Reach out to your builder and ask for firm answers.
Keep in mind that your builder probably constructs other homes (sometimes hundreds) each year in your city. A smart builder knows their company’s reputation for quality, customer service, timely response and completed punch-list items is critical to their success.
If an appointment is missed or a promised repair is delayed, reach out to your builder with the facts. Carol Smith of Carol Smith Home Address, a Colorado Springs-based consulting firm that works with builders to improve their customer service, offers this advice: Be clear, stay calm, be polite. Use persistence and facts and builders are likely to respond positively.
Like most businesses, builders value positive word of mouth and recommendations. Providing a clear request and the facts is often all that you’ll need. If not, consider contacting the local HBA (home builders association) if your builder is a member or your local Better Business Bureau.
For most buyers, punch-list items will be completed — as will any issues noted at subsequent inspections — with a minimum of hassle. If you still have unresolved issues, escalate your concerns. Ask to speak to a supervisor or the owner of the builder.
If your issue is with an appliance or any product that was made by a manufacturer and installed by your builder or a contractor, consider contacting the product manufacturer or local retailer/supplier. And remember those owner’s manuals? Most of them spell out the details of the warranty process on the many products included in your new home.
While not always perfect, a builder’s inspection, punch-list and warranty process can offer you protection that you may not get with an older home. Buyers of homes that are 10, 15 or 20 years old may encounter their own challenges — but lack the warranty protections that many new homes offer.
Lew Sichelman is a nationally syndicated housing and real estate columnist. He has covered the real estate beat for more than 50 years.