In and amongst everything else going on in our lives, we are in arbitration with the builder of our beach house. Yes, THAT beach house. Yes, the house was theoretically “completed” nearly THREE years ago. Yes, it is a NIGHTMARE.
Almost six years ago, Blue Eyes agreed that it was time we owned a beach house. I was at first suspicious that he was joking, and then giddy with excitement when I realized he wasn’t.
We commenced our search for the perfect coast home five days before my world shattered into a million pieces. We selected a house and put in an offer exactly two days before the dreaded phone call. The offer was accepted and life was good.
That house fell through about a month into my new reality, but as if by magic, we ended up with the perfect piece of property on which to build the house of our dreams. Blue Eyes was determined to make this dream come true for both of us. It is our house of serenity. The purchase of that property closed on my birthday in 2014.
It took another 14 months of drawings, and permits, and negotiations with the county before we signed the contract with a builder, and then another two months before the builder started the foundation. In the contract there was a a pretty lavish budget (that needed to be adhered to) and a 12-month time line for building. After the 12 months, the bank would start charging us interest. The builder promised us many many many things, both within, and outside the contract. He promised he would visit our project every two weeks. He promised to put an on-site foreman on the build. He promised to stay on budget. He promised a quality build and he promised a completed house in 12 months. None of those things happened.
We do have a beautiful house, but even to this day, and because we are in arbitration, many items in the house were never completed. Sub-par drywall, leaking chimneys, a fan system throughout the house that to this day doesn’t work. We were just told by our attorney that the fan system manufacturer was sitting with the proper equipment waiting for an install date that never came. He was told by the foreman not to come out to our house because we were in default? Screens for the windows were at one point sitting in the garage, but then they disappeared. The trim for the kitchen window covering was removed for a repair, never to be seen again. We have learned throughout the arbitration process that there are problems with the roof as well, and many other things we cannot see and wouldn’t have known about if not for the level of forensics that has been done during arbitration.
We spent Thanksgiving 2016 in our beach house. The house was not complete, but the builder’s promised 12 month time frame had come and gone. We were now paying interest on our construction loan but did not have permanent financing. The interior designer had ordered the furniture delivery (and for which we had already paid out of pocket) for two months post promised and contractual completion date, and in time for Thanksgiving. We wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving at the beach house because we didn’t know if it would be my step dad’s last.
We had Thanksgiving with a bare bulb over the Thanksgiving table. There was a gorgeous chandelier there to be hung, but the builder’s electrician was told not to hang it. The foreman was just being a stubborn asshole because he didn’t want us to have Thanksgiving there. There are a total of four bathrooms and six sinks in the house, but the plumber was told he didn’t need to finish installation until December (three full months past promised completion). Thankfully the toilets were plumbed when they were installed, so we had those, but only one shower was working for the 12 of us, and no glass installed at this point anyway. The kitchen sink worked. The refrigerator front panel had not arrived and both my mother and I cut ourselves on the temporary metal door. We worked mostly by lantern light as the light fixtures in the kitchen weren’t installed. The cheap temporary front door blew open constantly. There was no glass in the transom window above the door… I could literally go on and on. It was like camping in an excruciatingly expensive house. There was a storm the night after Thanksgiving and in the master bedroom, because of issues with the fireplace and chimney, it sounded like we were out on a fishing boat in the middle of the ocean.
Throughout the days before Thanksgiving I was the only one at the house. I had loaded my car with everything I would need to make a Thanksgiving dinner for 12. After Thanksgiving I promptly loaded EVERYTHING back into the car to take back home because the foreman would not work on the house if our personal belongings were there. He was already pissed off that there was furniture his subs would have to work around. Apparently it was a big deal for the electrician and plumber to have to work around some furniture that wasn’t even in the rooms they were working on?
Days and weeks went by throughout the construction of our house when absolutely no one was working on it, WEEKS. The front door wasn’t installed until January, 2017, a full four months past promised completion. We weren’t able to get an occupancy permit until the house was complete and we weren’t able to get the final appraisal and permanent financing until we had an occupancy permit. This was all going on right before our 6-week trip to Tokyo/NZ/Australia, but should have happened months before.
Yes, it was stressful. And then, right before we left for vacation, the builder sent us an invoice for $475,000 (yes you are reading that correctly) in overages. We didn’t know what to do. The house wasn’t even technically complete. The punch list hadn’t been addressed. We hadn’t had a walk through with the contractor. While we were in Napier, New Zealand at a coffee shop in the middle of our vacation, the construction company put a lien on the beach house. This would mean we would be unable to secure permanent financing and to pay the final bill, NOT the overage bill, but the final bill prior to overages. And, the builder was breaching his own contract by putting a lien on the house. We had given our in-house counsel power of attorney to handle things while we were away, and he did handle it. Thankfully.
But, when we returned four weeks later, there was still the case of the monstrous bill. We were able to secure permanent financing, but by this point the builder had put us into arbitration. His contract stated the process by which the contract would be arbitrated in the case of conflict. There were so many things wrong with the house at this point. Items that had always been on the final punch list, but also new issues that had cropped up… we counter sued for breach. Not only did we have an incomplete house, but there are also issues with quality on some of the completed items and we had no money because every penny of the construction budget had already been paid to the builder.
Now, nearly 2 1/2 years into arbitration, YES, you are reading that correctly, TWO AND A HALF YEARS, the builder has procrastinated and pushed things off for so long that this arbitration has now gone on for over two years and cost us over $200,000 out of pocket, we are finally approaching dates with the arbitration committee. The builder is claiming the contract was cost-plus all along. We have also learned that he contracted ZERO bids on our project. He supposedly didn’t tell the foreman that there was a budget? He supposedly thought all along that he could spend as much as he wanted to build our house, which is complete and utter nonsense as he knew we were budget driven and budget conscious from the beginning and all the way through the entire project. He apparently told all the subs on our project to just do the work and send him a bill when it was done? No one runs a successful business this way. No one. Apparently most of the subs are buddies of his “who have been doing business with him for years.”
And, to top it all off, our builder hasn’t actually been running his own business for a couple years now. Apparently the builder/owner of the construction company ran off to California in 2017. So the question I would be asking if I was reading this is… why in the name of fuck did you hire this builder? AM I RIGHT?
Well, hindsight is always 20/20. But, when we hired this builder, he had built a great name for himself. He was recommended by our architect after a hearty due diligence process. This builder met us at one of his STREET OF DREAMS homes to show us the quality of his work. Our architect spoke with past client; he did his homework. The guy had a stellar reputation and the homes he has built are gorgeous. So what happened? The story goes, shortly after we signed our contract with the builder, he sold a nice piece of property at a HUGE (think multi-million dollar) profit in a very posh part of town, and subsequently decided he didn’t want to be a builder anymore. He “got a girlfriend” and purchased a fancy house in Southern California and is starting a brewery. He sold his construction company to the foreman who supposedly built our house with no budget. So, cool. Go start a new career in a different state at 50+ years old, HOWEVER, we should not have to pay the price for his disinterest (and possibly disdain) for the building industry and his former career (midlife crisis???) and if there is ANY justice in this world, we won’t have to.
Our counter suit was settled last week in our favor. The builder’s insurance company and all of the named sub’s insurance companies are paying us a couple hundred grand to finish our house properly. I hope that’s a good sign.
The builder’s attorney keeps bringing up the magazine shoot for which the above professional photo was used. He has said numerous times, if the house was good enough for this fancy magazine, what is your problem? Well, there is the matter of the $475,000 overage bill (jerk), but my comeback is… have you ever seen Oprah Winfrey on the cover of “O” Magazine, and then seen her without make-up and a wig??? It’s called pretty furniture and photoshop, dumbass.
Our house is beautiful. I am not saying it isn’t, but there are issues. I have a folder of photos of those issues, trust me, no need to post them here though. We cannot wait until this arbitration process is over, but we are not letting it ruin how we feel about our house. It is our place of serenity, and we desperately need that in our lives. ❤