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So You Want To Build a House

Last night I took my youngest son, Billy, to a Huntsville Independent School District Meeting. He is working on his Eagle Scout requirement and needed to attend a public meeting. Last night’s topic was on the recently passed bond and an overview of the construction process moving forward. While a very exciting time in Huntsville, it also gave me an opportunity to discuss with Billy what his dear old Dad does for a living. You see, aside from estate planning I also help families when they decide to build a home. So I thought this would be a good subject not only for Billy, but also a column.

When you decide to build a home, choosing a contractor and documenting the construction is very important. There are many contractors out there and while real estate in Texas and home building is hot right now, you need to be careful how you build. All houses built are not equal.

Comprehensive Set of Plans and Specifications: You should have a comprehensive set of plans and specifications prepared by an architect or building designer. These are the basis on which the builder quotes for the job. If the materials, fixtures and fittings are not clearly specified, the builder is free to choose the cheapest commercially acceptable options. Have you specified the type and quality of slab, framing, windows, door hardware and lighting, or termite-resistant timber for the frame? In Walker County, an engineered slab is a must. Just ask anyone who has had foundation work done due to settling ground.

Building Contract: Next comes the building contract, to which plans and specifications must be attached. This is the document that outlines a builder’s legal obligations (and yours). At the very minimum it should cover the scope of the works, the contract sum, how variations are to be handled, completion time, payment terms and the ‘defects liability period’, during which the builder must correct any faults.Most builders use standard contracts, but they can be vague and not as specific as you need, a better option is to have an attorney familiar with building contracts draw up your documents. Run a mile from any builder who tells you that a contract is not necessary or who suggests that you take out an owner-builder permit.Whatever the contract, it’s important that you educate yourself on the document and the contract process. This is where working with an experienced attorney can save you headaches and thousands of dollars down the road. Contracts provide a baseline in case a dispute arises between you and your builder. If the correct information isn’t recorded in the contract, either as part of the original agreement or in an addendum, it’s not binding.If you are financing the build or borrowing money for the construction, then you must have the correct documentation to protect yourself and lender as well.

Insurance Documents: But paperwork doesn’t end with the building contract. You should check that your builder has all the appropriate insurances: home warranty insurance, to cover you if the builder dies, goes broke or disappears; public liability and professional indemnity insurance; worker’s compensation insurance; and contract works insurance, to cover loss or damage to materials or work.

Occupation Certificate: When the job’s finished, there’s one last piece of paper: an occupation certificate. This is usually an inspection performed by the city or an independent inspector that verifies the building meets the plans and specifications and complies with all city codes. If and when you decide to sell, an Occupation Certificate or Inspection Report can prove to buyers that the house was built to specifications and code.

Bring a list of questions to ask the attorney. Even if you only have one or two, and you think they’re naïve, bring your list of questions. Your questions tell an attorney a lot about what your goals are, and will help the attorney understand what your expectations regarding your new home will be.

Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. www.moakandmoak.com