Meadville Tribune

Letter of the Law

March 13, 2006

Contracting To Build Your Own Home

One of the most important decisions that a person faces is whether to build a new home for themselves and their family. Not only will the decision involve, perhaps, the single most expensive purchase in one's lifetime, it involves hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions throughout the process.



If this process is successful, owners receive their dream home to enjoy for a lifetime. However, if the process is somehow derailed and problems arise, the dream home can turn into a nightmare. Remember "The Money Pit", starring Tom Hanks and Shelly Long? In the movie, Hanks and Long contracted to renovate a dilapidated mansion. The movie is a series of comic missteps and nightmares which result in the house becoming a "money pit", sacrificing their marriage and sanity.



If the owner's decision is to build a new home, they must educate themselves on the various construction options. Owners should fully investigate potential home layouts, material specifications, and decorating options. The more detailed choices that the homeowner is able to make will go a long way in avoiding potential pitfalls.



The next step in the process is finding a contractor. Owners will want to investigate each contractor by speaking with people who have previously completed the process or are professionally involved, such as attorneys, architects, lenders, and zoning officers. Be sure to personally contact prior customers of the contractor and view the contractor's work.



After finding a contractor, the next step is to engage legal counsel to assist in drafting a construction contract between the owner and the builder. I suspect most people's reaction to the word "contract" is the same - a lengthy document containing small print and incomprehensible legalese. However, the construction contract does not have to be full of obscure Latin terms and small print. A well-drafted construction contract can be presented in clear, plain language that fully sets forth the responsibilities of the contractor and the owner. The more details and specifications set forth in the contract will ultimately help to avoid any potential disagreements with the contractor. All copies of the suggested layout, material specifications, and design choices should be included in the contract. Any items that the owner is to purchase directly, or outside the contract, should be clearly set forth.

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Letter of the Law
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