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Would you bet your $90,000 in cash all goes as planned?

 
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I expect my tiny house to come in around $150,000 when complete.  I want to have a professional builder do about 2/3 rds of the work.  Which means I am going to pay the builder approximately $100,000 of that $150k.

How do I pay a builder without exposing myself to the potential of getting burnt?  I see builder payment terms such as these...

50% 4-5 months prior to the start of construction
40% when the construction begins
10% when the home is complete

Are they kidding with this?  I gotta pay $90k before they hammer the first nail?  What happens if they go belly up a week after I pay the 90k?  Sure, I'll have an unsecured claim in bankruptcy court, but I might wait forever to collect nothing.  (It's not like it hasn't ever happened.)  $90,000 up front?  Who takes such a leap of faith?  And why would any builder need such an amount up front to secure their interest?  They could always sell the unit.  I wouldn't mind if the money was being held in an escrow account, but to just hand that over and hope the builder doesn't mismanage his business or get divorced in the 9 month span of taking my order till completion just seems insane.

Anybody got any ideas how to do this safely?  Thanks.  - Dave
 
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If I wanted a tiny house built, I would find the nearest tiny house builder.  You know, someone already building and selling tiny homes.

I would look at their reputation and if they are a member of the Better Business Bureau.

Do they offer financing, to me that means that someone else is willing to lend them money so they can lend you money, whether you want financing or not.

I would show them my plans for a tiny home and get them to give me an estimate.

I might even look for several tiny house builders to give me an estimate.  I have always liked the number three, so I would get three estimates.

I have heard too many stories of people getting burned when hiring someone to do something for them.

It will be interesting to hear how others would attempt this build.
 
master pollinator
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We had a house built recently.  We did a lot of research and turned down any number of builders.  We found one that we liked when we talked to him.  We asked if we could look at some houses he built.  He gave us the name of two people that were living in houses he had built in the last year, and one he had built for about 4 years previously.  All were happy to show us around their houses and give us their opinions.  He also gave us the address of two he was currently building and were in different states of completion and invited us to go see those so we could see what his work looked like before it was all covered in sheet rock.  He had us come out and look at a huge pole building he was building as well.  He grew up locally and had a stellar reputation.  He also had a waiting list.  All in all, I had every confidence by then.  And the research paid off.  He did a fantastic job.

I believe we paid 25% down and paid for the various subcontractors as they did their parts.  Our builder suggested contractors that he used, but also let us choose our own if we wanted to.  We ended up with an electrician and a flooring guy we chose, and his subs for other areas.  It worked out very well.

I would do what Anne said, with a strong emphasis on reputation and his transparency with letting you see other things he was working on in various stages of completion.  We were even allowed to walk around job sites while he and his crew were working.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if you had to pay for all materials up front.  For every builder that ripped off his customers, there is a customer that ripped off his builder.  You can't expect the builder to pay out of pocket for materials and then worry you will flake out and not have the money to do the build, change your mind, whatever.  I can see wanting material money up front and then enough to cover his labor and his workers labor for the first month or so of the job, with monthly payments to continue covering those costs.  Again, the builder shouldn't be expected to come out of pocket for those expenses.  I personally wouldn't expect the builder to come out of pocket for anything.  His subcontractors, if he has them, may be willing to wait until the build is complete to get paid, but they will only usually do that if they have a long term relationship with that builder so they know they won't get ripped off either.  And again, the builder is trusting you to come through. You will have a contract, but the builder doesn't want to get tied up in court trying to get his out of pocket money back from you, not to mention the time he doesn't get paid for. You say the builder can always sell the unit.  Why should that burden be put on him?  If he wanted to build tiny homes for resale, thus having to be a salesman, he would probably already be doing that.  Builders generally want to be builders, not salesman.  What if he builds the house you want, and can't find someone that wants the same thing?  Now he has $100,000 of his own money tied up in something while he waits for it to sell.  Maybe you have $100,000 sitting around that you can tie up for a couple years in something you have to store and maintain.  Maybe he doesn't.

You mention an escrow account.  With our builder, we did something very much like that.  We had a construction loan in X amount.  The builder was allowed to give us invoices for our approval as various work was completed, and we signed a form that allowed him to draw that amount of money from the loan.  
 
pollinator
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Yeah, that doesn't pass the smell test, IMO - I'd tell that builder to go pound sand. Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing problem in the building industry. Reputable builders are in short supply and clients who have 'deep-pockets' are going to take precidence. This is probably their way of weeding out the small-time clients who they view as an inconvienient distraction. In defense of the building industry, these are uncertain times and good help is hard to come by. But 90% upfront?!  ....c'mon man!

More info would be helpful to provide guidance on how to proceed. Do you own the land outright or is there a mortgage lien against it? Are you acting as the General Contractor or are they (who's scheduling the variouos subcontractors that are pouring the foundation, driiling the well, excavation work, etc.)?  Is this stick-built construction? Do they specialize in tiny homes? Is there any way to do this with a modular build?

There are a lot of moving parts in doing any build, but requiring 90% upfront leaves you with nothing to hang over their head .....you will be completely at their mercy.

 
master gardener
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A few points you may want to check into .... make sure those estimates include materials.   I have encountered builders who did not include materials in their estimates.  Also, in my state and I suspect all states, builders can charge for materials at the local lumber yard under your name.  I encountered one company that had a new building put in ... paid the contractor .....and then got hit with a substantial bill for concrete from a concrete company in another town. Finally, check out the builders references in detail.  I was going to use one builder, then my wife began speaking with the references he provided.  We decided not to use him. I also have encountered references that turned out to be employees and relatives of the builder.  Be sure to check out your builders record for finishing on time.


I would not go for the 50%  5 months prior to construction.  I understand that builders may have to order some materials, but 30 days strikes me as adequate.  Maybe a given item might take more time, but that would not account for 50% of the project. The last time I saw a contractor take money that far up front, he ended up living off of it. Of course, there were up charges later on to the customer to make up.

 
pollinator
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I would steer clear of the builder asking $90k up front. All the risk is on you with someone you don't know, and suing to recover money is a bad way to go. As others have said, finding other builders and checking out their work and reputation is the safest way.

One item of importance is to get lien waivers signed and notarized for each subcontractor, and at the end, the prime contractor for work completed and paid for. This way they can't come back later and slap a lien on the building for some made-up reason like it cost more than their bid so you owe them money, etc.

Good luck.
 
John F Dean
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Giving this a little thought, I would check with my local bank as to what the norm is in my area.   Even if I was not taking out a loan, I would check with a local bank.
 
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I don't know your circumstances and house plans, so I apologize if some of my thoughts about your $150,000 price tag are off-course :)

That seems very expensive to me for a tiny house, but everyone has their own definition of what that means to them! Any way you could manage to cut that cost in at least 1/2, that way following the terms with a builder don't seem so daunting and you will be able to keep a large chunk of your cash on hand in case something doesn't go as planned, instead of going all in?

Maybe design the house for a future add-on if you desire (like one side flat and simple...think half of a double-wide), once you actually go through a first building process and cost. You might find out that you can make due just fine with less "house" and more $ in your wallet for property improvements, tools, etc etc etc??

The whole point being, if your house cost 50-75k or so, it would feel much more acceptable to put $ up front to get the project rolling, where an amount 3x that is clearly stalling you because it's scary!! I dunno, just a suggestion, because I think most builders and skilled tradesmen are going to be very costly these days to create someone else's wildest dreams for them...so maybe a more mediocre dream for the time being could suffice and you'll learn enough through the process to do your addition down the road more on your own labor and skills to save $.

Again, please just take that as my opinion, which may or may not be valid...hope it all works out!!

 
pollinator
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I have been a builder in Australia, generally with smaller one man shows if the builder asks for no upfront money he has cash behind him.
I ask for no deposit, but I ask for materials to be paid for by the customer as they are delivered, then I am never out of pocket for large invoices and the customer has the materials.
I submit weekly invoices on Friday and ask for payment by the next Monday or negotiate around that style of payment.
The subbies get paid within the terms they offer the customer.
Sometimes on bigger jobs, after materials payments are made at specific stages;
- foundation completed
- frame completed
- walls extertior complete
That sort of thing.
Its worked well for my jobs.
 
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I have a very good friend who has just begun a business building tiny houses that I'm pretty sure are well planned and well built and much less than $150,000. he also has in the works a tiny house community  in north central florida. I'll suggest to greg that he share what he is doing on this web site . what he is doing is very interesting and a great thing for people wanting a tiny house and a place where it can be situated.
 
DaveU Winters
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bruce Fine wrote:I have a very good friend who has just begun a business building tiny houses that I'm pretty sure are well planned and well built and much less than $150,000. he also has in the works a tiny house community  in north central florida. I'll suggest to greg that he share what he is doing on this web site . what he is doing is very interesting and a great thing for people wanting a tiny house and a place where it can be situated.



Yeah, I'm sure I could build for less than $150k... but I've got custom cabinets, mid-level appliances, some of the windows and furnishings will be special order.  BUT... the problem I was speaking of in my post doesn't really become less of a problem if the cost comes in at $125k.

Thanks for your reply.  -D
 
DaveU Winters
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John C Daley wrote:I have been a builder in Australia, generally with smaller one man shows if the builder asks for no upfront money he has cash behind him.
I ask for no deposit, but I ask for materials to be paid for by the customer as they are delivered, then I am never out of pocket for large invoices and the customer has the materials.
I submit weekly invoices on Friday and ask for payment by the next Monday or negotiate around that style of payment.
The subbies get paid within the terms they offer the customer.
Sometimes on bigger jobs, after materials payments are made at specific stages;
- foundation completed
- frame completed
- walls extertior complete
That sort of thing.
Its worked well for my jobs.



I wouldn't expect a builder to start this job without good faith money.  (Money down that shows I am committed to the project.)  I don't mind taking some risk, but why should I or even need to take all the risk of 90% down?  People here have mentioned that the builder should be "insured and bonded"... okay, but is the insurer going to pay me if the builder doesn't pay his premium or if there are other clients owed money?  I wonder if I could take out an insurance policy on the build?  Thanks for your response.  - D
 
DaveU Winters
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Cole Tyler wrote:I don't know your circumstances and house plans, so I apologize if some of my thoughts about your $150,000 price tag are off-course :)

That seems very expensive to me for a tiny house, but everyone has their own definition of what that means to them! Any way you could manage to cut that cost in at least 1/2, that way following the terms with a builder don't seem so daunting and you will be able to keep a large chunk of your cash on hand in case something doesn't go as planned, instead of going all in?

Maybe design the house for a future add-on if you desire (like one side flat and simple...think half of a double-wide), once you actually go through a first building process and cost. You might find out that you can make due just fine with less "house" and more $ in your wallet for property improvements, tools, etc etc etc??

The whole point being, if your house cost 50-75k or so, it would feel much more acceptable to put $ up front to get the project rolling, where an amount 3x that is clearly stalling you because it's scary!! I dunno, just a suggestion, because I think most builders and skilled tradesmen are going to be very costly these days to create someone else's wildest dreams for them...so maybe a more mediocre dream for the time being could suffice and you'll learn enough through the process to do your addition down the road more on your own labor and skills to save $.

Again, please just take that as my opinion, which may or may not be valid...hope it all works out!!



The world has changed my friend.  $150k is very reasonable today for a quality built tiny home.  Supplies are still scare, builders are booked solid, labor costs more than it ever did.   400sq ft at a reasonable $300 per comes in at $120k... add in custom cabinets, special order windows, customer shower tiling and mid-level appliances...I'll be crossing my fingers I come in under $150k.   And that's not factoring in transport costs, sales tax, site ready costs, etc.    Thanks.  _Dave
 
DaveU Winters
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[quote=Robin Katz]I would steer clear of the builder asking $90k up front. All the risk is on you with someone you don't know, and suing to recover money is a bad way to go. As others have said, finding other builders and checking out their work and reputation is the safest way.

One item of importance is to get lien waivers signed and notarized for each subcontractor, and at the end, the prime contractor for work completed and paid for. This way they can't come back later and slap a lien on the building for some made-up reason like it cost more than their bid so you owe them money, etc.

Good luck.[/quote]

Hi Robin...  (Do you know what the "world's oldest surname" is?)  Type it into Google.   I'm trying to figure out how to do it Robin without putting myself at great risk.  Tiny houses on wheels are considered vehicles... so I'm not exactly sure I can put a lien on anything.  (My neighbor gave a guy $30,000 cash to build one of those steel buildings on her property.... they came, graded the area, drilled the holes and have not returned in 8 months.  The builder told her his sub-contractor went out of business and he's trying to find a replacement.  He won't give her money back.)  That's not going to be me... that can't be me!   Thanks -Dave
 
DaveU Winters
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Anne Miller wrote:If I wanted a tiny house built, I would find the nearest tiny house builder.  You know, someone already building and selling tiny homes.

I would look at their reputation and if they are a member of the Better Business Bureau.

Do they offer financing, to me that means that someone else is willing to lend them money so they can lend you money, whether you want financing or not.

I would show them my plans for a tiny home and get them to give me an estimate.

I might even look for several tiny house builders to give me an estimate.  I have always liked the number three, so I would get three estimates.

I have heard too many stories of people getting burned when hiring someone to do something for them.

It will be interesting to hear how others would attempt this build.




I certainly am going to vet builders thoroughly, look at their previous work and monitor their progress closely.  However, even doing all that won't protect me if the builder goes out of business during the build (tough times are coming for businesses so it's not like it's out of the realm of reality.)     I have the cash to do this build, but might be better off financing it and letting the finance company be on the hook if things go bad.  I could always pay the finance company off once I take delivery.   Thanks, -Dave
 
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I'd budget $30K for a yurt and fit it with a couple of antique armoires, the highest end appliances, some mid-range Bukhara rugs, and an outdoor shower.  Not sure what I'd do with the $50K savings.  
 
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Several years ago, after Hurricane Florence, I knew several people who paid 90% up front for major repairs and they all got screwed. I’d be very careful paying such a large percentage before work has begun.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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RyaN, I am amazed no one seen those vultures like a freight train.
 
Think of how dumb the average person is. Mathematically, half of them are EVEN DUMBER. Smart tiny ad:
Cheapskates build their own home--here's how!
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