Thursday, September 20, 2007

Broken Buildings Busted Budgets

So I've been debating with myself whether I ought to blog about the travails of building a house. But the fact is that trying to build a house while you have a full-time job 70 miles away from the construction site actually means you have very little free time for anything, including blogging. And to be honest, the further I got into the construction process, the more, well, contingent the whole process felt, so that although my general contractor and subcontractors were extremely unlikely to be surfing the web and reading about my muttered complaints about their ways, I really didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the process. Plus it wasn't clear if I was compounding the problem by not being vigilant enough ...

But now it's built, it has passed occupancy inspection, and my favorite blogger Tyler Cowen has just posted a review of a book about the construction industry that pretty much sums up my extremely limited (but heartfelt) insight into the process. Here's the part of Tyler's summary that really sang to me:

The key problem is that building or new construction owners become completely dependent on information provided by their contractors. The contractors experience cost overruns and the commissioning owners have to suffer delays, cost increases, and the general feeling of having been screwed over.

The interesting part, though is that what he says next is not, I think, actually true in my specific case:

Opportunism and recontracting are rampant. According to the author, no institution successfully helps commissioning owners distinguish between good and bad contractors.

I actually don't think my contractor was particularly opportunistic, and I'd be hard put to say he was "bad." But his m.o., and the ways of his subcontractors were totally unsuited to allow me to exercise control over the process effectively (e.g., no itemized estimates, lots of "typed up" proposals that I could see were extremely difficult to change on the fly and keep track of changes and tradeoffs) so that even absent the opportunism and recontracting, it was impossible for me not to feel screwed over at times. Now that it's all over, and it's so nice when it stops hurting, I think I will actually examine the microprocesses that made the thing so unwieldy.

Hey, what's the use of mistakes if I can't learn from them, and now, anyone else reading my blog can?

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