In 2014, we decided to build a barn and a farmhouse on land that we owned. It was quite a task to get to that point because we had so much we wanted to plan and build into this farm. We traveled so many places, looking at so many barns and barn houses, gathering so many ideas. We spent the previous two years sorting out all the “must haves” and the “we definitely don’t wants” from the mix. Together we settled on a general “look” that we wanted. This “look” we wanted, was modeled off of a barn we had looked at a few years ago that we both simply loved. After about a solid year of sketching, and figuring, not to mention several graph pads, we had designed our dream barn. We dreamed of a ton of character, small and simple living, and loads of old-fashioned charm. What we wanted was a new, yet old, barn and farm house. You know, the kind of place that has an inviting front porch to sit and rock, or swing, and share stories and memories of a better, simpler time. A comfortable place to just slow the world down for a little while.
The next step was to hire a builder to construct this dream barn. We spoke with a builder we knew and trusted, who came out and spent a lot of time with us on several occasions, going over our plans and the design we had for the barn. He suggested a few small changes to the front porch to provide more longevity to the structure, for what would be just a fraction more in cost. He provided what we thought was a very fair estimate for what we wanted built, adding that our design was “absolutely awesome” and he would be privileged to build it and help us throughout the project. He said he could get started in about three weeks and the exterior portion of the build would take about 60 days from start to finish. Because we would be using custom built barn doors, he stated there would be about a 8 week lead time on the doors. With that, he said he would place the order for the doors at the start of construction, so as to make the building process run smoothly. He assured us he was very fair in his pricing, but suggested we may also want to get one or two other quotes on the building, and to let him know if we would like to go forward with him as the builder. He was completely professional in every aspect. We were now very excited, but decided we would wait until the next week to make a final decision as to if we would go ahead and hire him to build it for us.
What happened next, would prove to be the beginning of what was our only and worst mistake in the entire process so far. Someone recommended another builder to us. Looking back, we realize this person truly meant well, but had no idea the disastrous road they had just put us on. Make no mistake, we are not placing the blame on the person who made the recommendation to us, for they only made the recommendation in good faith to help the financially struggling builder. What we knew was that this builder came from a good family and was local to our community. We also believed his ~smooth presentation and liked his enthusiasm to make the build. He assured us that start-to-finish, he would work closely with us to be sure this build was exactly how we wanted it to be, and that our dream barn would soon be a reality.
What came next was a 6-month whirlwind! Or maybe better described as devastating Cat-5 Hurricane! Having purchased, owned, and built numerous other homes and barns in our lifetime, this was absolutely the worst experience ever! Not just the worst ever, but more like 200 times the worst you could ever imagine! It was so heartbreaking to realize about 3 weeks into this project that we had truly made the worst decision either of us had ever remembered making. We kept a daily photo-log of the progress (or maybe better explained; lack of progress). This barn was framed, with only about 90% of the roof-metal installed, and then it sat exposed to the weather and rain for several months. We were told time and again nothing could be done because the builder was waiting on doors. These are the doors he knew would be needed for this barn well in advance of ever breaking ground on this project. The excuses out-weighed the progress by far. With enough complaining, the builder would send the crew out to put on maybe 3 pieces of metal, only to have to leave again. This was driving us both crazy as we watched as the framing boards were becoming “black” from the exposure to the weather and elements, and mold was beginning to form on some of them. We actually had on two separate occasions, two different builders call us and ask if we needed help or if we needed them to finish this barn project for us. One of those calls came from our original builder we had spent so much time with in the beginning who told us that he understood the builder we has chosen, maybe was not able to do this job. That maybe the builder we chose, had “bit off more than he could chew” so to speak. And sadly this is exactly what the case was.
We realized that we had given the hired builder all of the draws (all of the money), except the one, small, final draw that he would receive once the barn was completed. We also noticed the builder was starting (and even completing) other small jobs everywhere he could convince (or deceive) someone into hiring him. Why? Quite simply because he had drained all the quick/easy money he could from us. It was then we started looking into things much closer, as we realized that we really had messed up so badly by hiring this builder. Upon asking around, (and doing research we really should have done prior to hiring this builder) we were being told by everyone, terribly similar stories. We began to notice that the builder was purchasing materials from lumber supply companies from out of town, because he had no credit with the local lumber supply companies that all the reputable builders in our area were using day in and day out for their materials. We had more people tell us terrible stories about this builder than we could ever imagine. We were saddened (by our own terribly poor choice) that we had hired this builder. We contacted the LLR (The Labor, Licensing, and Regulation Board for our state) and were told the builder we hired was not licensed to even build our barn. He had a history of pulling permits under other duly-licensed builders to build pole-barns. It was explained he was merely a residential-contractor and this building did not fall under the scope of the license he holds. This constant spiral of bad news, made it very clear that our dream barn was quickly turning into a “crap-barn”. The hurt, pain, frustration, concern, devastation we were feeling was weighing so heavily on us, that we talked to an attorney, as well as a reputable builder about how we should proceed. We had now learned through experience, everything you should NEVER do when trying to build your dream-anything!
We were determined to move past this mistake (Our own mistake of hiring the incompetent builder) that we accept full responsibility for. We, on the advice of an attorney, gave the builder the ultimatum of either getting his crew on the site to work until completion, or face legal consequences. (It should be noted that this is at a time that is now 5 months and 1 week AFTER the contract was signed, and this builder himself had only been on the site on 2 occasions-both of which were to receive payment/draws). He responded to our call with a text-message saying he was busy but would call soon. After another 24 hours had elapsed, we photographed his crew removing ladders and equipment from our site, to go work on other job-sites, while stating they were unable to work at our site right now. (Although they blamed not being able to work on our barn on the weather, we noted it was 72 degrees and sunny, but the real reason was they were trying to make a quick-dollar on a small job, knowing they would have to work through the remainder of this barn in order to receive any more money from us). These pictures were then sent to the builder, inquiring as to when and if they intended to finish our barn, and asking for at least the courtesy of a telephone call to discuss the matter. It was then, we were texted again, saying the crew would return after completing a few other paying jobs, at which time they would stay on the site until completion.
At this point, although only cautiously, optimistic, we were praying and hoping for the best. The crew did show up on Friday of that week and worked through the next 3 weeks. Unfortunately, although they were working, they were covering up mold-damaged boards, were “hanging” soaking-wet insulation (we have photos and videos of this) over the framing boards in the sun, letting the insulation drip-dry. They had 400 square feet of insulation that was too badly damaged from water to even be used, so they elected to simply not insulate a dividing wall in the barn. This wall insulation is critical because it separates two different areas that will be kept at 2 different temperatures, which will cause condensation to form without a proper vapor-barrier. This led to another series of text messages in which the builder requested an additional $750 to cover the insulation that would be required to insulate the wall, and the labor to remove wall-metal and re-install it. This was alarming to us, as we had already paid for the wall to be insulated. But now a request that we “re-pay” for this? Based on the fact the insulation was left out by the builder’s crew to be damaged? And this some how becomes our problem? It was truly ludicrous how we were treated during this entire process. We finally simply surrendered and decided we would be so delighted to have this builder finish whatever it was he would finish, and be gone from our property. We were sickened at the thought of even attempting to continue to beg, plead, and go through the legal process, on top of paying this builder to do this job correctly. So we waited. And about 10 days later, we received a text message stating the building was completed and he wanted to know when he could get the final payment. Not a telephone call, saying the work was finished and that we needed to meet and look and be sure everything was properly finished, but a text saying quite simply it was done and he wanted payment. The thought did come to mind to simply “text” him a check, but we elected to cut our losses. We resolved to accept the fruits of our terrible decision, to ever allow him to do this build in the first place, and to simply pay him and move on.
After we mailed the failed-builder a certified payment for the remainder owed, the very same day we met with a reputable builder, properly licensed, to start sorting out our next steps. In the first inspection by the new builder, there were 17 issues that needed to be addressed. We have begun working through the smaller ones, and are structuring a plan to address the larger ones. A huge weight has been lifted off of us, as we are now working closely with someone who not only cares about what we are doing, but also takes pride in what we are doing and the work he does. He has been great to work with, and has not once faulted us for our bad decision, but instead has offered huge insights to things we need to do as we proceed with putting our barn back on track to be our “dream-barn”. He has chuckled with us and had a few good laughs at how the original builder wasted no time to take to social media to “brag” and “boast” about this beautiful barn. Sadly, what people see in his pictures, is the great looks of OUR own design, the very barn we spent so much time designing. What they don’t see, is all the deficiencies of his work, and all the problems we are having to correct so that we can move forward. What they are looking at is photographs of what we envisioned over 2 years ago, the charm and character of the window placement, the color choices, and all the inviting charm and character we built into this design with graph paper, pencils, and hundreds of hours of discussion. They are NOT seeing the inadequacies of his work, his carelessness to the entire project, the begging, pleading, waiting we endured, only to have to hire someone else to make right, his wrongs. But again, we have spent good times laughing away that pain, and working together with our new builder to achieve what we set out in the beginning to accomplish. And in time, we will have what may not be a huge masterpiece, but will surely be our farm and farm home. And through it all, we have learned so much, and we are certainly happy with that.