Tiny House Lessons: Buyer Beware

So, some of you might already know from my Facebook post about my stuff being stolen, that I am no longer in my tiny house.  But I didn't explain why because I wanted to write a blog post about it, since it's kind of a long story.

It started back in June when the house was delivered.  Since I was filming for Tiny House, Big Living, I didn't really have a whole lot of time to look at the house closely the day it arrived.  The main objective that day was to get all the footage that we needed - my initial reaction pulling up, us touring the inside, seeing the roof deck, etc.  By the time we finished, it was dark outside and we all were tired and hungry.  I also wasn't ready to start living there that night because we still had to get it hooked up to utilities.  So as soon as we were done filming, I locked up the house and headed back to my old place for the night.

My "landlord" (a friend from church who was letting me stay on their land) and I had asked the builder for the total ampage of the house weeks before it was ever delivered so we could make sure we had enough electricity at the site.  My friend had been working on restoring a "regular" size house there on the property for several years, so there was only a temporary power box there on-site.  Unfortunately, we were told the wrong amount.  So once it arrived, we realized quickly that there wasn't enough power there for me to use everything in my house.  My friend tried to speed up the process of doing the electric work on his "big" house, so it could get inspected and approved by the county and could then run over to my house.  But in the meantime, I only had enough electric to run a couple things like a few lights and the a/c.  I also found out when it was delivered, that my builder had chosen to install a natural gas hot water heater, which I was unaware of.  This did not seem like the most logical choice for a "mobile" house, but it definitely was not going to work since there was no access to natural gas anywhere in the area.  So my builder ordered a propane hot water heater and had it sent out to me.  (He did not install it himself because he left to go out of the country for a month two days after delivery)  He did pay for a local plumber to come out and switch out the hot water heater, but once they came out and looked at it, they immediately pointed out that the whole system was vented incorrectly and posed a major fire and safety hazard.  Basically, it should have been double-vented (it was only single) and it should be at least 16" from the house and mine was practically right up against the side of the house.  It was right beneath my loft and directly in front of a window, which besides not being aesthetically pleasing, caused a major carbon monoxide hazard.  So they re-did everything while they were there.  The front door had also been cut to the wrong size (he made it by hand) and was crooked at the bottom and he had not filled it in with anything or installed a door sweep, so bugs of every size and shape had invaded the house by the second day as well.

During this time, my builder put me up in a hotel for a month while the water situation was being straightened out, as well as the electric since I couldn't use 50% of the stuff in my house.  Eventually, one of my friends offered to lend me their generator which would allow me enough extra power to be able to use my appliances to store and cook food, wash dishes, etc.  However, once her husband (who was an electrician by trade) came out to hook up the generator, he took one look at the electric panel and said it was "a mess" and not up to code at all.  To get me through the meantime, he installed some mini-breakers that would allow me to use my appliances if I jockeyed them on and off.  So I was able to leave the hotel and start staying at the house, but he highly recommended that I have someone come out and look at the electric.

Once I started staying at the house full time, I realized the problems were far from over.  First, every time it rained, dirty water would pour in around the air conditioner because it was installed incorrectly, pooling on the kitchen counter and the floor.  The electric outlet in my bathroom was not GFCI protected, so I was afraid to keep anything plugged into it.  My washer/dryer was built so far under the kitchen counter that I couldn't access the detergent drawer, making it unusable.  And the front to my kitchen drawer came off in my hand one day.  It was frustrating to say the least, finding something else wrong every day.  But the entire time this all was happening, I just kept trying to be patient, calm, understanding and polite.  I didn't want to cause a "ruckus" or be a pain.  I also hate conflict, so I was trying to avoid it at all costs.  As more and more things went wrong, everyone around me kept telling me to get a lawyer, but I kept avoiding it, thinking we could just "work it out."  My builder was still out of the country, so he'd just pay for someone else to take care of things, like a handyman who came and repaired some poor caulking, touched up some poor paint jobs and sanded/finished several cabinet doors that were left so rough (some with nails sticking out of them), that I couldn't reach into the cabinets without cutting myself.  When he finally returned a month later, he did come out to the house one time and fixed several small things like the bathroom door that would trap you inside if you closed it all the way, finally putting a door sweep on the front door and fixing a cabinet door.  But when these last few items happened with the a/c, the electric outlet, w/d and door front, he hired a second handyman to come out and fix those.

I had already been feeling like I wanted someone to come out and inspect everything since I felt like I didn't know what to look for, but with the way things had been going, that there might be more "hidden" issues.  My builder told me to just have the handyman "look" at everything, which did not seem right to me but again, I did not want to make a fuss, so I just went along with it.  This time the handyman was a father and son team where the father had worked for Duke Energy for 30 years.  By the time I realized they had arrived, they were standing at the back of my trailer, looking at the electric panel.  I went out and greeted them and showed them the 4 things that needed to be done and the son told me he would work on fixing the a/c, while his father worked on the outlet and drawer front inside.  Before they started, I mentioned that I wanted someone to "look at" the electric and asked if that was something they could do.  The father I noticed had walked back over to their truck and had not come back.  The son then told me that his father had already looked at the electric panel and that "everything was wrong."  At that time, he looked over at his father who motioned for him and then he said that they didn't want to even touch my house and recommended that I contact a lawyer.  I was shocked and asked if they would at least do the couple small things and again, he said they did not feel comfortable touching the house at all because they didn't want to be held liable for anything.

Between my landlord's electrician who had been helping out, my friend's husband who looked at the panel and now this handyman and his father, I realized I couldn't avoid it anymore.  My electric was apparently really screwed up and who knew what else.  I still didn't want to go the route of a lawyer because again, I hate conflict, and I didn't need the stress or have the finances.  So I began to look for alternatives.  I even contacted a Christian organization that is specifically for mediation and arbitration, to help people avoid having to go to court.  But when I told them what had happened so far, even the Director of the organization recommended that I get a lawyer.  Sigh.

So I decided to have the house inspected by three independent contractors - an electrician, a plumber and a builder.  Good thing I did.

Like I suspected, there was a LOT more wrong with the house than I was even aware of.  Between the three of them, they found EIGHTEEN more things wrong.  Everything from major issues with the seal of the house (there was no flashing installed beneath the siding and the exposed wood was not treated) to safety issues like the electric panel and hot water heater being installed too close together.  There were other serious electric safety issues, the windows were not installed properly, the stairs weren't supported correctly and the skylight wasn't sealed properly, among other things.  It was enough to make me realize that it wasn't about me being "nice" or not causing a fuss anymore.  I had used every cent of my savings and this was my HOME, so I needed it to be done correctly and be safe for me to live in.

So I worked with an attorney and put together a demand letter package that included photos of all the issues and copies of all three inspections, and gave my builder the option to 1) Pay for everything to be corrected and have it all inspected again at the end to make sure it was okay or 2) Refund my money and take the house back.

I was actually very surprised that he chose the second option.  So he picked up the house last week and refunded my money.

On one hand, it is sad because I did really like how the house looked on the outside and I had already gotten used to the tiny life.  (NOTE:  Nothing about tiny living in general or tiny houses was a problem.  I loved that!  It was just the problems with my house that were extremely stressful.)  But I had let several major "mess ups" during the build slide by... my couch being 1' shallower than it was supposed to be, my breakfast bar being 6" shallower than it was supposed to be and the roof line being further over the steps than it was supposed to be, causing an awkward space at the top.

So in the end, it was actually a good thing that this happened because I get the chance to do it again, the right way this time.  I still plan on building another tiny house, or possibly even do a renovated camper/trailer this time around.  I like the idea of being more mobile!

And I still very much recommend the tiny life to anyone.  As for the building process... I had avoided writing anything about this for the last five months because I didn't want to seem like I was complaining or slandering anyone.  But I decided that I needed to at least present the facts of what happened (without interjecting my personal opinion) so people could be aware of my experience.  If people write reviews about a TV they bought, the least I could do is share my experience.  And my advice to anyone taking this path would be to really research your builder.  Trust your gut, speak up for yourself, look at their previous work, ask questions and don't worry about being the nice guy.  

As for me... it's time to start this whole process over again!  :)  But just like with everything else in life, there were plenty of lessons wrapped up in this whole thing.  So I'm just going to grab onto those, take a deep breath and keep moving forward!

Til next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!