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Is your custom home builder cutting corners?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013 / Molidor Custom Builders

The economic downturn of the last few years has created great bargains for home shoppers and prime opportunities to take advantage of lower selling prices, reduced labor costs and continued low interest rates. But unbeknownst to them, uneducated buyers are also being taken advantage of by custom builders who may be cutting corners in an effort to undercut the competition.


Tom Molidor, president of Clarendon Hills-based Molidor Custom Builders, has recognized this disturbing trend in recent years. He says many consumers are unaware of the depth of the problem, which has worsened due to a higher priority given to lowest price bids.


“Buyers seeking a custom-built home are making low price the top factor in their decision, which encourages many builders to compete on the cheap by taking shortcuts and cutting out necessary middlemen, which results in a lesser-quality product,” Molidor says.


The most egregious examples of corner-cutting in a custom residence include builders who install HVAC (heating, cooling and ventilation) equipment, plumbing and electrical systems, and prefab fireplaces themselves. These complex responsibilities are traditionally outsourced to professional subcontractors enlisted by the general contractor/builder. Instead, many builders today are using their own crews to implement these components—despite their lack of experience in doing so.


“On some HVAC jobs, we've seen where the builder has purchased and installed the furnace, air conditioner and ductwork with only one cold air return in the 2nd floor hallway,” added Molidor.  “What this means is that when the furnace or air conditioning is running, it will be very loud with the sound of air flowing.  In addition, if the bedroom doors are closed, the rooms will be very uncomfortable (up to 10 degrees variance) because there is no air movement.  Most reputable custom builders use HVAC contractors who pre-engineer a home to achieve maximum comfort.”


“So many consumers only look at the pretty esthetics, the fine finishes and the outer shell of the finished home product they’ve had built. They don’t realize that it’s often what’s behind the walls that counts the most, and these are the areas where many custom builders are skimping on quality,” Molidor says.


Exacerbating the problem is the fact that Illinois lacks any kind of standardized certification process for builders and rule/code enforcement. While municipal inspectors are responsible for evaluating the construction integrity during the building process, they don’t always catch imperfections or cost-cutting measures that can produce an inferior product, says Molidor.


“The sad thing is that, in Illinois, there is no uniform code for installing components like HVAC. In fact, unlike other states, Illinois doesn’t even require any testing in order to be a home builder. You merely have to be licensed within the particular municipality you’re building in, which only requires paying the appropriate licensing fee,” says Molidor. “The bottom line is that anyone can put out a shingle and be a custom builder in Illinois without having to pass any special tests or earn any particular certification.”


By contrast, Molidor says the state of Florida—where he is a certified, licensed contractor –mandates builders to pass a rigorous series of exams before they can engage in home construction.


“In Florida, I took three separate six-hour exams that rivaled some of the final exams I took in college in terms of difficulty,” he says. 


It can also be challenging to seek recourse from a builder if the home buyer discovers shoddy workmanship or defects long after construction is finished and the transaction is completed. That’s because many builders either quickly go out of business or change names, making it difficult to locate the original contractor.


“The moral to this story,” Molidor says, “Is buyer beware; perform your necessary due diligence as a consumer by researching custom builders carefully before hiring one. If you’re dreaming of having a one-of-a-kind home built from scratch, it’s easy to assume that custom builders will be a cut above production builders in terms of reliability, reputation and repertoire. But the truth is that some custom builders can be just as if not more substandard in their practices than those who build tract homes or predetermined floor plans.”


Molidor recommends getting referrals to reputable custom builders from trusted friends and relatives. Assemble a short list of candidates and research each carefully by asking key questions:

·         How long have they been in business constructing custom homes?

·         What is their corporate address? (A P.O. box should be a red flag.)

·         Who will be the ones to actually install key components such as HVAC equipment, electric and plumbing systems, prefab fireplaces and insulation?

·         Can they furnish proof of adequate worker’s compensation and general reliability coverage for any workers on the job?

·         Can they provide the names and numbers of at least three recent buyers for whom custom homes were built?

·         What reassurance of financial stability can they provide? (Ask for references to trades, banks and suppliers and phone these groups to ask about the contractor’s financial solvency.)

·         What is the estimated price (which will be clarified later in the contract), and what is included in the price? (Be wary of any figure that appears too high or too low.)


Molidor says his customers can always count on prompt and reassuring answers to these questions. He’s been crafting residences for more than 25 years and has earned a stellar reputation for the custom homes he’s built—as well as numerous industry awards for architectural design, interior decorating, healthy homes and construction excellence.


Molidor Custom Builders can build a new house on any chosen lot throughout the western and northern suburbs. Its architects on staff can create a completely unique design from scratch, or the firm can build to suit any outside floor plan you present. For those interested in modernizing their existing home, Molidor also operates a full-service remodeling firm. For more information, call (630) 789-1500 or visit

Published by : Lynn Walsh
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