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Country building surprises and how to avoid them -- Page 2

5. Electric
"The No. 1 thing I see in the county is electricians cutting corners by not having ground fault interrupter, or GFI, protection around kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, garages, basements and exterior receptacles and Jacuzzis," says Buchanan. The reason? "It's a difference in cost between 69 cents for nonGFI and $8 to $14 for GFI. You can easily come up with a dozen in an average house; that's more than $100 savings," he says.

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Solution: In your final walk-through, test every electrical outlet with a hand-held device to make sure it's hot. If an outlet is within six feet of pooling water, it should be GFI as well.

To avoid more expensive electrical or plumbing surprises, hire an independent home inspector (Buchanan charges $100 per inspection) to visit just before the drywall goes up, when all the wiring and plumbing is visible. A good source for referrals is the American Society of Home Inspectors Web site.

6. Tile
Our builder shaved costs by having his crew install the floor tile instead of subcontracting it to a pro. The job fell short of our expectations. Buchanan has seen worse scenarios on tile showers and backsplashes.

"Tile is like paint; you never see what's behind it. Tile must be laid on a concrete-based substance, and what they'll do is just put it right over sheetrock. That's huge because sheetrock is the No. 1 home material that mold grows on. They'll tile showers and that water is going to go right through that grout and create a bad scenario."

Solution: Designate in your contract a specific tradesperson to install your tile.

7. Finish work
In our house, anything that could not be finessed with a radial-arm saw was "finished" with white caulk.

Solution: Designate in your contract a specific tradesperson to handle all finish work.

8. Services
Here's a firsthand country surprise: Although we made certain that our new home was wired for cable, we neglected to ask, and our buyer's representative failed to mention, that cable is not available in our area. Satellite TV was the simple solution, but the separate dish and gear for satellite Internet service cost us $600 that we could have better budgeted for if we'd known.

Solution: Ask about service availability, even the most obvious ones, before you sign your contract.

Unlikely as it seems, new developments are notoriously lax when it comes to postal addresses. Had we not caught it early on, our house would have closed with a nonexistent street as our official address.

Solution: DO NOT trust plat maps. If your real estate agent isn't clear on your physical address, double-check it with the county courthouse.

10. Sportsman access
OK, city folk, listen up: One surprise you may face is the sound of gunfire in the woods. Our home sits in the middle of a hunt club, thus autumn weekends are usually punctuated by gunshots.

Solutions: If you are contemplating building in a hunting area, you might want to consider a subdivision where hunting is prohibited. It doesn't mean you won't hear them, but it will keep them from trudging through your backyard in the middle of the night.

Country home - after
Click image for larger view

11. Lawns, landscaping and drives
Oh, were you REALLY expecting your home builder to lay sod and fluff up your beds? Think again. You'll more likely be faced with a Mars-scape dotted with buried two-by-fours, broken bricks and roofing materials.

"In all of construction, you basically work from the outside to the inside and from the top down," says Buchanan. "Well, landscaping and concrete walks and drives are the last thing you do." Be wary of builders who cut corners by eliminating the waterproof plastic sheeting underneath the driveway slab. "You can't prove it's not there," he says.

Solution: If possible, designate in your contract a turf farm and landscape company to get your yard started, so the builder won't just throw out a handful of grass seed and disappear.

12. Mailboxes
This last one might save you a sore back. It turns out that in the country, the correct placement of your mailbox may not be at your front entry, but instead may be across the street. Why? To facilitate delivery for rural mail carriers who go whizzing by at hummingbird speed. I don't know why they can't simply sort the mail differently at the post office, but if your mailbox is on the wrong side, it will sit empty. No, I didn't make this mistake, but we've since enlightened a number of neighbors who were ankle-deep on the wrong side of their street.

Solution: Ask your mail carrier, if you can catch him or her, for directions before you dig.

Do you have a home-building story you'd like to share? Write to

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: Aug. 18, 2005




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