Homebuilders continue to be our nemesis

Every once in a while something comes up that reminds me of how much I dislike homebuilders. I have colleagues who work with homebuilders and I'm sure there are some fine ones out there but, as far as I'm concerned, builders rank up there on the greed scale with Wall Street brokers giving themselves bonuses with taxpayers' money. There's a story on page 1 of this issue about how the Texas Association

Every once in a while something comes up that reminds me of how much I dislike homebuilders. I have colleagues who work with homebuilders and I'm sure there are some fine ones out there but, as far as I'm concerned, builders rank up there on the greed scale with Wall Street brokers giving themselves bonuses with taxpayers' money.

There's a story on page 1 of this issue about how the Texas Association of Builders persuaded Gov. Rick Perry to sign a bill prohibiting Texas municipalities from passing residential sprinkler ordinances. It's retroactive, so it nullifies sprinkler ordinances that have already been passed this year. And this was despite pleas from the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Fire Chiefs and the fire chiefs of Austin, Dallas and Houston.

The most telling article on the topic was in the June 9 Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

“Homebuilders make up a sizable portion of Perry's fundraising haul,” wrote reporter Danny Yadron. “The association's political action committee, Homepac, contributed $20,000 to Perry's political action committee between July 1 and Dec. 31, and Bob Perry, CEO of Perry Homes (and no relation to the governor), contributed $25,000 over those months. According to Texans for Public Justice, Bob Perry and his wife were the governor's biggest individual donors in 2006.”

Which is a lot more than you can contribute on a firefighter's salary.

“The Texas State Association of Fire Fighters PAC contributed $2,000 to Perry's PAC from July 1 through December, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission,” the newspaper reported.

There was a time in the late ‘90s when one of the homebuilders' associations put out a manual teaching them how to make ductwork out of drywall. Why bother with all that expensive and inconvenient sheet metal when you can just blow air through the cavities between the studs?

And then there was the Dave Yates column from September 2004 describing how homebuilders had turned their plumbing subs into beaten down dogs.

“Builder No. 1 forgot I was coming (I arrived at exactly the appointed time),” Dave wrote. “He proceeded to give me copies of the other contractors' quotes (separate HVAC and plumbing contractors) and hastily blackened the numbers with a magic marker. No doubt he knew their bids could be easily read by holding the papers up to a light source. He then went on to tell me that he would be providing the plumbing fixtures because he has a direct account with the manufacturer. I was to receive the fixtures, warehouse them, transport them to the site, install them and — get this — provide a one-year warranty on the fixtures!

“Builder No. 2 had requested I meet with him at the housing project to see a framed house,” Dave continued. “He would provide me with the prints and details once there. Upon arrival, there was another p-h-c contractor's truck in the unfinished driveway. I was on time, so I went in anyway. The builder and his estimator were both there with specifications in hand and so was the plumber who was already doing their work! He was installing water lines.

“Now that's about as low-class as a guy can get — having other bidders visit a site while the current mechanical contractor is working. No doubt the GC was doing this deliberately in order to beat down the mechanical sub's pricing.”

Finally, there was the GE booth at this year's Kitchen & Bath Show. GE displayed a tankless heater, a heat pump water heater and a solar water heater. It plans on distributing them through the same distribution channel that it uses to move stoves and refrigerators to builders.

When we asked about training and qualifications for plumbing contractors, the product manager grabbed the stub-outs at the top of the heat pump water heater and said, “This is hot, this is cold. That's all he needs to know. He doesn't need to know how this works.”

I let him have it. I let him know that the sad, desperate, beaten-down, rusty truck plumber that he thinks is all there is in the world of plumbing constitutes the minority of contractors in this industry. The readers of this magazine could build their own heat pump water heaters in their shops, if they wanted to. For the love of God, please don't ever get desperate enough to work for people like the ones Yates described.