This is my story of 12 months of misery dealing with a log home company.The purpose of this guide is to inform and educate potential buyers on some of the pitfalls ways to avoid problems based on my bad experience.
I recently lost thousands on a log home kit "layaway"deposit -the idea was to put down 10% and then keep "rolling it over" for up to 3 years. At the time you want the kit delivered, you would pay in another 40% and then the balance at delivery. The company was to provide the needed blueprints, including changes you desire (move walls inside, windows etc.),or even allow a change to a different model. The idea is to forestall log and material prices while taking your time changing the design and getting your lot ready. Sounds great, right?
We actually contacted and visited the log home company after viewing their homes from the Interstate many times on the way to Florida for Christmas. The contract we were sent after contacting them looked real good; even offering an extra garage for free.
Advice 0: Don't do it!! Well, we were told about log problems by friends who tried to steer us away from log, but we had always wanted to build one. Turns out the logs are not to worry- it's the people selling and manufacturing them that ARE. (We also heard horror stories about contractors but I will not address that, nor post-construction log home problems, as we never even got as far as getting plans done- let alone build anything.) So I'm calling this Advice 0 because I cannot recommend going thru this process based on my bad experience with it. I would rather have a root canal, or listen to rap music or lay down in field full of ticks, buy a used car,or send my money to Nigerian 401 scamsters than go thru another 12 months of the Log Home experience. That said, the following is just my opinion based on the experience we just had trying to build a log home. No manufacturer or person is specifically mentioned here and certainly there must be some good ones somewhere. We did not buy our contract on ebay although that seller may or may not sell on ebay. Don't ask me to name names, as this manufacturer's owner is in my opinion, very thin skinned and unstable and promised to sue me if I complain anywhere. Use this advice as part of being well informed and aware of what to look for.
I also bought a metal building from a different manufacturer last year and had NO PROBLEMS. I will tell you their name if you contact me. Not sure if ebay would consider it advertising or not if I just start recommending them.
Advice 1: Do your homework!- you have heard this before and it is, of course true, but I would add : let NO "deal" move you off of doing your homework 100%-sure the "deal" may not happen again exactly but stay firm to this rule, it is just as absolutely true and valuable as the rule your Mom always told you when you were a kid: "look both ways before you cross the street!" We did not adhere to the rule,rushed in to beat the "special deal"deadline, and wound up with nothing in the end. I won't repeat here the basics like checking their reputation, asking other customers, or in the case of ebay checking feedback and contacting unhappy and happy customers (if any) there are general guides for this. I want to point out some not-so-obvious tactics used and hope to make you a better spotter of troubles from my retrospect.
One problem (and a huge mistake I made) was that we visited without asking questions first by phone,or at least study the materials and arrive with questions ready to ask. We thought it was better to visit first as that would bring up questions in addition to the few we had. We suddenly went from no specific time frame plan to buying in a rush -because the "special offer" was presented as a company anniversary special expiring in 2 or 3 days -free garage and a percentage off materials. School started after Labor day so that meant we had to get this visit in quickly, and return so my wife could be at work for the first day of school. So we went and saw what there was to see, asked questions, heard the sales spiel and visited the milling facility.
Advice 2: Construct the home, on paper and in your head, from the Contract material list and look for missing, unclear,or confusing language options, etc. Just a sketch will do, adding in each from the contract, nothing fancy, when you finish and there's no upper walls or something-you can easily see something is missing. Kind of goes along with #1 I guess, but we actually missed the fact that the home came without 1st floor joists, band or floor deck plywood materials: it was NOT on the material list but WAS talked about by the saleslady as if it would be and my wife was SURE she said everything was included. Certainly that is something to watch for. Show it to a builder, or a do-it-yourselfer freind or whoever is interested. Keep in mind if you have looked at a lot of companies and plans and read a bunch of brochures etc. that you may possibly mix that up slightly in your head. Someone fresh may see immediately that they are not including a first floor for example. Ask if this is the contract in entirety: again this seems obvious, but about a week after paying my deposit I got a letter describing the process by which the blueprints are done and changes are made. Also a "(company name here)update" newsletter came with some more rules and procedures. Some of these made no difference, such as trucking rules (of course the driver needs access to the site) but others found me suddenly not getting what I thought I was getting and one was exactly not true to what I had specifically asked for and opposite the answer given by the sales lady. That was the blueprints: They are done in stages and I had specifically requested a full set as early as possible including all details and including the basement/foundation plan. That's what we were told we were getting! (We wanted to figure out materials and work out all costs-such as foundation- down to the dollar before breaking ground. We wanted to do it RIGHT, not RUSHED. The company felt that this was an unnecessary and stupid way to do it anyway and nobody does it that way. We still see nothing wrong with doing a complete workup of costs and preferred to use COMPLETE drawings to get a more accurate cost estimate. We already owned the lot and there was no hurry-but the owner was ADAMANT we do it their way and he later accused me of preventing them from getting any work done because of my "constant demands". The only thing I asked for was either full blueprints or tell me is it 10 or 30% for full set. I was advised by phone that the company needed another 30% to do that. And yet, the company newsletter offered them for just an additional 10%. My protests about the blueprint promise was not only denied but to this day I never found out what was the cost for full blueprints-10% or 30%. They claimed the only reason I would want complete prints was to take them and have the home built by someone else. Huh????I am not a criminal and besides, the 10% deposit more than covers the value of the STOCK model we selected. SUMMARY: Go over and over the contract, make a note that this is the contract in its' entirety and anything else that affects timing or delivery or whatever must be disclosed NOW, I mean make a big point of it and there is probably a sheet for add-ons where they try to sell you more-write it on there and both parties must initial it. Don't take NO for an answer on this one. Now, why the long boring story, and besides, the contract already says something like "this contracts represents the entire understanding betweeen parties......etc." So you think its' already covered by that--- well yes, but not in practice and I'll tell you how I found out the hard way. What the company rep or owner can do is take offense that you are not accepting the change or rule sent to you after the fact, they have your deposit money now, and you are not "cooperating" (notice they want you to initial and return this stuff -if it is a part of all their deals and its' the same for all, why isn't it on the contract?). I think it is because people may not like it, and may not sign the contract if they KNEW about it. No other reason makes sense-it should be a part of the contract if its so necessary.) It could be though that these things are OK with you, or maybe not, as in my case where we wanted to do things slightly different, and it should have NO IMPACT on the company, indeed, they could have gotten another 10 or 30% out of me. I was mad, don't like this sneaky stuff, but now they have this big deposit ,so I want to remedy it somehow, and I couldn't fix it even within the framework of their "newsletter offer" if they won't let me.
Watch also for any reluctance on any salelady's part to change the sales order-for example change it from shingle to metal roof-saying "oh we can do that later" and how absolutely flexible the contract is, etc. It was the most inflexible contract I have ever tried to work with, and in fact could never get metal roof instead of shingle, never got a cost estimate before the sale,never could change to a smaller model to cover the hidden costs of the first one. Watch also for some sign of irritation on their part when you ask for a new cost estimate on some things before the sale-I asked for a price on a smaller home but with bigger log thickness and another item so as to make a comparison. The reply was very pained and seemed to imply that I was just making so much work and could it wait until tomorrow etc. Its' a tactic to make you think you are being unreasonable and she is just about to drop you and walk away.......she wants you to sign,sign,sign.....and we can just change it later-whatever you want. Next day-no new contract. Who knew it would be used against you later as "constant demands"!!!! GET THE CONTRACT EXACTLY CORRECT FIRST- the easy to change thing is BS. In fact it would have been easy to change. ALSO: Chances are that SOMETHING important or EXPENSIVE has been left off the contract...you must find it....it is what is keeping the cost down and you happy right this minute, anyway. If we had seen what they charge for the metal roof and added in the cost of the missing 1st floor.....we would have left or changed to a less costly model. THE MORE THEY INSIST "ITS' A SNAP" AND IT WILL (key word WILL) BE EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT, the more reluctant you should be. Tell them they can rewrite the contract to get it like you want, right now, or as soon as they can get to it. If thats' a problem say thanks and leave, because they never will rewrite it unless you buy more or expensive materials. If you are told its' OK to change models: They are not going to like it if you go smaller and less expensive. Some real bad foot-dragging and inaction is what you will get.
Advise 3:There were far more problems than I have told you about, yes, I was an idiot, and in retrospect the whole "free garage" thing was a real draw, but here is another useful tidbit: bring in someone who can cover for you on the project. Your uncle, brother, builder or whoever. Keep them apprised of what is going on ,ask them to be objective. We unfortunatly lost 4 months while my wife was getting breast cancer surgery and treatments. Something like this can keep you so busy and distressed that you forget that you need to keep a hand in or the log home company will do NOTHING. By the time we got back to badgering them the contract was beyond the point where it could be saved- the anniversary date required another 10% down on the original model. As nothing was done by the log home company while we were so busy, I had nothing to work with and poor prospects for getting anything out of them (he was mad at me and I believe just driving it to end at anniversary). No work was done during the preceding four months, in fact other than sending me that first stock set of prints, I never got anything tangible from the company without complaining, and then never got any work done on blueprints or a new contract- just phone calls and emails, most of them terse answers requiring further clarification. I knew that I was being waited out and there really was nothing could be done about it. No refund was allowed for and when I asked for one it really caused some anger towards me. Apparently only the company can manipulate the contract. No crime in asking the owner for a refund, I thought the worst could be is a "no". Wrong again.
At the end I tried to figure out what to do-with no success in getting a log home plan after 12 months, and with medical bills looming, I wanted to salvage something from the deal. A model change was allowed by the contract, so I wrote in requesting a change to the smallest cabin they had. I just wanted to get something and get out. I was told OK, but another 10% first, of the ORIGINAL contract amount, and the contract would not be rewritten to reflect the change of model or reduced amount of the total contract. So it appeared to me I would be sending in almost $10,000 again and with no reference to any contract and no invoice and nothing to indicate this contract was not what I wanted. The smaller cabin would have cost about $3000 to put in 10%.and continue. We would then have about 1/3 paid in and could have built the smaller one or sold it as a kit. But nothing was allowed except total victory by the owner..........So I gave up, and lost the money-at least I don't have to put up with those (pick your own descriptive word here).
ADVICE #4: Another thing to watch out for: if you are not satisfied with a company and want to move on-check and see who owns it. Some of these places have ownership of other companies and also have created new companies selling the same models with different names. You don't want to waste time and then find out its' really the same company with a different name, Check out who they are first!
Best of luck and hope you find something that works for you. We are going to wait awhile and if I ever do build with log I will just buy the logs from a wholesaler and pay on the spot.
But be careful, don't make my mistakes. Sorry this is so LONG!
Get ready for: "So, you wanna build a log home.........welcome, welcome.......come take a look at these.....Special this month....sign here.....want to go bowling?....you can change anything later.....we are the BEST!" Be a long time before I could stomach that again.....