Building your house with a prefab system (be it pre-cut, elements or modules), will require that you do a certain amount of work on your site before the construction of the structure starts and after the construction ends.

In fact, most manufacturers are just suppliers and they limit the scope of their work to the assembly of the house shell (building envelope).

But you have to build the entire thing... so how do you deal with the rest?

You need to hire a general contractor, or a series of local companies to carry on the works for you.

Here are the important aspects you should take into consideration...

 1. Start with a good foundation

There is no way around it: when the house kit arrives on your site, the foundation has to be ready.
This means you have to start the works on the site way before the house kit goes to production.

Foundation works are not just about pouring concrete.
There are several activities that need to be carried out before the foundation is cast, namely:

  • clearing the site;
  • groundworks (excavation, rock removal, water pumping, ...);
  • setting up the pipe works for the connection with the utilities.

In most cases, this is not something you can do over the weekend with your cousin.

Hiring a general contractor is your best move to make those things happen in the right order and with the smallest margin of error.

Having a general contractor around for the entire period of the construction works will also help you with other important things (more on this in section 4).

2. Think about what comes next

If you are still not convinced you should hire professionals to kickstart your works, you might change your mind when you think what's coming after the house is weathertight and finished by the outside.

Making the house weathertight and completely finished by the outside is usually under the scope of works of the manufacturer (unless you agree something different for some specific reason).

However, when the manufacturer's team leaves, the interiors are almost totally undone and there is still a lot of work to do.

In the best case, you have the insulation fitted and the wall closed with gypsum boards almost everywhere, but hundreds of man-hours are still necessary to complete the rest:

  • installing all the technical systems (more on that in the next section);
  • rendering the gypsum boards and painting (or installing wooden boards if that's what you prefer);
  • installing the stairs (if you have them);
  • installing the floor cover and the tiles;
  • installing the molding for the floors and around the windows;
  • cleaning everything and dispose of waste.

You see it is a lot of work.
You definitely want someone competent to be taking care of it.

That's where your general contractor comes handy again.

3. The house needs systems

As mentioned above, the first step when you start working inside the house is to install all the technical systems.

Now, there is something to keep in mind in this regard:

it is often required that the person or company that makes the installation has a special license to carry out the job.

This goes mainly for the electrical and ventilation systems... but it is more and more common to see higher requirements for heating/cooling and plumbing as well.

So, maybe your one-fits-all general contractor will not be able to do all those works himself and you'll have to involve other specialized small local companies.

This means additional headaches for you... 
...unless you let the general contractor take care of this.

Let's see how this can play in your favor.

4. Leverage your contractors

General contractors work in close collaboration with other building professionals in your area.
They know people and they know who's best suited to carry out the job for you.

You, on the other hand, know nothing about this and could use some help.

A general contractor also had a deep knowledge and practical expertise on the following matters:

  • building know-how;
  • time planning & deadlines;
  • project management;
  • norms & safety.

When you involve a general contractor on your project, you are actually outsourcing all these things.
Think about that.

Sidenote: you don't really want to be personally responsible for the safety of people on your construction site... do you?

On top of all that, the general contractor will be able to assist the manufacturer's assembly team with some of the services that must be sourced locally, for example: the crane and the scaffolding.

5. Leverage your experts

Now, using your general contractor to help in all those things, that's some serious leverage you are putting into place!

...but there is some more leverage you can use when you take into account the other professionals that should already be on your team.

I'm talking about your architect and eventually your engineer or your consultant.

Now, you might not have an engineer or a consultant (although it is a good idea to have someone to help you with a technical eye during the course of the project) but you surely have an architect.

These professionals come really handy when it is time to choose your general contractor.

Most probably, your architect (engineer, consultant) know all the general contractors in your area. get some help to make your choice!

When you start the selection process, make sure you get at least 3 price offers from 3 different general contractors, and have your experts go through them.

Make sure they are comparable (they all offer you the same services) and make sure there are no hidden clauses.

Last but not least, make sure it is clear (black on white) what the general contractor will be responsible for, during and after the construction of the house.

6. Clarify responsibilities

This is a big issue and it is something that you must address before you sign any order form.
Here is the thing:

when there is more than one party involved in a project, all the parties will try to shit responsibility on someone else.

If something happens with your house, it will not be easy to determine who's mistake is that (if there is any fault all).

Remember that at this point you have several parties involved in the execution of your project, namely:

  • the manufacturer;
  • the general contractor;
  • all the specialized companies for the technical installations.

To avoid confusion and make sure everyone honors their responsibilities, you need to set some ground rules.

Now, the easiest way to deal with this is this:

have the general contractor buy the house kit from the manufacturer and be responsible for the entire thing.

This instantly solves all the problems related to guarantees and responsibility.
However, it introduces a couple of issues:

  1. Problem: most likely the general contractor will not want to be responsible for the work of the manufacturer.
    Solution: tell him to work it out with the manufacturer and charge you what necessary to make it happen (you, of course, have the right to reject the offer if the price is crazy).

  2. Problem: the general contractor now handles the whole project and it's gonna cost you more.
    Solution: well, there is no real solution to this... but think to all the things that you don't have to lose sleep on.
    Placing the general contractor in charge of everything will make your project bulletproof... so you are actually paying for peace of mind and reducing your risks of going over budget.

IMPORTANT: in some locations, the State offers special tax reductions for people who build their first home.
If you buy your home from a manufacturer (supplier) located in another state, you'll not be able to apply for those benefits.
However, if a general contractor located in your area buys the house kit for you and charges you for the entire project, you'll qualify for the tax reduction (or whatever another benefit is available in your State).
This means that the premium you pay for letting the general contractor handle the entire project may be totally offset by the saving you make due to local incentives.

Sidenote: in any case, the manufacturer should be held responsible for the good quality of the house kit and the safe shipping to your construction site. In case the manufacturer also provided the assembly of the kit, then he should be responsible for the correct installation.
The manufacturers must always provide a guarantee for all the materials they supply.
A general contractor should use those guarantees whenever necessary.

7. Make your life easier with the bank

Last but not least, you need to finance your project.
When you buy the house kit from a manufacturer located in another country, your bank might not be very supportive.

If you get a local general contractor to buy the kit for you, all your financing issues are instantly solved.
It doesn't take a genius to see that working in this way makes your life easier.

Again, be super careful not to accept a crazy increase in the overall cost of the works... but I'd say if you are charged by the general contractor a 10% more, that is quite reasonable and it won't make a dent in your monthly mortgage rate.

Remember: that 10% more might be the difference between being able to build or not building at all (i.e. the bank might not give you any money if a local general contractor is not involved).

8. Convincing a general contractor

Here are a couple of words about getting the general contractor on board with this.

Unless they specialize in building with kit homes, general contractors are very reluctant to take over this kind of project.
Here are their main reasons:

  1. they (wrongly) believe that since the house is prefabricated, they'll make less money;
  2. they do not want to be responsible for the work of others (manufacturer);
  3. they might be attached to traditional building technologies and try to talk you out of building with a prefab system.

Now, I'd like to address first the last point.

No matter how "cheaper" the contractor will make it seem when building his way, you will NEVER listen to him.
You gotta promise me that!

Things like qualityenergy performance, indoor comfort, are concepts that a general contractor can hardly grasp and these aspects are surely overlooked in his cheap offer.
So, resist temptation and stick with your plan of building a prefab home.

Point (2) can be solved when you ask the general contractor to put a price on it.
We discussed this above.

Point (1) is just a plain wrong assumption.
As a matter of fact, if the general contractor was dealing only with prefab constructions, he'd be making a lot more money.

...because works go faster and he'd be able to work on more projects in the same timespan.

This is a topic you can discuss with him... ;)

If you want more information or you have any other kind of question, feel free to reach out to us.