We’ve settled back in, and are nearing our one year tiny house anniversary! It’s crazy and completely normal at the same time. I’ll be honest, after the big renovations last month, we needed a break from thinking about, looking at, or talking about anything tiny house related. And I think it says something that we are able to do that while living in a tiny house. That aside, this post has been weighing on my mind for some time. We’ve been encouraged to share the reasons why we wouldn’t recommend the builders who built our house. As difficult as it is physically to sand and re-seal a house, this subject is difficult to talk about.

The company is Tiny Smart House, LLC in Albany, Oregon.

Flipped our floor plan: Early in the build process, on a visit to check on the build status of our house, the builder opened the printed plans in a binder they were referring to for the build, and we noticed the floor plan wasn’t right. Expressing our concerns, we found out that our floor plan had been flipped. Instead of the kitchen opposite the main doors, it was now on the same side. We were told this was because they purchased a different trailer than originally planned and the weight distribution had to include the (heavier) kitchen area in the back. Regardless of the reasoning we should have known before this moment. This was the first breach of the contract.

Lost our spot: As the build process continued, we solidified our arrangement with our potential homeowner/host. The day we went with a lease in hand to sign, we again questioned again how the house would fit through to the spot. There was a catch with this particular spot; the space between the driveway wall and the roof-line would be a tight squeeze for the house to  back in and we wanted to make sure we’d fit through before the day of delivery.

Before the build began, the builder came out and took measurements assuring us it would not be a problem and they would build the house to fit through. We were told we would have to narrow the house by 6” to safely fit. Great, we thought, we were already going tiny, why not go tinier. But that day we measured for ourselves and were crushed to realize that because the gables had been raised in the design of our roof, the house would not fit by about 4 inches. Not only did we lose our spot, but this meant we also lost that host/tiny house relationship that was so important to us.

Asked for earlier payment: Because the builders were so behind in the build schedule, they called asking for the next portion of payment early since they had moved into a new pay period. What?! This was another breach of the contract, and we felt trapped…we wanted the workers building our house to be paid and happy; how could we tell them no? How would they treat their job –our home– if they were not paid? So we gave them another portion early.

Lack of communication: We felt there was an overall lack of communication during the build process. There wasn’t a back and forth conversation that would have allowed us to give feedback on what they were actually constructing. I never heard, “This is how I’m designing the closet, what do you think?” We received no emails with pictures of the kitchen cabinets installed or the bathroom and closet doors. They told us they would write a construction blog with pictures for us to follow along (“but before you  know it, we’ll be all done!”), but there were only a couple of entries with a handful of pictures, certainly not enough for us to “follow along” and give our feedback.

Priming: Part of the agreement with the house construction was that we would agree to paint the house if they did the priming. On a trip to check on the house and armed with paint, we arrived realizing we wouldn’t paint that day. The house was poorly primed and had sawdust all over it. They ended up taking the paint and doing the job later since the exterior was not ready.

Delays and dishonesty: We feel deceived by their time completion estimates throughout the process. The “anticipated delivery date” on the contract was 6 weeks. In actuality, the build took 17 weeks for delivery of our (mostly finished) house. There were constant delays, and when we asked, they would tell us they only needed another couple of weeks, the build would not go into October they assured us. Time and time again they told us something that didn’t turn out to be true.

We made arrangements to end the lease on our living arrangement at that time on October 1st. When we realized the build would in fact go beyond October, once again we had to scramble to find a place to stay.  We got a PO box and couch surfed. Because we also had Benjamin, he had to stay at a separate friend’s place with no pets and I had to go back and forth between places, our stuff was in storage, we were living out of boxes, it was complicated. Essentially, we were homeless and relying on the generosity of friends.

Day of delivery: On what should have been a great day (that also happened to be my birthday), the builders arrived 5 hours late, the house was filled with debris, bits of wood from other projects, carpet bits, trash, and every surface was covered in a film of sawdust.

Day of delivery part II: Not only were they late and the house filled with junk, but the build job was still incomplete. The stairs and awning were not finished, the awning for the water heater wasn’t done, we had no bathroom vent cover, no latch on the bathroom door, there was missing trim, missing nuts for the lights, the electrical panel was exposed, the oven door wouldn’t open because it hit the bathroom door hinge and scraped the kitchen drawers. It wasn’t until months later before these pieces were completely put together.

Title: The day the house was delivered, we should have had a title in hand. It wasn’t until weeks later I realized we may not get one. Documentation, such as a VIN inspection for the trailer was not completed by the builder prior to the build. No Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin documenting the legal creation of the house was processed. After the realization that I would need the builder to fulfill paperwork on their end to finish this process I hired a lawyer to handle communication. It took 9 months, but we finally received a title.

Leaks: The first few months after moving into the house, we had multiple gas leaks. Our kitchen sink leaked water into the cabinet underneath and our greywater holding tank under the house also leaked. [I will say the builder responded quickly to the gas leak notifications and these problems have since been resolved.]

Tub caulking: As I posted before, the tub was not caulked properly. Also, there was spray sealant and scuffs that stained the walls and basin of the tub.

The Closet: Oh geez. I don’t want to even go there. The closet was the worst.

Wood wasn’t sealed: Okay, maybe the closet wasn’t the worst. The ultimate failure was the way the wood was sealed (or not sealed, rather). After fixing it, and even though professional carpenters also told us, we now realize just how bad a job was done prior. There was a lack of coverage on all surfaces, and the walls felt gritty as if a spray sealant was applied over sawdust.  It was apparent the walls were not wiped/cleaned before the sealant was applied.

Not just the walls, but the floors were also a big issue. They were scuffy and dirt and dust would just permeate in them. We couldn’t wipe the surface because of the rough grain. Water would seep into the wood. The softwood fir floors did not have adequate sealant coverage. [We have since fixed this and I’m happy to report we can slide on our floors in our socks and spilled water forms droplets on the surface that are easy to wipe up as it should be (yippee!)]

General wood/trim: Almost a year after living in the house, we are still replacing trim. The wood that was up was unfinished and/or had holes and/or was dirty (literally, dirt and mud on it). The ceiling trim wasn’t stapled properly to the ceiling and bits bent out or just plain fell off. There were hammer marks on finished wood areas, including the wood right above our heads in the loft. Parts are overbuilt and many sections have an exorbitant amount of nails.

 Porch/awning: It leaked and was built as one piece so we couldn’t move the deck separate from the house. See the previous post of how we rebuilt it. 

Water tank: Our kitchen is an L-shaped design. The corner of the “L” was supposed to function to enclose the water heater but late in the process (after the counter was installed) we were told that, as it turns out, the water heater has to go outside the house due to the gas exhaust. Had we known in advance, we may have designed our kitchen differently if we knew this corner space wouldn’t be used for that purpose.

Reading nook bench: The bench is nonfunctional for anything besides sitting on and storage underneath. We had wanted a design that would turn into a daybed and we sent them pictures of bench systems we liked. They told us they would design something better. We were given the impression they could build something useful, but we can’t open both front doors because the bench is in the way. The pieces flip up which restrict access to the shelves above and they don’t flip independently; the cushions have to be removed entirely, and then the bench turns into short, uncomfortable, stationary seats. [We have plans to add the wood and hinges needed to turn the bench into a twin-size day bed and possibly a table with side benches too. It’s on the list of things to change.]

Missed details: We wanted a moveable ladder with a rail and puck lights in the loft, but these requests were missed in the build process. By the time the house was delivered and because there were so many other things that needed completion or fixing we had given up and no longer felt it was worth it to deal with the company. This was when Tomas realized it was time to take ownership of the house and just fix things ourselves.

No compensation – Despite all that we’ve put up with, we received zero compensation for our troubles and pain. Oh wait. They gave us a piece of lawn furniture and offered Adirondack chairs.

My intentions here are to share our reasons why we wouldn’t recommend Tiny Smart House, LLC. This is our review. To us, it’s the classic story of a company over-promising and under-delivering. I can’t speak for the company today, I can only share our experience from that time.

It was a tumultuous journey to get to the point we are today, but here we are. I love our home because of the experiences we create inside and around it and for what we’ve put into it. It is a place where we live and it’s getting better every day.

In case you’re curious:

Why we hired them in the first place: When looking into builder options, our number one builder pick (those that built our friends Tammy and Logan’s tiny home) wasn’t building at the time, they were only doing consulting work, so we looked at other options. Tumbleweed homes were high on the list, but the $50,000 price tag deterred us. Then we came across a company not far from Portland that advertised to custom build tiny homes. They were a new company, with not much to show besides a model home and some lawn furniture. We weren’t blown away, but we thought we could work with it. How bad could it be?

Everything we asked for they said they could do, and included 10% off the price, a 2 year warranty, and a delivery date of 6 weeks from the start. We were thrilled and excited to get started. Looking back we were naive, but we trusted that they could pull it off. We sent them pictures of houses and details we loved. Because they were a two-hour drive away, we could visit and see the progress. We knew it was a risk hiring a newer company, but we thought they would be out to impress. People would look to us as the voice of their product. And sure, we can now do that but I doubt it’s the voice they want anyone to hear.