There’s something special about buying a plot of land and building a house. However, there is much to do before you open the door and say, “Honey, I’m home.”
According to reports from the Home Buying Institute, the rise in the job market could mean more home building for 2016. If rates go up, consider the overall cost of the mortgage and gauge the slight difference it will make in the end. You may decide the difference is negligible. It’s still a good time to build a home in Lake or Sumter counties.
Contact the Contractor
With the decision to build comes the time for research before hiring a contractor. Do due diligence so you don’t end up building your disappointment instead of your home.
The old saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” definitely applies to this situation. According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, there were 440 complaints filed in their office involving unlicensed contractors. Be sure you your builder or developer’s licenses. In November, a sting operation in Okaloosa County netted 11 arrests of unlicensed individuals.
Why is it important to hire a licensed contractor? Most importantly, it’s the law. Every contractor must have a license. This means that person has the necessary education, experience, insurance, and qualifications to apply for the license. Once an application is made, the contractor must pass a stringent examination to receive a license.
There are a number of websites available to verify licensing information, where you can search by name, license number, city or county, or license type. All these records are public and accessible to anyone.
Just remember, a license is required for any work on homes or property—electrician, plumber, general contractor, and so on. There are no exceptions, whether you’re building, getting repairs done, or remodeling. A licensed contractor knows the proper procedures and permits needed.
To make this process easier, contact the Home Builders Association of Lake-Sumter. As executive director, Lisa Templin-Rayborn placed the issue of unlicensed contractors at the top of her priorities.
All the builders participating in the Parade of Homes are vetted, with no exceptions. Chartered in 1973, HBA of Lake-Sumter includes Lake and Sumter counties. Members of this local association are also members of the Florida Home Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders.
“They must pay dues and have a license,” Templin-Rayborn says. “It’s not just a matter of joining. They have to meet requirements. Associate members include the ancillary businesses like real estate companies, title companies, and so forth.”
To ensure the work done on your home follows proper guidelines, look for a licensed and bonded builder. A bonded contractor purchases a surety bond or a type of insurance policy that protects the homeowner. If the contractor fails to complete the job as required, the bond protects and compensates the owner.
Having these kinds of guarantees is essential. To find a contractor who is licensed and bonded, go to lakesumterhba.com and follow the tips offered for hiring a contractor. You’ll also be able to see and understand what is expected of a licensed contractor.
Verify that your contractor is insured, and don’t be intimidated into signing a contract. You are the head of your home-building project. You are the one in charge who has the ultimate say on decisions. Beware of contractors who offer “good deals” in exchange for free advertising.
“The builders in this area are building themselves back up after the housing crisis,” Templin-Rayborn explains. “With the excellent leadership team we have, we now have the opportunity to provide great services for local builders. We’ve seen a lot of growth in the area, and now most of it is planned growth. Sumter County is one of the fastest growing counties in the country, and there are plans for thousands of new homes in Minneola.”
Most reputable contractors have websites and ready access to information about their business and its quality. Always ask for references. If the contractor is unwilling to provide references, or if the person you call doesn’t provide a good reference, look no further. These red flags mean it’s time to move on in your selection process.
This year’s Parade of Homes takes place Feb. 27 through March 6, featuring a variety of homes in various places to give residents a look at the work of local contractors.
Taking the Next Step
Being a homeowner has its privileges, but it also means significant responsibilities. Property taxes are due annually and significant penalties can occur with late filing or failure to file.
Property tax is the only major tax common to all 50 states, and it is the oldest tax in the United States. According to polls of Americans, it is the second worst tax, but it has undeniable value to the community where you live.
The Lake County Property Appraiser recently received an award from the International Association of Assessing Office for its website. The organization called it “a website that is transparent and easily understood.” Carey Baker, who was elected property appraiser of Lake County in 2012, has included information for prospective homebuyers, as well.
“One important item every homeowner should be aware of is what possible exemptions there are to minimize the tax burden,” says Baker. “If you’re a fulltime owner and residence, you get a homestead exemption. Another exemption available is a possible disability or limited income senior disability.”
Other exemptions found on the website include the military/veterans and widow/widower exemption. Applications must be submitted by March 1 of the year the homeowner exemption is requested to begin. Apply by mail, in person at one of the two offices of the Lake County Property Appraiser, or online for the homestead exemption. Carefully read the instructions regarding the exemption you seek to ensure you do exactly what is required.
For those purchasing a new home in the area, there is a wealth of information in one convenient location. “Prospective homeowners should consider my website an excellent resource for almost everything that pertains to an individual home. If you’re looking for a particular home, from my website you can find out where the closest school, fire station, police station, or library is,” Baker says. “You can find out when your trash is picked up or who provides your water and electric. All that information is available on the website for those shopping for a home.”
If you’re thinking of selling your home, Baker’s website can aid in that effort, too. “It can be used to determine the value of your home. We have a feature that shows the values of homes sold in your neighborhood for the past three years,” Baker adds. “You can do your own price comparison.”
Whatever you may encounter while deciding to build or buy a home in Lake or Sumter counties, there are places to find the answers you need.
Statistics from the Department of Labor indicate Florida added more construction jobs in 2015 than any other state except California. However, local construction companies say the need far outweighs the demand. Dr. Diane Culpepper, director of Lake Technical College in Eustis, said the school is taking steps to meet these demands through education.
“When the recession came about, a lot of those tradespeople left. They went to Texas and other places,” Culpepper said. “We’re in the process of putting together a short program that would give students a basic introduction to the construction trade industry.”
The school received a small grant from the Florida Department of Education to fund the program. Culpepper said plans are now to create a 100-hour curriculum with recommendations coming from a local committee made up of construction industry leaders, including members of the Home Builders Association of Lake-Sumter.
There are also plans to incorporate studies for GED into the program for those who have the need. “Hopefully we can help them see the need for further education by using things like ‘construction math,’ which will give them something they’re interested in. This will help us introduce them to geometry and why it’s important,” Culpepper said. “Whether it’s reading blueprints, technical manuals, or anything like that, we’ll cover it.”
Presently, Lake Tech offers training in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). This will become a part of the curriculum, which will also include an introduction to electrical, carpentry, plumbing, and other skills for building trades. With the growth of the program, plans are to make it a complete Building Technology Program by 2017. The goal of Lake Tech, as always, is to prepare technicians for work in the community where they live.
Culpepper said the school also has a new curriculum developer to work with the construction leaders so the program fits the needs of local builders and developers and meets education standards.
“We have a small campus in Mascotte, an old elementary school, where the program will be housed. This is great because much of the new growth is occurring in the southern part of Lake County,” Culpepper said.
Right now, a plumbing apprentice program is held at the school, and it is headquarters for the maintenance team for the schoolboard, which Culpepper said they could help staff.
With the aging of those in the building trade, it’s imperative that younger generations step up to take their place. With the implementation of a building trades’ curriculum, Lake Technology College hopes to lay the foundation for success.
Homebuilders Association of Lake County www.lakesumterhba.com
Florida Homebuilders Association www.fhba.com
National Association of Homebuilders www.nahb.org
Federal Trade Commission www.consumer.ftc.gov
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation www.myfloridalicense.com
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Licensing