Any customer who walks through the door of a barber shop or beauty salon and kicks back in the chair can do so safe in the knowledge that the person wielding the scissors wouldnt be allowed to trim a single whisker without first passing a series of courses and obtaining a professional license.
But that same customer can walk out the door and hire someone to build a home, and have no such assurances of the contractors competency.
Its not hard to see which transaction has the greatest potential for the customer getting sheared - especially when a $15 haircut is compared to a $150,000 home.
Ethical builders understand this dilemma, too. All it takes is a bad experience with one fly-by-night operator for a customer to paint all the construction industry with the same broad brush.
Thats why its heartening to see local homebuilders working with Columbia County officials to create a new system that not only protects consumers, but will help prevent unfair competition from shady builders.
A new ordinance that county attorneys have under construction would create a first-ever license for home builders in Columbia County, and perhaps lead to similar changes in Richmond County, too. Tired of waiting for the state of Georgia to catch up with its neighbors - all adjoining states, including South Carolina, require licenses for builders - local builders associations are pushing for at least a community response to the void.
We all know we need something out here to protect consumers from unscrupulous builders, says Mark Herbert, a 24-year veteran of the construction industry and chairman of the Columbia County Construction Advisory Board.
That unscrupulous term comes up again and again during discussions with builders and county officials, and its an appropriate one. Currently, consumers who buy from a builder have no recourse for shoddy workmanship except to take the builder to court. In the state of Georgia, builders are not accountable to anybody after they finish the job, says Richard Harmon, the countys chief building inspector and a strong advocate of a builders licensing system. The public has no protection other than the courts of law.
The ordinance currently is being drafted, and hasnt yet been reviewed by the Metro Augusta Homebuilders Association - which has expressed support for the concept - or by the Advisory Board. But Herbert, a member of both, says hes hoping some wish list items make it into the final version.
Primarily, Herbert says, the ordinance should not only require builders to pass a basic competency test, but it also should demand that those builders purchase workers compensation insurance for their employees, general liability insurance for job sites, and a performance bond for projects.
Not only would such a license protect consumers, it would also level the playing field, Herbert says. With all builders required to meet the same standards, those fly-by-night contractors couldnt skip out on paying insurance - and use the savings to undercut home prices of legitimate builders.
With those basics required of all builders on the front end, the ordinance also protects consumers after theyve bought a home. Rather than being forced to hire a lawyer and take a shoddy builder to court, home buyers would seek redress before a review board. (In this case, signs are pointing to the County Commission acting as this board; thats a bad idea. A mixed committee of construction experts and public officials would be far better.)
While the project seems on track for review by the Advisory Board a week from today, there are some warning signs that a few entrenched builders - opposed to change in any form - are leaning on county officials to yank any teeth from the proposal.
Instead, commissioners should follow the lead of scrupulous builders and set up a firm but fair system that protects the taxpaying public while protecting Columbia Countys biggest industry from rip-off artists.
If its good enough for barbers, its good enough for builders.
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