There’s nothing more annoying than doing a final, pre-closing walk-through of your brand new home and discovering dozens of items that already need fixing.

It’s a new home. Everything is supposed to be perfect, right?

True, a newly-built house is one that has never been lived in before. But it was constructed by human beings, and as such reflects their flaws and foibles. If the drywall contractor was having a bad day, it may be reflected in how the drywall was nailed to the studs, or how it was taped. If the carpenter was having a bad day when he cut and installed your windowsills, one might be a bit crooked.

If houses were built by robots, like cars on an assembly line, perfection might be more easily obtained. Until then, we have a punch list.

A punch list is an itemized account of what needs to be corrected in the home to get it into the condition agreed to in the contract. Typically, a home buyer will walk through the house the day before closing and create the punch list, which will then be agreed to by the contractor and attached to the rest of the closing documents.

The builder or developer usually has anywhere from 30 to 60 days in which to fix punch list items, depending on the contract. But how the developer reacts to the breadth and scope of the punch list can tell you a whole lot about whether he’s going to attack it with vigor, or let it languish as he moves onto another job.

For a family that closed on their brand new home in Atlanta last week, the punch list included more than two dozen items.

In the kitchen, the gas stove wouldn’t turn on, the dishwasher wasn’t screwed into the cabinets, and the interior had already rusted and a piece had broken off. The oven fans rattled, the lights under the kitchen cabinets buzzed (as do many of the lights in the house), the bottom of some cabinets had separated, and the paneling on the center island didn’t match and needed to be replaced.

On the first floor, the weather-stripping needed to be replaced, the front door lock was inoperable, and the staircase and handrail hadn’t been cleaned and varnished.

In the master bath, the Jacuzzi tub remained inoperable due to a leak that had flooded the basement carpet three times, the shower head was clogged, the floor grout was the wrong color and hadn’t been sealed properly, and it was taking the hot water more than 30 seconds to get hot.

All of the fluorescent lights in master closets and bathrooms were buzzing. The vanity light in another second floor bath was missing screws. One window had inadvertently been painted, the grout around tub cracking, and the door to deck didn’t close properly. In the master bedroom, a built-in cabinet had been set unevenly into the wall, which meant the door couldn’t be opened properly.

In a third bathroom, brass knobs needed to be replaced with chrome, a light was installed unevenly, and screens were missing.

In the built-out basement, the builder needed to replace the carpet and padding because of the leaking Jacuzzi tub. The drywall had been damaged and needed to be replaced as well, and a crack had formed in a door below the leak. Light fixtures were missing, as were shower rods and fixtures. The one light that had been installed needed to be centered over the sink. A door needed to be installed, there were caulking problems with the tile, and the builder needed to change the brass knob for chrome ones.

The deck had more serious problems. The deck lights weren’t working. Some pieces of the deck were missing, and there was instability in one of the deck walls. Hand rails required by code hadn’t been installed, and the upstairs fan, which vents out onto the deck, was making a strange noise.

Finally, the entire house needed paint and plaster touch-ups.

The idea behind a punch list is that the house needs only a few “tweaks.” In this case, most of the items aren’t particularly serious, although they are time-consuming. But some issues are more problematic, like the deck and the basement.

“What we think happened is that the builder closed on three houses during Christmas week, and was struggling to get it all finished in time for the closing. Since we were the third house, we got a little short-changed,” said the wife.

But the good news is, the builder has been back every day since the closing, working with several sub-contractors to get the job finished.

“The builder has been very agreeable. He’s taken the list and hasn’t complained about getting the work done,” adds the wife.

It’s important to analyze how serious are the items on your punch list before closing. If you’re particularly concerned about a major item, like a leak or a structural flaw, you may wish to hold back some of the money owed to the builder at the closing until all of the work is completed to your satisfaction.

While the builder may give you a hard time over the holdback, it may be your best leverage to get him to finish the job.

Dec. 20, 1999.