Q: I read your column about having new homes inspected while they’re built. The advice to have an inspection on newly-built homes should be shouted from the mountaintops. The information about knowing the laws in regard to home warranty is also critical.
I am currently in the unfortunate position of having to completely refinance my home in order to pay in excess of $150,000 in repairs due to construction defects. The law in California varies as to the length of the home builder’s responsibility from one to ten years. Our problems were latent defects involving many different situations from improperly installed plumbing to severe leaks that have led to mold.
The builder disavowed responsibility for some of the problems, claimed that some were not correctible, and some were falsely corrected (the leaks repaired, however only to the point where the water intrusion was not visible). They attempted repairs on an annual basis for some others but the problems continued to surface.
Finally, an independent inspection revealed the true causes to be construction defects and showed why the builder’s efforts were ineffective.Â Unfortunately, by the time we got to what we felt to be our final option of filing suit, the statute had run out and the builder was successful in escaping responsibility.
Our lawsuit was dead when the California Supreme Court ruled that notification and attempted repairs by a builder do not toll the statute on latent defects. This ruling allows builders to string along homeowners with pacification, lies, and insignificant efforts until the statute runs out relieving the builder of responsibility.
If I were to ever buy a new home, I would hire a home inspector to monitor the construction.Â I have learned way more than I ever wanted to about home construction.Â The poor quality of materials and workmanship is appalling.
My other lesson was that most people (myself included) are under the mistaken impression that county building inspectors will find such problems.Â They do not. Their job is strictly to ensure that there are no code violations or safety issues. They are not quality assurance officers nor do they have that authority.
You will do a great service to continue to stress the importance of home inspections and for people to know what the laws are in their state. I would never buy a home again without a very thorough inspection that includes water intrusion testing. If I were to buy an existing home (over five years old) the purchase would be contingent upon a clean bill of health after a fungal assessment (mold testing) by a licensed environmental hygienist.
A: Thank you for sharing your unfortunate experience with the readers of this column. I have heard from several readers who have similar stories to tell. It is heart-breaking to hear how a small mistake in judgment, like not hiring a professional home inspector, could lead to financial disaster.
To repeat the advice, everyone who buys a newly-constructed home should have a professional home inspector tour the home at least once before closing, and preferably at the following points during construction: after the foundation is poured; after the house is framed; after the house is wired and plumbed but before the wallboard is put on, and before closing for any final issues.
A builder who refuses to let you come in with a professional home inspector should be questioned thoroughly. I’d wonder what he or she is hiding. Be sure to write the inspections into your contract, and make the builder liable to fix any problems that come up during the inspections.
Remember, once you’ve closed on the property, you’re going to have a much more difficult time getting the builder’s attention to fix various problems that come up. It’s a much better idea to fix what you can, in the beginning, and get a quality product from the ground up.
A book that should be a must-read for anyone building a new home today is Alan and Denise Field’s Your New Home: The Alert Consumer’s Guide to Buying and Building a Quality Home (Windsor Peak Press, $15.95). If you read this book, you’ll at least be on the lookout for a lot of the problems many new home buyers encounter.
If any homeowners or builders who read this column have other ideas on how home buyers can protect themselves from shoddy construction, I’m all ears. Please contact me through my website, www.thinkglink.com. I’ll be happy to devote more space to this topic.
Jan. 19, 2009.