Dark Side of the Housing
Boom (Cont'd)

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Typically, you have to submit a written complaint to the builder or contractor, who then has a certain amount of time to inspect the property and make repairs - usually up to 90 days.
Unfortunately, these laws, designed to protect builders, says Janet Ahmad, president of Home Owners for Better Building, don't obligate the builder to fix your problem (after an inspection, they may tell you that the fault is unrelated to their


Typically, you have to submit a written complaint to the builder or contractor, who then has a certain amount of time to inspect the property and make repairs - usually up to 90 days.

Unfortunately, these laws, designed to protect builders, says Janet Ahmad, president of Home Owners for Better Building, don't obligate the builder to fix your problem (after an inspection, they may tell you that the fault is unrelated to their construction).

But your builder may patch up your home to avoid a lawsuit. If not, you are probably free to sue. To find out about your local "fix it" laws, start by calling your state attorney general's office.

If all else fails, get creative

When the first cracks began appearing in Susan Sabin's home shortly after she moved in last June, she contacted Pulte Homes, which sent in engineers and contractors to repair minor problems. But Sabin still believes they're ignoring major defects.

"They keep fixing the symptoms," she says. "I want them to fix the source of the problem."

So Sabin has strung up lemons and opened her house to anyone who wants to see the cracks. Soon after, her story made the local news.

Pulte, which says the problems with the home are a result of soil expansion underneath, has so far not agreed to rebuild Sabin's home from scratch. But it certainly is not ignoring her complaints.

"Structurally her home is as sound as any other home we've built in the city," says Todd Lipschutz, Pulte's division president in Kansas City. "We will make the necessary repairs."

Don't build a lemon

Know your builder. Make sure your builder is licensed with your state, and see what complaints have been filed with the attorney general's office. Get references, but remember that a builder isn't likely to refer someone who has complained. A better bet: Ask people in the neighborhood what they think of their house and how the builder handled any problems.

Question whether the builder is in over his head. Many builders don't have the equipment or the technical expertise to deal with very large projects. So if your home is the largest project the builder or contractor has ever done, proceed with caution. The same holds true if it's the company's first big housing development.

Have a lawyer read your contract. If it includes a binding-arbitration clause, you'll waive your right to a trial. Ideally, you want to strike this section or at least ask to name what arbitration firm will be used, says Nancy Seats, president of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings. Check that the warranty spells out what problems are covered.

Be a regular at the job site. Show up frequently while your house is in the process of being built or remodeled and ask questions. For a big project, consider hiring an inspector or an engineer to look things over.

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