Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ferreting Out Home Defects

You have a right to a defect-free home. Here's how to look for trouble, report it and make sure the builder corrects the problem -- and what to do if the builder won't.

by Broderick Perkins
© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com

Deadline Newsroom - The last thing you want in a home is a built-in value deflator.

The economy can be tough enough, stripping your home of value before it's had a chance to enjoy some appreciation.

You've got to get into a good neighborhood, negotiate the best deal and buy, not because the market is up or down, but because it's the right time for you.

Just as important, you've got to make certain the most expensive item you'll ever purchase, well, works.

Home defects can be a real house wrecker when it comes to your home's value and you've got a 1.5 in 10 chance you'll buy a new home with something that's broken.

The last time Consumer Reports checked, in "Housewrecked," it found serious defects in 15 percent of new homes. Other studies have found a greater incidence of defects from small problems like kitchen cabinets that don't align to larger structural problems and others that impact the safety of occupants.

There are more homes on the market to choose from and that can give you more time to give them the once over looking for defects. Take the time.

Consumer Reports says to be on the lookout for:

• Foundation cracks. Deep cracks in the foundation or basement walls can indicate a poorly laid foundation or improperly graded soil.

• Floors that sag could be due to shifting foundation or support beam structural problems. Cheap renovations or additions can also compromise structural members.

• Windows and doors not sitting well in their frames or closing properly.

• Wide interior wall cracks. They could signal a foundation problem. Fine cracks are typically cosmetic, the result of normal wood shrinkage when drying or even minor settling.

• Mold, rot, and insect infestation in exterior walls; staining, swelling and discoloration on interior walls; and a musty odor. These are water damage warning signs that could be caused by a host of factors, including improperly installed roofing; missing flashing around penetrations and joints; no moisture barrier in a climate that requires it; lack of a drainage space behind brick or siding; poorly installed windows and doors and holes in the siding.

• Poorly graded land or faulty sewer and water-main connections. This could cause flooding and sewer and drain backups.

• Switched hot and cold spigots, which could signal improperly installed plumbing.

Some builders won't allow it, but your best shot at buying a quality new home is on site inspections at key periods -- foundation installation; framing, wiring and plumbing completion; wall completion and roof installation. If you can't obtain independent inspection during those points, have a home inspector do his or her thing during your walk through.

If you think you have a problem, Consumer Reports suggests:

• Hire a licensed engineer. The National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers can make a referral for a visual inspection. Expect to pay $100 to $150 an hour.

• Give the builder a chance to fix the problem. Some states require the step. Just don't let warranties or legal statutes expire while you wait, should builders dicker, delay or attempt to place doubt on your claim. Move quickly. Document your complaints with photographs, videos, copies of written agreements, warranties, home inspections.

• Complain robustly. Send your complaints to building and regulatory authorities in your state; state and local consumer-affairs departments; your state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission. Complain with a shotgun approach. It can be a trying ordeal to go up against a home builder, but don't be put off. You have a right to a defect free home.

• Go grassroots. Hard. Contact Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings and or Homeowners for Better Building, two 1970s-like grassroots efforts that have done more for homeowners suffering defects than regulators, the building industry and other entities -- public, private or government -- combined!

• Get legal help. Get an attorney on board early in the effort. If you find a major defect and the builder is uncooperative, appears to be stalling or otherwise not cooperating early in the game, hire an attorney. You want a construction-defect expert. Contact your local bar association can help you find one.

© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com

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Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service, and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's new backshop. In both cases, it's where all the news really hits home.

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