By Broderick Perkins
Bob Vila didn't build your new home.
What's more likely is that a quickly amassed staff of subcontractors with varying skill levels were on the job.
America's seemingly unstoppable economy has spawned a home building boom, a shortage of skilled crafts people and growing concern that what they are constructing aren't quality homes. The National Association of Home Builders says the approximately 1.66 million housing starts for 1999 is the highest level of housing production since 1986, and many complain builders are putting up homes too fast.
Last year, Fine Homebuilding magazine, Criterium Engineers and the California Real Estate Inspection Association all warned of the growing problems in the new home construction industry and builders conceded they were shorthanded.
"We want to effect real change here, and we're not going to stop until our voices are heard," said J.J. Vogel a Hollister, CA resident who founded the non-profit Advocates for Quality Home Construction (AQHC) after he and nearly 200 of his new home owning neighbors purchased homes with more defects then some resale homes.
Alan Fields, co-author of "Your New Home" (Publisher's Group West, $13.95) suggests consumers get a new home inspected just as if it was a resale model.
He says you should hire an inspector to act as your site supervisor, to look in on the work several times before the home is complete, when the foundation is poured, when the framing is completed and again when the home is finished.
He also suggests having your new home's various systems inspected as they are completed. "It could be a series of different people. A retired contractor, a structural engineer, an architect,'' said Fields.
New home buyers should also consider banding together to help defray inspection costs, according to Ned Van Valkenburgh, founder of the California Center for Quality Home Construction in Capitola, CA.
You'll also be well armed with a complete list of the specifications and materials the builder plans to use to build your home. Otherwise, says Fields, you risk builders substituting cheaper materials as construction progresses.
In addition to professional inspections, your personal final walk-through to catch any last minute cosmetic defects, you should also make personal visits to your home site periodically during construction.
The experts also advise:
- Don't close escrow until any questionable work is completed. Otherwise you'll move in on top of late or incomplete construction.
- Choose a developer with a track record of quality home building and responsive customer service. Tour the builder's existing communities and talk to home owners about their satisfaction and the quality of homes.
- Don't only tour model homes. They are constructed with painstaking attention to detail so they can be used as flawless marketing tools. Tour empty models too.
- Most builders provide industry-standard new home warranties, but in some states, including California, the law allows you to sue builders for patent or easily observed defects for up to four years after the home is constructed. The state's civil code says you also can hold builders liable for latent (those not easily detected) defects on major components for up to 10 years. Check your state's civil remedies before you pay for additional warranties. Much like extended warranties on cars or appliances, they are of questionable value if civil codes already protect you.
Broderick Perkins, has been a consumer journalist for 20 years. Experienced in print, electronic, and consulting journalism, he is chief executive editor of San Jose, CA-based, DeadlineNews.Com, an editorial content and consulting firm.
© Copyright 2000 by Broderick Perkins. All Rights Reserved.