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Organizing your community to bring public attention to builder’s bad deeds and seeking assistance from local, state and federal elected officials has proven to be more effective and much quicker for thousands of families. You do have choices and alternatives.  Janet Ahmad

Was Choice Homes the Right Choice
Wednesday, 06 September 2006

Group takes aim at Choice
Dozens of homeowners in this community southeast of Mansfield are pulling together to challenge their builder, Choice Homes of Arlington, over problems including cracked foundations, stuck doors and water pressure so strong that it blasts out of faucets. "We're still getting more calls," said Sherry Freeland, who has been concerned about drainage issues at her Fox Run home since she moved in six months ago. She has been contacted by more than 50 neighbors, almost all from the nearby Overlook Estates subdivision, who have all bought homes built by Choice. They formed a group to get the builder's attention and get their houses bought back.

Group takes aim at Choice
Complaints from some about construction divide neighborhood

By ANDREA JARES
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
            
        STAR-TELEGRAM/IAN McVEA
      The Washington family placed this sign in front of their
      Choice Homes' house in Overlook Estates in Midlothian. More photos

MIDLOTHIAN -- Dozens of homeowners in this community southeast of Mansfield are pulling together to challenge their builder, Choice Homes of Arlington, over problems including cracked foundations, stuck doors and water pressure so strong that it blasts out of faucets.

"We're still getting more calls," said Sherry Freeland, who has been concerned about drainage issues at her Fox Run home since she moved in six months ago. She has been contacted by more than 50 neighbors, almost all from the nearby Overlook Estates subdivision, who have all bought homes built by Choice. They formed a group to get the builder's attention and get their houses bought back.

But the issue has divided the area into two camps, with each side displaying its opinion on signs dotting front lawns. Homeowners who have not had construction problems say the other side's actions, including picketing, Web sites and speaking at City Council meetings, are hurting property values by stigmatizing the homes.

"The whole neighborhood is up in arms," said Michael Otto, a Fox Run homeowner, who has a sign in his yard backing Choice.

Dan Couture, Choice's chief operating officer, said the company has made appointments with about 18 disgruntled homeowners in Midlothian to fix their problems. He said Choice representatives, including him, have been asked to leave gatherings of the homeowners' group, so employees have distributed fliers with a toll-free number and business cards.

"The majority of the concerns are easy to fix," Couture said.

The city of Midlothian contends that many of the homes were built to the codes in effect at that time, said Ron Stephens, city manager. The city has since strengthened those codes, he said.

The city bought several pressure release valves to resolve the water-pressure problem, and Choice Homes plumbers are installing them, Stephens said. Couture said about 200 homes throughout Midlothian are affected by the high pressure, not just homes built by Choice.

Some homeowners have refused to let plumbers install the valves that address the pressure problem.

"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to complain about something and then not let them fix it," Stephens said.

Several homeowners say Choice Homes has come out to their houses to make repairs. But they said that patching drywall and other cosmetic fixes are a waste of time, because they do not address the root of the problem: cracked foundations. Whether the foundation is fixed or not, they believe it will affect the home's value.

"The problem with that is that once your home is worked on, then you have to disclose that," Freeland said. "It would be a resale disadvantage."

Joe Moreno, who has stair-step cracks in the masonry as well as cracks in the foundation and driveway of his nearly 6-year-old home on Misty Meadow Drive, agrees. "I'd rather they buy the house back," Moreno said.

Jeremy and Traci Wilson began to notice problems with their house after the group of homeowners started raising question.

"I can't set the alarm anymore because the back door won't close to the jamb," Jeremy Wilson said.

Several homeowners have said they will not seek a resolution through the Texas Residential Construction Commission, because they believe that the state agency will side with the builder. Homeowners must complain to the commission as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.

Couture said he first heard of the problems in Midlothian when a group of the homeowners went directly to the City Council to complain.

Couture said negotiations to buy back houses from the Freelands and Rodney Washington hit an impasse when the amount requested from the homeowners was more than twice the market value of each home.

Washington said his request to the company included the value of the home and moving costs. His proposal also included lost wages from his business machining hydraulic parts, because he said that the time he has spent protesting about his home has taken away time from his job and hurt his business. He said his foundation is cracking, there's movement in the door frames and the builder has redone his driveway three times.

Sherry Freeland declined to say how much she has requested from the builder, but said it's not near twice the house's value. The Freelands noticed water pooling on the half-acre lot of their $160,000 home the day they closed in February.

Couture said Choice Homes has worked with the Freelands about their concerns.

He said measurements taken of their lot show that the drainage is in compliance with standards, and the home has not been damaged.

"I would be proud to walk you through that home," he said.

Homeowners say they plan to keep meeting -- at City Council meetings or at the civic center -- until the problems are resolved or their homes are bought back. In recent weeks, they started picketing near the Choice Homes sales center.

Not everyone is dissatisfied.

Tammi Hester, who lives on Sage Brush Trail in Overlook Estates, said she is more than pleased with the repairs that Choice Homes has made to her house. She thinks the people who are complaining should let the home builder make things right.

"If they don't want the problem fixed, then shut up, so you don't make the value of our homes go down," she said.

Denise Wright, the second homeowner to move into Fox Run, said she doesn't fault the Freelands for complaining, but she is irritated that they make it sound like all Fox Run homes have problems.

Jason Merryman, who is trying to sell his home in Overlook Estates, said he has noticed fewer potential buyers since the homeowners with problems started speaking up. He lives next to a family that has had problems with the water pressure, doors that stick and separation between the openings in the framing large enough for bees to crawl in and out.

Joey Grubbs, a Re/Max agent who has a home for sale in Overlook Estates, said none of his prospective buyers has mentioned the issues raised by homeowners. The problems with the houses seem to be cosmetic, he said.

"Ninety-nine out of 100 inspectors" would say the issues are from a few disgruntled homeowners, not widespread foundation problems, he said.

Stephens said there have not been past complaints to the city about water pressure. But he said the water pressure on that side of U.S. 67 is higher than normal.

After the city and Choice Homes install the pressure-release valves, it is out of the city's hands, Stephens said. The other problems seem to regard the warranty agreement the homeowners had with Choice Homes, he said.

"It is important to those people, but it appears that those that are unhappy are in the minority, I suppose, with the total number of homes out there," he said.

 
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