August 27, 2004
In a move that could set a state precedent, Dr. David Becka and his wife, Carol, are calling for changes in the Frisco city charter to strengthen protections for people who buy new houses.
Unhappy with the structure they had bought, they have already sued the builder, Huntington Homes, and have launched "Take Back Your Rights," a grassroots campaign to amend the charter.
They want to ensure that homebuyers are as much informed about their purchases as is possible and that new-home builders should be required to file surety bonds with the city to help protect homebuyers when problems develop.
They say the timing is right for these changes because of Friscos rapid growth, thought to almost double in the next half-decade.
Last year, people bought more than 1 million new homes in the United States, a near record, at an average sale price of about $250,000, according to Consumer Reports.
But after interviewing dozens of homeowners, builders, inspectors, industry representatives, government officials and lawyers, the consumer advocacy group reported that up to 15 percent of new homes had serious defects develop within a few months of purchase, including mold, crumbling concrete, water damage, falling bricks, faulty foundations, sagging floors, shoddy framing, rotting walls, non-working electrical outlets, flooded basements and improperly installed windows, doors and air ducts.
Many builders do good work, but blaming greedy trial lawyers for homeowners discontent - as some have done - probably is not going to help them much.
Some people think production strains brought on by high demand is partially to blame. Others cite shortages of skilled construction workers in Texas, Nevada and other fast-growing states. Almost half of all states still lack uniform building codes, relying on a patchwork of city and county codes.
Whatever the cause, a groundswell of concern is rising, and the Beckas are only the latest example in a movement that is almost certain to lead to more serious legal reforms. Anticipating them, perhaps, builders have already taken some of their own steps, including a certification program. In 2003, Texas legislators established the Residential Construction Commission.
These developments are the latest in an old issue that faded for a while but has recently made a comeback - as the Beckas have demonstrated - brought on, perhaps, by the prairiefire pace of home construction in North Texas and some other areas.
A San Antonio group founded in the 1970s, HomeOwners for Better Building, has resurfaced. In 2001, it gained national attention when state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, introduced the nations first new home lemon law.
The bill failed, as did her homebuilders registration act in the next session, but its clear momentum is building.
A federal bill would prohibit contracts that contain mandatory arbitration agreements as conditions on the purchase of new homes.
But more steps are required in response to this unresolved issue. And the most meaningful steps seem most likely to be taken at the local level, where dedicated people such as the Beckas work from the ground up.