It's no coincidence that homebuilders have enjoyed record-breaking profits at the same time the state has sanctioned poor building practices and limited liability of builders who build defective houses.
However, for builders who continually fool homeowners and embarrass lawmakers, it may prove to be a different story after state Rep. Todd Smith called on the state comptroller to report on some important questions he had about the Texas Residential Construction Commission, or TRCC.
If you think the government protects buyers when purchasing the biggest investment most of us will ever make, think again.
In early 2003 the building industry contrived convincing tales of woe, along with millions in political action committee contributions, that persuaded some Texas lawmakers to help create the unprecedented experimental state agency. Elected officials not only complied but relied on the wisdom of the industry to write the bill and trusted them to run the agency that mandates homebuyers to pay a fee to complain about their builder, while allowing shoddy construction standards to be written by the industry.
In the comptroller's report, there is compelling evidence that lawmakers made a mistake and were duped into going along with the building industry's long-term plan to thwart homeowners. The report gives failing grades to TRCC, and the revelations are reprehensible.
At a news conference, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, in typical fashion, candidly presented the results of the five-month investigation.
Strayhorn described TRCC as a builder-protection agency. She said that in a survey by her office, 86 percent of homeowners who responded stated builders failed to fix construction defects after going through the TRCC inspection and dispute resolution process.
The report pointed out the agency did not require builders to show any "proof of experience, education or financial solvency." However, despite the requirement for a criminal background check, "TRCC files show that a currently registered builder was convicted of burglary of a vehicle, burglary of a building and attempted homicide. Another builder was convicted of a sex crime and registered as a sex offender just months before he was allowed to register as a homebuilder."
Strayhorn concluded, "If it were up to me personally, I would blast this Texas Residential Construction Commission builder-protection agency off the bureaucratic books."
Her findings support what homeowners and consumer groups have said all along. The builders' limited warranty gives a false sense of security and a state mandate that imposes bureaucratic hardships on buyers and wasted time, plus millions in taxpayers' dollars, on a state agency for what they describe as unnecessary.
TRCC is an industry scheme to "control" the consumer through dilatory tactics, exorbitant fees, ridiculously lax performance standards and a warranty with more "gotchas" than a house of mirrors.
The report is a wake-up call. We can either perform extensive lifesaving procedures on this multimillion-dollar bureaucratic fiasco or get on with the business of consumer protection by enacting a simple, logical solution, like a home lemon law. At least a home lemon law would give an incentive to builders to construct a home right the first time or buy it back when they fail to make repairs.
We echo the sentiments of Strayhorn: "It isn't the role of government to throw up bureaucratic barriers to protect unethical or inept builders from their customers ... Caveat emptor let the buyer beware is the motto of the unscrupulous. It should not be the hallmark of state policy."
At the end of the day, shouldn't families expect basic state consumer protections when purchasing something as fundamental as decent housing that should last for generations?
Janet Ahmad of San Antonio is national president of HomeOwners for Better Building.