Heidi Wanken: Home buyers, beware
Heidi Wanken: Home buyers, beware
The moral of our story is this: Your home builder is not your friend, and the company isn't looking out for you. The builder will woo and court you while you're looking at the model homes and floor plans. It is an entirely different story once you own the house... And if you have any doubt about the potential for problems, consider this: To be a builder in the state of Texas, you need only fill out a two-page form and submit a check for $125 to the TRCC. If we had known then what we know now, we would have walked away and never looked back.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
The last thing on your mind as you're buying a new house is the possibility that anything can go wrong. There are so many other considerations selecting a lender, locking in an interest rate, calling moving companies, packing your worldly possessions and last, but certainly not least, time spent daydreaming about your slice of the American dream and how much you're going to love your new home.
But here in Texas, you would do yourself a favor by spending more time researching your rights and responsibilities before you sign on the dotted line. It is a perilous time to buy a new home in the Lone Star State, and buyers must be armed with information and a clear understanding of the process as they enter professionally decorated model homes where freshly baked cookies await on granite countertops, vanilla candles waft enticing fragrances and throws are placed just so on designer sofas.
There is a real world when it comes to new home ownership, and the sales pitch in the model homes is not it. I speak from experience as a new homeowner engaged in a contentious dispute with my builder over significant defects with the house.
We are currently in the middle of the State-Sponsored Inspection and Dispute Resolution process with the Texas Residential Construction Commission, the agency created during the 2003 legislative session to serve as a liaison between home builders and homeowners. But don't be fooled. The TRCC is made up of members of the building industry, and the laws were written by builders' representatives who serve on the commission. Indeed, the very senator who introduced the legislation that created the agency has expressed concern about the TRCC and stated that it needs to be revisited to ensure that homeowners' rights are protected and that the process is fair to all parties.
As we await the results of our state inspection, we stand on street corners with signs detailing the problems with our builder, have magnetic signs on our cars with information about our experience and host a Web site with more details on our situation, along with suggestions for protecting your rights and reforming the TRCC. Since we signed a mandatory arbitration clause, there is little else that we can do.
The moral of our story is this: Your home builder is not your friend, and the company isn't looking out for you. The builder will woo and court you while you're looking at the model homes and floor plans. It is an entirely different story once you own the house.
Yet there is good news. If you're willing to do your homework and stand your ground, you can emerge from the process with your rights intact and your pocketbook safe.
Here are some basic things that you can do to protect yourself, both before you buy and during the warranty period:
Get a copy of your permit file and all the records from the construction of your home. They can be destroyed as soon as 180 days after the house is completed, so get them as soon as possible.
Review the contract carefully and refuse to sign if it has mandatory arbitration or any gag clauses that prohibit you from speaking with the media or demonstrating against the builder.
Before you close on the house, get a home inspection. For a few hundred dollars, an inspector will check the house thoroughly and alert you to potential problems. You will have more leverage to get any repairs done before you have closed on the house.
Carefully examine the warranty and its terms and conditions. If they're unsatisfactory to you, look elsewhere. Don't be afraid to walk away from a bad deal trust your instinct and keep looking.
The TRCC's Building and Performance Standards are the legal standard for all new homes. Go to the agency's Web site, www.trcc.state.tx.us , and read them before you commit to buying a new home regulated by these standards.
After the purchase, document everything!
And if you have any doubt about the potential for problems, consider this: To be a builder in the state of Texas, you need only fill out a two-page form and submit a check for $125 to the TRCC.
If we had known then what we know now, we would have walked away and never looked back.
After all, there are always existing homes where the sellers are required to disclose material problems with the house, and the warranties typically offer better protection. I don't know about you, but I'll take more consumer protections over freshly baked cookies and wafting candles any day.
Heidi Wanken is a stay-at-home mom in McKinney. She is the co-founder of Texas House, a group committed to raising awareness of homeowners' rights. Her e-mail address is