RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Owning a home is one of the biggest investments one can make, and if you build from scratch, you expect your home to be perfect. But that’s not always the case.
For hundreds of homeowners, the ‘American Dream’ is now evolving into a nightmare.
“It’s the most expensive purchase any of us are going to make,” homeowner Jackie Walker told 8News. “You know, it’s what all your money goes into. It’s what we work for.”
If you take a look inside Walker’s brand new home in Haymarket, you’ll see pieces of tape marking nail pops that showed up almost immediately after she and her family moved in. The builder’s warranty on the home was supposed to cover the repairs. But Walker says workers never got the job done.
“It has been a nightmare,” she said. “I’ve made several attempts to be here for appointments for them to show up in the very beginning. Right after the settlement to fix it and just in the first year, I had 23 appointments and they missed 17 of those.”
Walker isn’t the only one in her neighborhood unhappy with their homebuilder.
“I’m usually generally calm, and I got to the point where I was calling them probably every other day and cussing at them,” another unsatisfied homeowner, Sean Engles, said.
8News asked two experts to take a look at the problems in the subdivision. They both are home inspectors who are typically hired by homeowners, but they also testify at trial as experts against homebuilders.
“When I see poorly constructed or sloppily constructed homes, I just kinda wonder, well I wonder, you know the more you scratch it, the more it bleeds,” home inspector Harrison McCampbell said. “I wonder how much more scratching we need to do to find out that these people don’t have the value they thought they did.”
New home heartbreak is a bigger problem than most people realize, and it’s not just one builder that’s to blame. A quick search on Google will show you Facebook pages and websites filled with complaints from disappointed homeowners.
Adding to their frustration when it comes to getting the defects fixed is the fact that the homebuilder often has the upper hand, because most new construction contracts have a clause that sends all disputes to arbitration.
“Nine out of the ten biggest homebuilders in the country use arbitration either in their intial contracts or in their warranties,” said Amanda Werner with the Public Citizen Advocacy Group.
Arbitration prevents the case from going to court. In Virginia, it leaves the homeowner with no legal right to sue the homebuilder. Instead, major disputes go before an arbitrator, someone who is supposed to be neutral and objective. But critics contend that’s not possible since it’s the builders who choose the arbitrators who hear the cases.
“When someone is paying your bills, you’re probably not going to want to get them angry at you,” Werner said. “So there is this kind of built-in incentive for the arbitrator to please the corporation that they are going to see maybe next week whereas they will never see these consumers probably ever again.”
8News reached out to D.R. Horton, the company that build Walker’s home in Haymarket. They sent us the following statement:
“When situations arise where we are not able to come to a mutual resolution, arbitration is in place to fairly and efficiently resolve the matter for all parties.”
Walker hopes that’s the case as she waits for an arbitration date.
Since most builders require those abitration clauses, your best bet is to do your research before deciding who will build your home. Again, a quick search on the internet can be revealing.
Or, if you’re interested in a particular neighborhood, go and talk to the people who live there. If they’ve had major problems, they’re probably going to tell you about them.