Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Homeowner Frustrated With Builder

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We had a large custom home built by a contractor about three years ago. Since then, we’ve had three on-going problems. First, the bullnose wall corners throughout the house continue to separate from the drywall, even around the windows. The drywall subcontractor has been here repeatedly. But he only fixes the places where separation has become visible, and the places he fixes look obviously patched. Second, the stucco finish on the outside of the house keeps chipping and crumbling off. We pointed this out to the contractor when the house was new. He said this was typical for new stucco. But the stucco finish has continued to crack, crumble, and separate ever since. And third, there is a terrible smell coming from the septic tank since we moved in. When we first complained, the subcontractor repaired a broken underground pipe, but this has not eliminated the awful smell. The builder said it would go away but it has continued for three years. With each of these issues, the builder just makes excuses. He says that his liability expired after one year, and he never admits that these are serious problems. I am totally frustrated and hope that you can give me some direction. Please help. Ginny

Dear Ginny: The defects you describe are totally unacceptable and are not normal for a properly constructed home; especially a custom home. A contractor who excuses defects of this kind is unworthy of trust or respect.

If the bullnose wall corners are separating from the drywall, then they were not adequately nailed when the home was built. Proper repair means renailing every bullnose corner in the house, followed by patching and retexturing by a qualified craftsman. If done by a competent drywall finisher, the repairs should not be visibly discernible.

If the stucco had been properly applied, delamination of the finish coat would not be occurring. The cracking and crumbling you describe indicate substandard workmanship, and the builder is responsible for that defect. What’s more, his liability did not end after one year because the defects were reported to him while the one year warranty was still in effect.

The sewer gas smell from your septic system indicates a significant health safety violation that needs to be addressed fully and immediately. It is not a matter to be dismissed with lame excuses. Some aspect of the septic system is defective and needs to be corrected.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Hire an experienced home inspector to thoroughly evaluate the property. In addition to the three issues you have listed, a qualified inspector will disclose construction defects you have not yet discovered. A detailed home inspection report will document all apparent construction defects in a way that will provide leverage in dealing with the builder.
  2. Hire individual specialty contractors to evaluate the problems you have listed: a drywall contractor to assess the bullnose problem; a stucco contractor to evaluate the stucco problem; and a septic contractor to inspect and evaluate the problem with sewer gases. All of these contractors should provide written assessments of these issues and bids for proposed repairs.
  3. Get some legal advice from an attorney who specializes in construction defect law.

In the final analysis, you don’t want the builder to repair the construction defects because you can no longer invest confidence in the integrity of his work. Instead, you want him to pay the contractors you hire to make proper repairs.

Buyer Cracking Up Over Builder’s Warranty

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Last year, I bought a brand new home. Within months, the concrete pavement began to crack. When I reported this to the builder, he sent a repairman who applied a thin layer of cement over the driveway, porch, and patio. Now this topping is cracked, and pieces of it are breaking off everywhere. Another contractor gave me a bid of $4700 just to replace the driveway. Now that my one-year warranty has expired, do I have recourse against the builder? Lynda

Dear Lynda: The builder’s liability did not end when the one-year warranty expired because you reported the defective concrete while the warranty was still in effect. The fact that the builder “attempted” to correct the problem does not absolve him of liability. His obligation was to rectify a construction defect, not to make a substandard pretence of repair.

Anyone with a professional knowledge of concrete knows that you cannot apply a thin overlay of cement and expect it to adhere or to remain intact, especially on pavement that bears the weight of moving vehicles. Cracking and detachment of the added cement were predictable and inevitable.

If the concrete needs replacement, your builder may need convincing to accept that expense. If he is unwilling, you should seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in construction defect law. You should also obtain a detailed inspection report on the entire property from a qualified, experienced home inspector. Who knows what other defects remain to be disclosed?

Most people who buy new homes do so without hiring a home inspector. They assume that a brand new home is unlikely to have defects and that the builder’s warranty eliminates the need for an inspection. Both assumptions are false. All new homes have defects, and you can’t take advantage of the warranty if you don’t know what the defects are. An inspection report now will inform you of defects not yet discovered and will enable you to submit a full package of repair demands to the builder.

Dear Barry: Six months ago, I sold my penthouse condominium. The roof had some leak problems that were never corrected by the builder, but I sold the property “as-is.” Lately, we’ve had some heavy rains, and now the buyer wants me to repair the roof, even though he agreed to an “as-is” purchase. Am I responsible for repairing the roof? Mike

Dear Mike: In today’s real estate market, “as-is” no longer means what it did in the past. “As-is” used to mean “take it or leave it and buyer beware.” Today it means “here is a complete list of the defects for your acceptance or refusal.”

If the “as is” purchase of your condo was made with the fully disclosed understanding that the roof needs repairs, then the buyer is responsible for the roof. If he was not told that the roof had outstanding defects, then you are liable for nondisclosure and should assume responsibility for roof repairs.

Builder Refuses to Repair Faulty Doors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Our home is nearly a year old. Before we bought it, my husband pointed out to the builder that the french doors were poorly fitted and needed to be repaired. The builder said he would take care of it, but he never did. We’ve continued to ask, but the doors remain the same. Recently, we threatened him with legal action. He just got mad and said, “You just took the game to a new level!” Now he won’t even talk to us. Recently, we had a home inspection, and the inspector agreed that the doors were poorly installed. How can we resolve this situation? Victoria

Dear Victoria: The builder has declared his readiness to work with you on what he calls “the next level.” So let the next level begin. Step one is to document all future communications, the first of which is to send him a certified letter. Inform him that you have made repeated requests to have the door defects repaired and that this is your final demand. Let him know that he has 30 days to complete the necessary work; that if the work is not completed by that time you will hire another contractor to repair or replace the doors and will take legal action to hold him responsible for the costs of those repairs.

In the meantime, get written repair bids from reputable door contractors. If the builder fails to perform, take him to small claims court and get a judgment for the repair costs indicated on those bids. But before you proceed, spend an hour with an attorney who can advise you on the preparation and presentation of your case.