EVEN AS TECHNOLOGY leaps into the future, some builders lag behind.
A study released earlier this year by the Fairfax County Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) showed the number of complaints from home buyers regarding faulty construction stretching toward the upper reaches of the bar graphs. In fiscal years 1977 and 1978, the two agencies resolved 2,415 complaints from county residents.
In order of frequency, the specific workmanship problems cited were: wet basements (23 percent); poor drainage/grading, seeding/sodding (20.5 percent); plumbing faults (3.8 percent); roof leaks and damage (3.4 percent); improperly installed doors and faulty floors (3.4 percent); poor or insufficient insulation (2.8 percent); heating, air conditioning and vents (2.5 percent); painting (2.17 percent); cracks in driveways and sidewalks (2 percent); electrical (1.7 percent); faulty windows (1.4 percent). until you are satisfied potential problem areas are sufficiently covered by expressed guarantees.
Some new home owners encountered wet basements because they moved in before the final grading and landscaping was finished. The builders were slow in getting the job done. If work remains to be finished when you move in, you can place part of the agreed purchase price in escrow against eventual completion.
Next ask the builder if he is a member of the Home Owners Warranty (HOW) program.
HOW is administered nationally by the Home Owners Warranty Corp., an arm of the National Association of Home Builders. HOW accepts builders on a
What's a home buyer to do?
Short of becoming a building inspector, you can ask the local consumer affairs office about any complaints registered against builders of homes you are considering. Go over carefully the builder's warranty voluntary basis and backs them up with a 10-year insurance protection plan against faulty construction. Close to 100 of the 200 Northern Virginia Builder's Association members participate in HOW. An estimated one of every four homes sold in Northern Virginia carry the HOW warranty.
(Many of these are smaller firms, however, and despite HOW's standards 21 participants were shown in the DCA/DEM report to have complaints registered against them.)
Under the HOW program members offer the buyer: 1) a two-year limited warranty against non-compliance with HOW's materials and workmansip standards, 2) insurance against legitimate claims not fulfilled by the builder, 3) settlement disputes between builder and buyer, and 4) transfer of coverage from owner to owner within the 10-year period.
The Fairfax report says the statistics "reflect the fact that both agencies have been receiving an increasing number of new home construction complaints. From FY 1977 to FY 1978, new home construction complaints increased by approximately 7 percent. Within the last six months, problems related to new home purchases have represented the largest single category of complaints received by the DCA. The DCA alone experienced a 17 percent increase in new home construction compalints" in the same period.
The increases are attributed partially to escalation in new construction, about 12 percent from 1977 to 1978 in Fairfax County, where 8,000 homes are expected to be completed this year, more than in all other Washington-area jurisdictions combined. But with 229 complaints already resolved in the first five months of fiscal 1978 (July to November), the DCA "anticipated [a] complaint workload of 550 new home construction complaints for 1979, or an anticipated 118 percent increase over FY 1978."
The report divided complaints into three major categories: "substandard quality work/failure to honor warranty," "county code violations" and "delivery date, unfair business practices, other." The DCA and DEM combined received more than 2,300 complaints of the first type and nearly 600 code violations.The DCA registered 82 unfair business practice and "other" complaints for the same two-year period.
In 1973, substandard quality and failure to honor warranty complaints accounted for 55 percent of registered new home buyers' problems.That figure has since risen to 82 percent.
The DCA requires an average 74 days to resolve each construction complaint.
Complaints are not by any means limited to just a few builders. About 290 are licensed to operate in Fairfax county. The DEM estimates about 120 were taken to court for construction code violations in 1978. About 60 percent of those were contractors associated with new home construction and 85 percent of the court cases resulted in convictions.
Unlike electricians, plumbers and heating/ventilation/air conditioning contractors, building contractors are not required in Virginia to take a competency test to be licensed.
The new home buyer would like to take some solace in knowing that the house he moves into has been awarded a residential use permit by the local inspections office. The permit is an assurance to the buyer that his home meets local buiding codes. The Fairfax County study revealed, however, that "18 percent of DEM's substandard quality work problems and 15 percent of DCA's substandard work complaints deal with code violations on houses already past the inspection stage and occupied."
If the problem is a matter of a code violation, such as a leaking basement caused by improper concrete mix, lack ofreinforcing, insufficient site grading, poor waterproofing or lack of drain tiles, the builder can be taken to court and prosecuted. But the majority of complaints received in Fairfax County resulted from "substandard quality work" not covered by codes nor frequently by the builder's warranty.
Many buyers are unable to win in court because such defects are not expressly covered in warranties. The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the law does not include "implied" waranties, only those expressly given.
If you feel uneasy, you may want to hire a professional home inspector for a complete report on your prospective new home. That is the subject of next week's Help. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Copyright (c) Diversified Art, 1979