Unsolicited praise from a home buyer for a builder is, to say the least, rare.

A recent letter to this section began: "It is time to write a story about a builder that a homeowner can be proud to do business with, Real estate is a field fraught with pitfalls.... We hear of so many instances of misrepresented sales or of builders never seen again after the move-in. That's why we want to relate the story of our recent home purchase and the decent, capable builder who made it possible: C. Coleman Broaddus."

That letter from Miles and Susan Friedman of Manassas ended: "This may sound like an unabashed testimonial for Coleman Broaddus. We would gladly do one. As a result of Mr. Broaddus' efforts we have a lovely home that we are proud of and we did not have to go through the ordeal that many do to get it.... It shouldn't be that only horror stories make the real estate section. This experience lends credence to the hope that homebuilding is still a craft to be treasured by builder and buyer alike."

In an interview, Miles Friedman expanded on his praise for the $94,000, two-story house, which has four bedrooms and two and one-half baths. It's on a lot of more than an acre in the Woodbine Woods subdivision. The house was about 75 percent completed when the Friendmans found it. They had been looking for several years.

Friendman said that the transaction was remarkable because the builder's "superior effort to please us did not stop at closing (actual sale)" last summer. "After we took possession, Broaddus and his crew were still very much in evidence," the buyer said. Friendman said that in the nine months they have lived in the house the few "minor concerns that come with a new home were attended to quickly and eagerly."

Friedman said there was a piece of molding left unpainted, a door that didn't close perfectly and a drippy faucet -- but that was all. And there was no water in the basement during the recent heavy rains after the big February snows, he said.

Broaddus, 43, is a former stockbroker who builds five to six houses a year, with a crew that ranges from five to 12 workers, depending on the time of year and the pace of construction. In the building business for four years, he has completed 15 houses.

Once a broker with the Arlington office of Dean, Witter, he said he decided to make a change in careers.

" i got into stocks to learn about investments and became interested in investing in land," he said. "I started as a land developer and then began building in Colewood Estates near Clifton, Va."

Broaddus was born in Richmond and studied civil engineering at the University of Virginia. His office is in the basement of his home in Hampton Woods East, in the rural Dominion Valley area of Fairfax County. He said he is not affiliated with any home builder or realty organizations.

"I took a real estate course several years ago and heard a lot a bad things about builders: That got my dander up," he said. "I've also read stories about shoddy building and so have the men who work for me. We are embarrassed by them."

Broaddus is pround of his two key men, carpenter Earl Jobe, 26, and excavation foreman Robert Drawdy, 31. "They are super guys who stay in touch with the buyers. They have a can-do attitude," the builder said.

Most of the Broaddus houses sold for more than $100,000. The Friedman house was the "no-frills" model. "The variables and upgradings can account for $20,000 more in cost on the same basic house," Broaddus noted.

The builder says he is concerned about energy costs, insisting that his insulation and R values are above code.

"I add an inch of styrofoam around all the houses and have eight inches or more of insulation in the ceiling. Owners tend to translate energy-saving directly to their utility bills. I install electric systems with heat pumps for cooling and heating. I am convinced that upgrading the heating equipment, including duct and supply lines, saves money for the buyer," Broaddus said.

Broaddus does about half of his work for custom buyers (those who know they are going to be buyers before the house is started) and the other half as "specs," those stated without a specific buyer in mind.

"I would prefer to start all of them as 'specs' because then I have to deal with the buyer only at the end of the line, as was the case with the Friedmans," he said.

The Friedmans owned a town house in Lake Ridge when they decided to move up to a detached house. Broaddus took the town house in trade and Earl Jobe now rents it from Broaddus.

Broaddus said he plans to start five or six large houses this year, all in Fairfax County so he can consolidate his operations.

Friedman, a political scientist who works for the National Council for Urban Economic Development, a public interest group, and his wife, Susan, who works for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, have a long commute weekdays from their home. But they seem to feel its worth it.

Friedman wrote: "Our builder was concerned with both process and product. He tried to make our lives easy and also to provide us with a home that had the extra special touches that would make us smile long after we had moved in."

So far, Friedman and his wife are still smiling.