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Defective lemon homes

We are going to take a break from discussing lemon cars and turn our attention to houses that are lemons. Much like in the case of vehicles, the construction and materials used in a new house can also be defective. However, unlike the case of vehicles, where there is a strong established history of state and federal law (e.g. Magnuson Moss Warranty Act), home buyers are treading in much less chartered waters.

New cars are simpler and more straightforward ‘devices’ than new homes are. Cars are massed produced and the specification for a particular make and model should be the same for each vehicle. A vehicle goes through extensive testing and validation during the design phase and the resulting vehicle is well defined. This information is used by the manufacture in marketing the vehicle and is available to the consumer in the form of specification sheets, technical service bulletins, and user’s manuals.

More and more, houses are also being mass-produced, either entirely – as in mobile homes or pre-fabricated homes, or in parts – as in the case of prefabricated trusses and sections. A new house has the potential for much more customization and variability than a new car does. While you have options as far as color and added features, many new homes are close to unique. An additional variable when considering a new home is the environment, including the land the house is built on, the amount of annual rain the area receives, the temperature range to which the house will be subjected to, and etc.

I do not want to give the impression that the materials and mechanics of house construction are not well understood. Humans have been building structures far longer than they have been building cars and there is a vast area of civil and mechanical engineering and material science dealing with the construction of structures.

What has happened (and probably has been going on for quite some time) is that there is sometimes shoddy workmanship, poor design, or defective materials. As far as environmentally related concerns, in the last few years there has been considerable news given to ‘black mold’ in the walls of new houses. Another problem that has gotten some attention is construction on inappropriate soil, or improper soil preparation. This can result in houses that shift and crack. Almost every homeowner has seen some settling or shifting of a home’s foundation. There are steps that can be taken (e.g. watering the foundation) that can help minimize this in times of drought. The question is, if this happens immediately after construction, is the builder responsible? Possibly due to the advent of widespread internet use and access, homeowners with defective new houses are exploring new avenues for recourse against builders. You can read more about a few examples of this by going to an article published by Business Week.

Remember, if you get a low bid on a new house, the contractor may be able to provide you with a quality house at a lower price than the competitor, or corners may be cut. You are entitled to hold the builder to the terms dictated in your contract. Be sure to consult an experienced lawyer to ensure that the builder is bound to a contract that represents your desires in a new house.

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