What’s a builder to do?

The following is from a homeowner in Albemarle County –

“I recently learned that after being in my home for only 3 years, that I have a major leak in the water line running from the street meter to my house. Like most living in this neighborhood, I live on a slab. Therefore a new water line is going to have to be run. I was interested to know if anyone else has had any plumbing/water leakage issues. My insurance agency is interested in whether my situation is isolated or whether this is a more diffuse problem.

The warranty manager for (this company) is no longer there. He was “let go”. The new manager is Bill. With the onset of this leak, Bill assured me that “someone was looking out for me and that he would do all he could to help me.” I asked initially about financial assistance in replacing the line and was assured that they would do all they could to help. Long story short, Bill and the VP of this company have told me that they can offer no assistance except to give me the name of an excavator. This is most disappointing since my house is 3 years old and a break or leak in the water line SHOULD NOT occur. Unfortunately, given the one year warranty, they are under no legal obligation to provide me with any assistance. It is unfortunate in the current housing market, that a builder/contractor thinks so littlle of customer satisfaction and general good will. I, like many of my neighbors, will never purchase another home from this company.

A point to note is that the contractor who did all of this company’s plumbing in the neighborhood, is no longer in business.

My home owner’s insurance is picking up the biggest chunk of the cost. I have to pay a deductible and the expense of relandscaping the property once all the digging is done. I plan to write a letter to the owner and president of the company. Some people have recommended contacting a local news station to do a story. I think I am most upset that I was really lead on that they would help me and when it came down to it, I was blown off. I thought the issues we had before were because of the warranty manager but now with this experience, I really think the lack of integrity lies with the leadership within the company.” (ed note: bolding mine)

My thoughts – I will be surprised if this homeowner receives a response from the builder.

– My understanding is that this will be forever on the homeowner’s CLUE report.
– A builder should not be expected to come back and service all defects  – that’s why homeowners’ insurance exists.
– What price integrity? At what point should the company simply cut its losses with the customer, and potentially the entire development?
– What is the most grievous error – the fault of the water line, or the fact that the company strung the homeowner along?
– Should the builder be concerned about this affecting his reputation?
– In speaking with the homeowner, the money was (and is) an issue, but the fact that he wouldn’t stand behind his work was a greater one.
– The warranty may last only one year; reputation is forever.

I’ll offer my thoughts in the comments a bit later.

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  1. Jeremy Hart December 14, 2007 at 12:24

    My sense is that the most serious oversight is the fact the builder seems to be deliberately undermining his/her reputation. The warranty may have expired, but the builder still – IMO – should have an interest in trying to help remedy the problem. They have no obligation to help, but it’s the right thing to do. Helping doesn’t have to mean financial assistance, it could just be helping the put the pieces in place to solve her problem but nevertheless, it seems to be the RIGHT thing to do. Just my $.02

  2. Jim Duncan December 14, 2007 at 13:52

    Agreed. Not only that, but I know the builder, and will use this knowledge to advise my clients.

    A builder shouldn’t have to come back for nail pops after three years, but a significant issue such as this should warrant a better response from the builder.

  3. Duluth Real Estate December 14, 2007 at 14:09

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. I hope it works out for you.

  4. Short Seller December 14, 2007 at 20:46

    Sounds like another offshoot of the housing bubble: Builders choosing to throw up houses as quickly as they could at the price of quality. It’s a headache for homeowners today, and will probably cost them some appreciation in value down the road.

  5. TrvlnMn December 14, 2007 at 21:24

    Should the builder be concerned about this affecting his reputation?

    Not unless someone’s going to pony up and give us a name.

    I had a friend who built a house several years ago and when during the first year there were foundation plumbing problems instead of honoring the warranty and fixing them the Lake Monticello area builder decided to go out of business.

  6. Will December 17, 2007 at 20:59

    Not knowing the details of the type of water line and the damage to it means I can only speak from my own experience — I had a catastrophic failure of the water main coming into my (previous) slab house, and had it repaired resulting in only two reasonably small holes in my yard that needed to be reseeded (actually only one, the other was in a mulched area). The plumbers said that typically it’s either tree roots, or a rock under the house that ends up putting a hole in the line. Mine was 13 years old when it happened. I chalked it up to “life”, not negligent builders or plumbers. It may suck more when it only takes 3 years. Also, the repairs sound heavy-handed in this case. I wonder if the homeowner exercised due diligence and got 3 estimates for the repair?