Top 10 lines new-construction buyers should always take warily

This month’s column, culled from actual home inspections, is a list of the top 10 lines buyers of new homes should never take for granted. The processes involved in building, delivering and purchasing a new home are incredibly complex and given the amount of money, time and energy at stake, no buyer should take such lines on faith or operate with a best-case scenario in mind.

10. Don’t worry, the place will be done before closing. This is perhaps the most overworked promise in new construction. It’s often untrue. If you’re buying a new condo that’s supposed to have finished hardwood floors and the developer expects you to move in with the floors unfinished, you’re not getting what you paid for (The manufacturers of hardwood flooring sealant don’t even want you in the space while the stuff is drying). Developers are virtually never completely finished by the time of closing, but some want your money on the promise that they will be.

9. You don’t need the elevators or stairs for now. Consumers who move into a building without a certificate of occupancy face the prospect of crawling over sawhorses, gasoline generators, cutting tools, gobs of dust, boards and old Burger King bags in the event that there is a fire in the building. If you are one of the first inhabitants, insist that your unit has a certificate of occupancy and that all life safety systems are functioning. Hallways and exit areas should be clear of tools and debris.

8. Our work won’t interrupt your lifestyle. Many office workers believe the world starts with them each morning at 9 a.m. Trades are different. Expect workers to be hard at work, pounding concrete slab or grinding steel beams at 7 a.m. This also holds true if there’s a punch list for your unit. Tradesmen will show up at 7 a.m. with their nail guns and electric saws, ready to cut through your master bath plumbing wall in search of the water source that caused that spot of mold. No one is concerned about interruptions to your daily life, and if you insist on rescheduling, a paper trail can make it look like you’re not willing to facilitate the repair.

7. Just give me the money. I wish that all developers would say, “We need you to pre-pay for the upgrade before we can install it.” Instead, some come up with all sorts of reasons to get money out of buyers early: “I know you didn’t expect to come up with 10 percent just yet, but the contract you signed contains a leapfrog provision halving the number of required days before the earnest money is due.” The timing of payments might seem insignificant, but consider the interest on $250,000 that’s been paid early.

6. We’ll fix it after closing. A recent buyer moved into her new condominium with such a promise even though the walls had nail pops, gouges and only one coat of paint. She did not guess that six months after closing, the builder would blame careless movers for many of these flaws.

5. You won’t even notice. When the buyer of a new $4 million single-family home pointed out a large hump in a closet to the developer his response was, “You won’t even notice it after a year.” During my inspection, I found that the builder had placed structural steel support columns directly on top of wooden frame walls in numerous spots. The columns did not extend to the foundation, so various doorjambs, window jambs and floor areas became so twisted that the doors and windows wouldn’t close. When a building component appears damaged, it probably is.

4. It’s the code, no kidding. A recent home buyer insisted that a second layer of polyurethane be added to her new wood floors, but the flooring subcontractor told her that city building code requirements precluded this. She reluctantly accepted this reasoning until she met our home inspector, who pointed out that the manufacturer’s trade association requires three coats while the code is silent on the issue. Building contractors should never be confused with the city officials who understand and enforce the building code.

3. All new houses are like this. Ask any homeowner whether ground fault circuit interrupters (G.F.C.I.) are needed for wet areas in a home and most won’t know the answer. Some builders will argue that new homes don’t require these protection devices; some have even told our clients that houses can be considered safer without them.

Ground fault circuit interrupters are required on all new homes across the country. Since 2000, homes also are required to have arc fault circuit interrupters in bedrooms.

2. But your husband / wife said… The developer says, “Your wife told me silver hinges and bathroom fixtures. . .” or “No, when I spoke to your husband he insisted that the brass plated door hardware was his first choice. . .” It’s not unheard of for a developer’s representatives to misquote either the husband or wife when one half of the marriage is absent. If you’re buying a home with a partner, write a list of specifications together, make demands together and insist in writing that everything be done by specific deadlines that both you and your developer agree on.

1. We guarantee it will be done before closing. A recent home inspection discovered a twelve-gauge copper wire was supplying all the electricity to a new 3,000-square-foot condominium – a temporary fix by the builder, who was waiting for Commonwealth Edison to install the electric meters before finishing the electrical system. Our client moved in because he’d been reassured that the electric and other problems would be “made right” before closing. Don’t take this for granted. If the place is not done five business days before your scheduled move-in, assume it’s not going to get done on time.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc. a professional property consulting company specializing in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.

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