Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Smoke detector progress

This morning Joe dropped by to let me know that the smoke detectors in my house had been recalled. He said the electrician would come and replace the ones in the house and bypass the one that had apparently overheated in the attic.

The electrician did come and capped off the one in the attic, but the detectors in the house were not replaced.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

"I would be good for you"

She stood there on the steps of what one day would become our house visibly upset at what we were about to do. "That's illegal", she said.

My soon-to-be wife and I were about to do the unthinkable. The unconscionable. We were going to go get our own real estate agent, an agent that would pass part of the agent commission back to us. Up to that point we had shown ourselves around and looked at houses. It really isn't as hard as the real estate industry would have you believe. And incredibly, we knew pretty much what we wanted and what we liked.

We had gone to one of the open houses that Andrea Mills of Coldwell Banker routinely puts on for Dover Realty Trust. Gone to a couple, in fact. We even put in an offer on this house that didn't really go anywhere. At this point we realized the only way we could buy the house we wanted was to get an agent - someone in the club - to help us.

I'm not sure if it was the prospect of doubling her commission with little added work or if she really thought she would be good for us, but Andrea Mills had certainly pulled all of the stops to keep our business from going to anyone else. She even said that she would do something to match what a few other real estate agencies were doing to capture business in a depressed real estate market - split the commission with us. "I would be good for you." she said.

She not only willingly signed us up with her being dual agent, she managed to talk us out of the far more sensible alternative of getting an uninvolved agent to act in our best interest. Andrea Mills expertly did this with promises that she didn't keep and with threats that getting another agent that would share his commission with us was illegal.

Here is the summary of Andrea Mills being our agent:

Failed to disclose information to the buyer in a timely manner: Received two water test results on September 18 and September 21, buyer was notified on October 18, just days before our scheduled closing.

Misrepresented important data: Characterized arsenic levels in the water test results as "a little high". The levels were over 6 times the limit allowed by the EPA.

Failed to provide the actual property address: This was new construction. The address is issued by the town, and rather than find out the address of the house she was selling for both the buyer and the seller, she told me I should go to the town to find out.

Failed to communicate with the builder: We made clear to our agent, Andrea Mills, that we wished to have a driveway extension similar to those in other houses in the area. This mentioned multiple times before the driveway was paved. The extension was not added because even though Andrea Mills represented both the buyer and the seller in this transaction, she didn't bother to tell the seller of the request. The builder/seller told us this during our final walk through.

In real estate transactions, I suppose I have extremely high expectations. I expect that if an agent is being paid large sums of money to represent me in a transaction that my agent would actually work on my behalf. If you have similar expectations, don't expect Andrea to be good for you. She certainly wasn't for us.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

About those 4 dead plants...

I should mention that the 4 dead plants I noted in my last entry (still pending on our punch list), are really 5. Four appear to have not survived because of the winter, but a fifth dead plant may have held a different fate.

This is likely a good time to introduce the landscape and irrigation contractor that our builder, Joe Savarese, hired to install our sprinkler system and complete all landscaping on our house. Taylor Brinser of Aqua Tech Landscaping. He is hired by Joe to do most of the landscaping work on all of Joe's houses, it appears, because the price is right.

Unfortunately in this case, we had already paid top dollar for our newly built house and land, counting on the contract which boasts "Dover Realty Trust offers much more through Design, Craftsmanship, and a Commitment to Excellence." It is apparantly their lack of excellence which Joe Savarese and Jake Gibbs use to pad their profit margin.

Back to my story...plant #5. I watched plant #5 die this spring, beside the 4 vacant holes left by the 4 dead plants Taylor had already removed. As a side note, they still remain vacant to this day and I am at a point where I assume they will never be replaced.

Inquiring minds might want to know...why did plant #5 meet such a fate. One only needs to take a shovel to the problem, and within 4 inches of the surface of the ground, have found your answer. As I dug out my latest dead plant, it took only one strike to hit "rock bottom". Twenty minutes later, along with a broken shovel, I was able to produce this:

Now one may ask the question about how it came to be that my plant literally was planted on top of this gigantic rock. Only Taylor, our landscaper, knows. Did he not notice this rock when he dug the hole? Does he not know that plants need soil, and not rock, to grow? Does he simply not know what he is doing, or worse yet, did he do it knowingly?

Regardless of the answer, it leaves me believing that Taylor has no business being in the landscaping world. That said, if he does continue to do this line of business, I don't suggest you hire him, so that he learns how to do it on your dime.

Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!

When you think about a home's three season porch, do you envision the following?

I spent three hours today, on my knees with a set of pliers and a hammer, pulling tiny little metal spikes out of our three season porch floor. When it wasn't possible to pull them out, I had to hammer them into the floor. I really don't have any idea why there are metal spikes next to every nail that is in our floor, but I do know that my foot catches on the ones which seem to be sticking out of the floor, rather than into it. It makes it difficult to go barefoot out there, or for me to feel safe having my dogs out there. Little puncture wounds come to mind...and foot.

The little spikes did not make it on our punch list, so Joe Savarese, our builder, does not even know they exist. It is likely that neighbors of ours, who have also bought houses from Joe and his partner, Jake Gibbs, have also had the same problem with their decks. We all seem to share a common set of concerns/issues/woes, when it comes to Joe and Jake. Perhaps " remove tiny little metal spikes in decking" has made it onto one of their punch lists?

This issue is one of the many things which my husband and I have chosen to simply address ourselves, rather than add it onto our 180 day overdue punch list. We would prefer Joe address some of our other open issues, like replacing our damaged threshold on the front door, or replacing 4 of the dead plants which did not make it through winter. Perhaps he could complete the landscaping of our 2+ acre lot, or repair our damaged closet where hardware pulled from the wall and left a hole in the skim coat.

A year anniversary of us moving into our house is coming up very soon. We have not heard a word from Joe in over two months about our punch list. Emails, calls, and notes in his mailbox don't seem to incent him to communicate and let us know when these things will be done.

In the meanwhile, however, another one of Joe's houses sold in the neighborhood last week. It seems Joe has had enough time in the last couple months to complete a house, such that he could sell it to a new buyer. Little do they know what is coming their way. Too bad this blog was not yet available for them to educate themselves.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Communicating with your new home builder

The key to a trusting relationship with your new home builder is communication. Your builder is probably a very busy person, so it is important to be persistent and to use the means of communication that your builder is most responsive to.

I don't claim to be an expert at this, but if you are looking for some concrete ideas of various means of communication, I will gladly share those that my wife and I have tried.

Talk in person. This is the most obvious way to talk to your builder. Of course if your builder commits to doing more than he ever intends to do, you may simply find this frustrating.

Email. This is often the easiest way to communicate specific issues in a way that won't get lost in the shuffle. If you send a list of issues to your builder, he or she can continue to refer to those while the work is being done to make sure that nothing is forgotten. Note that this doesn't work for all builders. Our builder doesn't reply to emails at all.

Voice mail. This is a great way to get your builder's attention. They don't have to log in to a computer to find out what you have said. If you use voice mail you are leveraging one of the builder's day to day tools, and are sure to get his attention. Unless he ignores it completely like our builder does.

Notes in a mailbox. This combines the pluses of both email and voice mail. Your builder probably visits his mailbox about once per day, so this should definitely get his attention. In some cases the builder doesn't respond though.

And finally, if all else fails as it has for me, it can sometimes help to get creative.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dover Realty Trust: Please finish my house!

I had just dialed into a conference call and had introduced myself. It was an important call that tore me away from my normal work. I was working at home that June day and it was just dumb luck that a guy was driving a tractor near the front of my house at the time.

And then it happened.

A horrible screeching noise erupted that filled my ears with pain. It so completely coincided with the tractor switching into reverse that I was confused for many seconds thinking that his reverse alert was sounding. But soon enough he started driving forward and the sound continued.

And then it all became clear to me. Every alarm in my house - every smoke detector, heat detector, alarm pad - every little electronic gadget that used its very capable voice to save lives was trying to tell me something.

After excusing myself from the meeting with a quick mention that my house was probably on fire and would someone please send the meeting minutes, I ran from room to room expecting to find the culprit. A hairdryer that had fallen into a sink, a toaster with a newspaper jammed in it, perhaps a box of oily rags that had burst into flames...

Into the basement I ran, expecting to find that my water heater had burst a fuel pipe and was blowing fuel from the severed hose, spewing flames in all directions as the hose thrashed about from the force of the expelled fuel and flame. But alas, all seemed to be normal.

I raced from one end of the house to the other looking, trying to find the smoke that would reveal the flames that must certainly be present to cause my entire house alarm to continue sounding.

The garage - maybe my car erupted into a huge fireball. The bedroom - I was sure my mattress was flame retardant... Everywhere I looked, all was fine.

And then it occurred to me to call the builder of my house, a guy by the name of Joe Savarese.

This hadn't immediately occurred to me. Probably because I find that I am still getting used to the idea of living in a newly built home. My wife and I bought this house in November of last year. Neither of us had bought a new house before, and even today we aren't accustomed to the idea of living in a house that is neither finished nor actively being finished.

Thankfully Joe knew what to do: "go to every smoke detector in the house and look for a blinking red light", he said. Apparently the smoke detectors are all wired together and work in concert with the security system, but each one knows whether it is the cause of the alert. And after about 10 minutes of searching - 10 minutes of an ear-piercing , mind-jolting peal - I disconnected the detector in the house attic.

The alarm stopped immediately, though I'm sure I could still hear it ringing in my ears minutes later.

Tuesday June 26, 2007. The alarm system sounded inexplicably, the cause apparently a faulty unit in the attic. Joe asked me to swap it with the one in the garage.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007. The alarm system sounded again. The swapped unit had exactly the same problem.

Sunday, August 26, 2007. Joe has still not addressed the problem.

So we live in a house that is still under warranty, and the builder doesn't apparently see fit to do the most basic repairs, even though this one is a serious safety concern.

Over time I will tell the entire story about a couple buying a newly built house and the experience of trying to get the builder to finish it. Perhaps you can identify with my story. Or perhaps it can serve as a warning. There are many lessons that we have learned through this experience that I will share along the way.

I would caution that the the old adage that "you get what you pay for" doesn't ring completely true. My revision would be "you never get more than you pay for", essentially calling attention to those hopefully rare instances in which the other party simply takes the money and runs away.

We bought our house from Dover Realty Trust (aka Dover Properties), a company comprised of Stephen N. Gibbs (known to us as Jake Gibbs) and Joe Savarese and sold through their Coldwell Banker agent, Andrea Mills. We were comforted by the idea that Joe liked to do business based on his reputation, and his handshake was more meaningful than any contract he could sign. Additionally, the contract boasts "Dover Realty Trust offers much more through Design, Craftsmanship, and a Commitment to Excellence." Dover Realty Trust has not fulfilled their part of our contract, and I continue to wait for them to finish our house.

Wait with me. The journey will be enlightening and hopefully entertaining. Also, it will be less expensive for you than it was for me.