Homeowners, Bad Contractors and the Death of (Your) American Dream
Okay this is a personal injury blog; and, okay, everyone knows that trial lawyers like us are the real problem. That is all fine and well. But can anyone in the construciton industry explain why in Heaven’s name good people keep walking into Traywick & Traywick with complete horror stories about the treatment they received from the “big box” homebuilders who are peddling their products all over the tri-county area?
Let’s look at a typical scenario: a middle aged couple who have worked hard their whole lives, raised kids, sent them off to college, and now want a nice new home to enter the retirement phase do some shopping around. One of the regional or national builders has a new neighborhood in Mt. Pleasant or Goose Creek or West Ashley, and the couple like the way the new house looks and feels; they like that they get to choose their interior finishes; they like that the neighborhood has some cool amenities.So they sign a contract to buy the house, and they’re out at the site three or four times per week, excited to see the progress being made on their brand new house, where they’ll live the rest of their lives.
A few things go awry during construction–a leaky pipe in the foundation, some water seeping behind the brick exterior cladding, the windows that are delivered aren’t the same model as are specified in the plans–but the builder is on top of the problems, rectifies them, and gives ample assurance that all is well. Not knowing any better, the couple trusts the builder, closes on the deal, and moves into their new house.
Shortly thereafter the same troubling issues that had arisen during construction, which supposedly had been handled, pop back up: water-stained drywall, standing water on the windowsills, cracked and spalling brick mortar. They call the builder, but with the money having already changed hands, the builder–so pleasant and accommodating during construction–turns unreasonable and off-putting. He has concluded that the couple are “high maintenance”, rationalizing the problems on the gorund that “Hey, they didn’t pay for the Taj Mahal; they shouldn’t expect the Taj Mahal.” This last quote is just that: a direct quote that TLO partner Ben Traywick has heard come directly from more than one builder.
The truth, of course, is that once he’s got the money in his pocket the builder is looking for a reason to avoid putting any further time or money into the project. Regular readers of this blog will see where this is heading: the builder who closes a deal and promptly loses all regard for the customer, is no different than the credit bureau who sells your credit score but then can’t be bothered to fix obvious reporting errors, who in turn is no different than an insurance company who is all to happy to sell you a policy but then will fight you tooth and nail over every penny when youmake a claim. Bottom line: when you deal with a company large enough not to care about an individual customer, it really shows in their customer service…though not until after they’ve got your money.
During the warranty period (typically one year) these large builders will pretend they want to solve your problems: they’ll slap some caulk on a leaking brick mortar joint, maybe replace a few warped flooring boards, etc. Once that period is over, any semblance of a honeymoon goes with it. At that point, the mass-scale builder–not our local South Carolina homebuilders, who mostly do a fine job–says, “Hey, your roof is leaking [or your floors are buckling, your HVAC doesn’t work, etc] but the warranty is expired: sorry about that, but you’re on your own.”
Well we are happy to inform you that you are not on your own. The warranty that these builders provide is handy to have, but it is in fact the weakest tool our clients have at their disposal. South Carolina law implies in the contract by which you buy your house a warranty that the house is habitable, and that it was built by a contractor providing good and workmanlike service. These warranties, and a strict requirement that the house comply in all respects with the local building codes and ordinances, have made homeowners in the 21st century “the darlings of the law”, in the fashion that farmers were in the 19th and early 20th centuries. South Carolina’s courts have expressed a strong and clear public policy of protecting homebuyers from precisely the type of conduct described in this blog post. For homeowners who have been subjected to this type of behavior, we can help you to understand the full scope of your problem, put these tools to work for you, and make sure that you get the entirety of the compensation you deserve. You can call one of our lawyers any time: Ben Traywick or David Traywick will take your call, hear you out, and make appropriate recommendations without any cost to you.
In fairness–something we strive for in this forum–we all benefit from lower housing prices that come along with the construction industry’s increasing utilization, over the last thirty years, of cheap, unskilled labor. With a lower cost to build, the contractor can sell the house to the public for a lower price. Traywick & Traywick recognizes that there is a balance to be struck: no house is perfect and problem-free, and we as a society should not hold the construction industry to that unattainable standard.
But the type of conduct we see being inflicted on our clients as a routine matter–refusing to right obvious wrongs, denial of valid claims, passing the buck to a subcontractor–is deplorable. The subject matter of these cases is people’s houses, their homes: nothing could be more serious to people, and no homeowner should tolerate this type of misconduct. Know your rights, protect yourself, call us if you need help.