Your Place: Checking out cracks and leaks in a new house

Posted: May 13, 2011

Question: My husband and I bought new construction last year. We had a 30-day inspection by the builder, and are approaching a 330-day inspection.

During this last year, we have had numerous settlement cracks and two roof leaks. I would like to know if there is a company that would do an inspection for us before the construction company comes in to do its inspection, because I have little confidence in our builder's workmanship.

I would be willing to pay for this.

Answer: It is your house, so you can hire anyone you want to check out these problems. By hiring, I mean pay someone to investigate.

If there are structural issues, I'd contact a reputable engineering firm. You don't offer much information about these cracks. Are they foundation cracks? How big are they? Do they appear to be getting larger? What does the builder say about them?

The roof leaks? Well, I'd hire a reputable roofer to determine if there are bigger problems behind the leaks: If they occurred in the winter and were the result of snow and ice freezing and thawing on the roof, those things happen and can be corrected. If the roof was badly done to begin with, however, these leaks might be the start of something bigger.

But before hiring anyone, communicate your unhappiness to the builder. In the years I've been writing about real estate, I've discovered that the root of these problems was in the inability of the parties to communicate.

In many cases, when I would call the builder about the complaints, I'd discover that the homeowners had never talked with anyone other than me, hoping that I would intercede for them.

Many people buy new construction believing that what they are getting is perfect. It doesn't work that way. New homes are subject to the same man-made and weather issues that affect older homes.

Ask the builder for a meeting. Insist on one, actually, but be polite as well as firm. Bring a list of the problems, with photos. Ask for explanations, and determine whether these issues can or will be corrected by the builder.

If you are unhappy with the answers, then hire the structural engineer and the roofer to explore these issues. If they agree with your assessment, return to the builder with the evidence.

If the builder still won't do anything about these problems, even in the face of evidence that your concerns are valid, look at the contract you signed for the house and see if there is some sort of third-party mediation guarantee.

If there isn't such a provision, the next step should be to contact a lawyer.

And expect to pay.

Q: The section of hardwood floor that connects my mother's living room and dining room slopes downward. The slant, which has been there for many years, is not pronounced, and the floors are not a hazard. But she now wants the problem corrected, if possible.

I don't know what kind of contractor she should call for the repair: a structural engineer, a flooring expert, or general contractor? Do you have an idea what a project like this might entail and cost? Her house is small, and over 60 years old.

A: It is difficult for me to answer this without seeing how much of a slope is involved.

I suppose that she should start with a flooring contractor to determine if it is just one small section that needs to be shimmed or reinforced to level the floor out.

If the contractor determines that there is something more serious at work here, that's where a structural engineer would get involved.

I couldn't begin to estimate costs. All I can say is that the more-than-100-year-old house of a former colleague had a serious sloping problem, and this individual spent thousands to straighten it out.

In that case, I believe the sloping was caused by poor drainage that, over years, undermined a portion of the foundation, causing it to sag.

Your mother's problem may not be as serious. Let's hope not, anyway.


Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies. He is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing).

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