Beware: Fixtures in model may be expensive options

SMART MOVES

April 25, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

He was an accountant, having a $250,000 colonial home built on a tract in northern Baltimore County. And at the last minute -- just before closing -- he was stunned to realize his new kitchen cabinets would be a pale pine -- not the rich-looking oak he saw in the model.

"He was extremely surprised and disappointed," recalls Wayne Norris, a home inspector for Dallmus Norris Associates in Baltimore, who checked over the Baltimore County colonial.

The accountant automatically assumed that embellishments found in the model home would also appear in his property. In this case, the builder was willing to make a last-minute substitution of oak for pine -- after the buyer paid for the change.

But in most instances where new-home buyers seek to make 11th-hour changes, they're disappointed, according to new-home experts. The builder cannot be reasonably asked to change course and install the skylights you expected in the mastersuite, or the fireplace you expected for the family room.

"Don't make the mistake of assuming without asking," says William Young, director of consumer affairs for the National Association of Home Builders.

Good communication between builder and buyer are key to a satisfactory outcome for both, real estate experts say. To avoid last-minute mix-ups, the new-home buyer should learn as much as possible about the home from his builder and questions should be asked early in the process, they say.

*

Here are a half-dozen questions to ask your tract-home builder:

* What features will be included as standard in my new home, and which will cost me extra?

"The model home is going to include all the extras, and that

accounts for a lot of confusion. It's very important to have a clear idea what's standard and what's optional," Mr. Young says.

Among the features that buyers commonly believe to be standard yet prove optional are these: upgraded carpeting, expensive flooring, lighting fixtures on bedroom ceilings, top-brand whirlpool bath fixtures, and fancy vanity cabinets in the bathrooms.

And don't forget to ask about all the windows and doors. Some of these could be shown in the model but optional; the ones in your home could be of lower quality.

It's smart to get a written statement itemizing those features that are optional and those that are standard, Mr. Young says.

Customers are often reluctant to demand such a signed statement for fear of appearing not to trust their builder. But buying a new home could be the largest business deal of your life, and you should take it seriously, Mr. Young stresses.

"Any good professional builder is not going to mind putting a promise in writing," he says.

* What kind of warranty will I get?

Virtually all new-home builders offer some type of warranty. But not all warranties are of equal value. Warranties backed by insurance companies are generally superior to builder-backed warranties that are only as reliable as the builder himself.

* What's going to happen to the land around my new home?

You may picture your new property backing to an untouched natural area -- perhaps a densely wooded swath of land such as you see behind the lot you've selected.

But does the builder plan to construct a dozen homes in that parcel? Or does the government intend to build a road there? You can find out by asking the builder or calling local government officials.

* Will I be allowed to see the blueprints?

"You should have access to the blueprints and -- what's even more important -- the floor plan for your house," says Mr. Young of the National Association of Home Builders.

5l Still, it's reasonable for the builder to deny you the opportunity to remove the blueprints from his office on the grounds that they represent copyrighted material, Mr. Young points out.

* Will my home inspector be allowed to check the house before completion?

It's unusual for a builder to keep a professional home inspector, hired by the buyer, from coming to see a property after it is done. But a minority of builders will object to an inspector coming on the job site during construction. They're bothered enough by government building inspectors, they figure.

But, due to budget cuts and other factors, government inspectors don't always have enough time to carefully

monitor what's going on before the walls of a house go up, says J. D. Grewell, a private home inspector in Silver Spring.

For that reason, you may wish to pay for a "staged inspection" of your property, engaging your own inspector to review the work at least twice before completion, he says.

L * Can my attorney review my sales contract before I sign it?

OC All too often, new homebuyers make their decisions on the basis

of the glossy brochures presented to them by the sales person who works out of the model home. But what counts is the content of the legal agreement you finalize on closing day, the experts emphasize.

"Just because the contract is beautifully printed up in type script doesn't mean you can't add an extra clause or two," Mr. Young says.

4 (Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

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