Once a victim of shoddy workmanship, now he rates homebuilders for others

August 08, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

Over the past eight years, James Baseman has studied the workmanship of nearly 100 area homebuilders and identified some of the "good guys and bad guys" of new home construction.

Anxious to let consumers know who they are, the 35-year-old engineer recently launched a bimonthly newsletter called the Maryland Service Review -- a 12-page consumer newsletter which evaluates and rates area homebuilders as well as other service industries.

The first issue assessed Lynch Builders Inc. of Harford County, one of five construction firms developing Forest Lakes, a new development of townhouses and detached homes on Route 24 in Forest Hill.

Victimized 8 years ago

Mr. Baseman says that he himself was victimized by shoddy workmanship on a new house he built eight years ago. It was that experience, along with the loss of his job at Westinghouse, that motivated him to become a consumer advocate, he says.

"I've seen a lot of really sloppy work," Mr. Baseman says. "People pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a house and it looks like a 14-year-old came through and did the trim work."

By doing a lot of the legwork, background checks and comparison shopping for readers, Mr. Baseman tries to help them become more savvy consumers. And, in an effort to maintain the newsletter's objectivity, he accepts no advertising. Doing this, he reasons, gives him free reign in making fair assessments of any business he reviews.

"The whole premise of the news letter is to name names," he says. "I'm not pulling any punches. I call 'em like I see 'em."

He would like his newsletter to become a valued Consumer Reports of local businesses, a source of information for subscribers when it's time to choose a homebuilder, a plumber, a maid service or a home-improvement contractor.

"I want them to build a reference library of places they can turn to when they want to hire somebody or buy something," Mr. Baseman says.

The first two issues of Maryland Service Review, released in May and July, included a detailed technical evaluation of a builder's work and a profile of a Monkton home-improvement contractor.

Mr. Baseman assessed the foundation work, framing, insulation, drywall, brickwork, materials and craftmanship in various phases construction.

He also rated the level of customer satisfaction by interviewing people who have had homes built. He then checks agencies such as the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general's office to see if there are complaints against a builder.

There was information about radon testing, buying carpet and choosing a plumber in the first issue. It also contained a review of a nursery company, a price comparison of deck material and a report on lawn-care services.

Maryland Service Review is home-oriented. But its subjects span other areas of consumer interest. The most recent issue, for example, contained a cost comparison of car-supply stores and their prices for auto parts.

Mr. Baseman encourages readers to contact him about nightmarish consumer experiences. He tries to oblige if they want him to research a topic for a future newsletter or provide them with a referral from his growing database on local businesses.

"A publication like this that is all local has more meaning to people," Mr. Baseman says. "I want Maryland Service Review to be jammed full of information on a much more personal level. And I want people to know who I am, to have some confidence in the guy who is passing out this information."

Engineer for 10 years

Publishing a newsletter is a new experience for Mr. Baseman, who lives in White Hall with his wife, Judy, 33, and their three children: Katie, 6, Jimmy, 3, and Joey, 1.

An engineer for the past 10 years, he has an educational background in math and physics.

He first began "poking around houses" in 1985 while his own tri-level home was being built. Concerned about the quality of his builder's work, he visited other construction sites and sized up the workmanship of all types of homes.

"It takes experience to know if somebody did a great job or if they did a terrible job," Mr. Baseman says. "I found myself scratching my head and wondering if I should accept my builder's work. The answer to that only comes from looking at a lot of people's work."

He became angry and sued his builder for structural defects in the house. They reached an out-of-court settlement a few years later.

Mr. Baseman built another house in 1989, that time acting as his own general contractor. He continued to visit construction sites whenever he had the chance.

"I can't pass a house under construction without going in," he says. "I've learned a lot about homebuilding and I've learned a lot about people. When I had my first house built, I wished that there had been some independent person I could turn to to find out what kind of job my builder was going to do. He told me he had built 400 houses before mine. [In fact,] he had only built four."

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