Homebuyer and builder exchange accusations At center of dispute is $546,400 home on 3 acres in Cattail Creek Estates

March 21, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

Greig Altieri and Devon Brown have few kind words for each other.

Their relationship turned adversarial after Mr. Brown bought a custom-designed $546,400 home on 3 acres in Glenwood from Altieri Homes Inc. last year and then complained about problems ranging from wall cracks to dripping pipes.

Mr. Brown says they are construction problems. The Altieris Greig and his father, Frank say most of his complaints are home maintenance issues for which they are not responsible.

"He's a devil," says Greig Altieri, vice president at Altieri Homes.

"They are criminals," Mr. Brown says.

Disagreements between homeowners and builders are not unusual, but the bitterness between these two sides makes this dispute stand out.

Mr. Brown, head of Montgomery County's penal system, says that with his wife, Beverly, he dreamed of a lavish new home but awoke to a nightmare.

"This is ridiculous," Mr. Brown says. "I spent my life's savings. I expect quality. I haven't even had a housewarming. I just come home, eat too much and go to bed."

But Grieg Altieri says: "We've bent over backward for him. We're not perfect, but we make every attempt to please the customer. He's just too picky."

Stephen Hannan, administrator of the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs, says he's seen such disputes before. Homeowners file complaints about builders with his office often to protect their interests in case builders don't make good on promises.

But Mr. Hannan said the complaints sometimes stem from a bad case of buyer's remorse. "People's homes mean a lot to them," he said.

As many as 400 consumer complaints are filed each year with the Howard office, including complaints against homebuilders. In 1994, the last year for which totals were calculated, complaints were resolved in favor of the consumer 80 percent of the time.

Mr. Hannan says Altieri Homes has been the subject of relatively few of these complaints.

The consumer affairs office has only two open cases involving complaints against the company in its files. Investigators can't discuss them until they are resolved, but neither of the complaints was filed by Mr. Brown. The office's only closed complaint against the builder was filed in February 1994 and settled less than a year later.

Mr. Brown hopes Altieri Homes will address his complaints before his one-year home warranty from Altieri expires April 7, he believes. If not, he says, he plans to sue the builder a threat he's made regularly for about a year, according to letters from him on file with the builder.

But Altieri Homes says his warranty actually expired March 9 one year from the date he bought the home and that they have no plans to do more work on the house. Mr. Brown has been a nuisance since before his home was completed, Mr. Altieri says.

"We've been back out to his house, but he's never satisfied," Grieg Altieri says, suggesting that the heart of the problems is that Mr. Brown simply regrets buying his house.

The two-story home with 12 rooms and four full bathrooms is in the 3600 block of Sycamore Drive in Glenwood's lavish Cattail Creek development.

On April 7 before he moved in but a month after settlement Mr. Brown did a walk-through inspection with the builder and cited only four problems, including landscaping lights and a crooked shower tile, according to a statement he signed at the time.

But he says that after he moved, he discovered several other problems: interior walls with settlement cracks, a mildewed recreation room carpet from a basement leak and sounds of dripping water inside the walls.

Throughout the brick home, dozens of red circular stickers label the Browns' complaints on flaws as small as nails slightly popped out from wall surfaces.

Mr. Brown says he signed a contract thinking his home would match a model home the builders showed him, with all its features and upgrades. "They didn't give me everything I paid for," he says.

The Altieris say various upgrades in that model home were not included in Mr. Brown's contract. Despite that, they say, they boosted the value of Mr. Brown's home by accommodating his requests for certain upgrades for free, including light and wall fixtures. Now, they say, his demands have gone too far.

"He wants the world on a platter," says Frank Altieri, the company's manager. "I'm not giving him anything else."

The Altieris say they have lost sleep and their appetites from being flogged daily by calls from Mr. Brown. They say that of the 250 homeowners they've served since going into business in 1991, Mr. Brown is by far their most difficult.

They fear his protests will hurt their reputation. "Who's the victim?" asks Frank Altieri.

At this point, Altieri Homes and Mr. Brown are at loggerheads. Their relationship is so bitter that disputes flourish even when work orders are complete.

After Altieri crews worked on a basement leak in the fall, Mr. Brown complained that it still leaked. When Altieri workers fixed and painted over "nail-pops" in the walls, Mr. Brown claimed they dripped paint on his carpet. They say he put it there. "It's sabotage," Greig Altieri says.

On March 8, Mr. Brown told police the front driveway of his house had been vandalized. White paint was splattered across the pavement, the police report said.

"I know who did this," he shouted when telling the story to a reporter over the telephone.

The Altieris have thrown up their hands, believing they have already done more than necessary to appease Mr. Brown.

"When you have a house of that quality, you've got to operate it properly," says Frank Altieri. "[His complaints amount to] a maintenance issue, not a building issue. You don't go to General Motors and say, 'I need gas in my car.' "

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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