Striving to build trust

Program: Homebuilders in Maryland unveil a venture that seeks to provide consumers with reliable information on housing industry professionals.

October 21, 2001|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Building a home can be one of the most exciting, exhausting and emotional endeavors a person can undertake.

There are so many aspects to consider - picking a lot; deciding on a style; determining how much you can afford; and, perhaps the most important aspect, selecting a builder.

It wasn't that long ago that picking a builder was as scientific as picking a winning horse at Pimlico.

At the track, you can look at a racing program that offers some indication of past performance. At a sales center, you can peruse brochures that boast how wonderful the homes are and what the builder has done.

You can go to the barn and size up a horse before a race - eyeball him and get a gut feeling if he's a winner or if he'll come up lame. You get the same chance when you meet a builder for the first time.

But, in the end, it's all a gamble.

At the track, it might be just a $2 bet. When buying a home, a consumer is putting down thousands of dollars. That's why the Home Builders Association of Maryland is rolling out a program in an effort to give consumers more insight when picking a builder or a remodeler.

After several years of working out details, the HBAM plans this week to unveil its Certified Master Builder and Remodeler Program, an optional venture that area builders and contractors may join if they meet a number of ethical, financial and performance guidelines as determined by a board of housing industry professionals.

Its intent, according to its mission statement, is to give consumers "a resource for identifying qualified builders and remodelers," and "to create and maintain a higher degree of excellence" in the industry.

The program "came about as a solution to a perceived set of problems," said John Kortecamp, executive vice president of HBAM. "The problems were that the consumers needed better ways to make decisions about choosing builders."

For the association, it is another major step toward making its industry more responsive to consumers. The program follows the state's creation this year of the Home Builder Registration Unit, part of the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general's office.

The unit resulted from years of legislative wrangling between the building industry and the General Assembly. Legislation palatable to the homebuilding industry, which had never had been regulated by the state, passed, with builders required to have a registration number before they could pull a building permit.

But the association wanted to go beyond what the state required.

Always fearful of additional legislation and tired of negative publicity when rogue builders cheat consumers, the HBAM decided to proceed with the master builder program, one of the few of its kind in the nation.

"We felt if we could police ourselves more stringently and come up with a program that would increase consumer confidence, that it was a win-win situation," said Jeffrey Powers of Powers Homes, based in Owings Mills.

"The program is there to give consumers accurate information about builders, to be able to give a comfort level when they make that purchase that this builder is not someone who is a fly-by-night.

"I feel wholeheartedly that most builders are good builders. It's just unfortunate that you see these one or two situations that are horrendous. ... We understand what the buyers are going through, the investment that they are making in their homes. We want people to feel more comfortable in committing those kinds of dollars."

Initially, 15 builders and three remodelers have been granted membership in the program, allowing them to use in their marketing and advertising a new master builder or remodeler insignia issued by the HBAM, which has more than 200 builder members.

"We are looking for 30 [builders] by the end of the year," Kortecamp said. "A lot of it has to do with how long it takes to get certified. It is not an overnight process. It takes a couple of months because there are multiple steps and the application is long. We appear to be right on track for where we want to be."

List of requirements

The application is 21 pages long, and to qualify for the program, a building or remodeling company must agree to 27 conditions and satisfy requirements including:

Submitting a credit report.

Having a minimum of three years' experience in homebuilding or remodeling, and/or having completed a minimum of six homes or remodeling jobs, and/or having completed a minimum of $3 million of residential construction,.

Providing certificates of insurance for workers' compensation and a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage.

Agreeing to obtain 12 hours of continuing education credits within two years of becoming a member and 12 more hours for every two-year period afterward.

Receiving "positive" references from suppliers, subcontractors, its principal bank, mortgage lenders and six customers in the previous two years.

Showing it has a process for responding to customer requests for warranty work.

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