Warranties protect owners of new homes

  • Homeowner Thomas Brower and his mother Dana have been trying to get Ryland, the builder of his house, to make repairs to the home with little success as the one year deadline of the home warranty approaches. Pictured are correspondences the home owner had with Ryland Homes, State Office of the Attorney General's consumer protection division and Baltimore County inspectors.
Homeowner Thomas Brower and his mother Dana have been trying… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
June 13, 2010|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Your home is your castle — but even a palace would be unpleasant if it's drafty, leaky or crumbling.

Under state law, new homes built in Maryland are protected by a one-year warranty, and they're guaranteed against structural defects for two years.

This coverage can help buyers who discover defects after they move in. But persistence will be required, as Thomas Brower and his parents discovered.

Their builder, Ryland Homes, had fixed several problems, such as a leaky gas fireplace, on the Rosedale house they bought in August. The company also completed repairs such as addressing puckers in the roof that Ryland officials felt were cosmetic.

Company officials said they have responded to the Browers' concerns, even going beyond requirements to satisfy them.

But while some issues have been resolved, others remain a problem, such as carpet stains and an upstairs bedroom that stays cold in the winter, said Dana Brower, Thomas Brower's mother. She was worried because the anniversary of their settlement is fast approaching — and, she feared, the end of their warranty.

So what can be done for a new homeowner if there's disagreement over whether a builder has adequately fixed problems?

Consumers can contact the Consumer Protection Division of the state attorney general's office, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

In the fiscal year that ended June 2009, the division's homebuilder unit handled 284 complaints, two-thirds of which dealt with construction defects, incomplete construction or issues with warranties or misrepresentation, according to the attorney general's office.

Only 10 complaints have been lodged against Ryland in the past three years, four of which were mediated by the Consumer Protection Division.

All items under warranty would be listed in the sales contract, Guillory said. To resolve problems, consumers should write a letter to the builder documenting the issues. The builder will be responsible for responding to those problems, so long as they were reported within the initial year.

"As long as she has documentation that she brought it to their attention prior to that expiration date, then she's fine," Guillory said, referring to Dana Brower's worry about the deadline.

Insurance doesn't usually cover builder defects, said Nancy Seats, president of Homeowners Against Defective Dwellings, a group that helps homeowners advocate for their rights.

Builders may offer additional warranty coverage beyond the one year required by Maryland. But Seats said that many of these warranties have too many exclusions to be valuable to homeowners. They also often stipulate mandatory binding arbitration, so disputes must be settled through arbitration rather than in court.

Warranties on new homes should not be confused with mechanical warranties sold for existing homes that may cover appliance breakdowns or other problems. These are sometimes provided by sellers or sold by real estate agents, though buyers can also purchase their own coverage. What's protected can vary — some requiring payments for service visits, for example — so consumers considering purchasing one should read the details carefully.

The whole experience makes the Browers feel differently about home warranties. Dana Brower first learned about the warranty during the walk-through before closing.

"I feel that it's not what they say it is," she said. "When you start saying that you see things or things have to be fixed that are important, they just put you off."

John Meade, president of Ryland's Baltimore division, said the company has gone beyond requirements to respond to the Browers. Meade said he had reviewed the Browers' file several times and thought the company had addressed all the outstanding issues.

"I think we spend a lot of money and a lot of time caring for our customers," he said. "When they're not satisfied, we want to get them satisfied."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/lfkay

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