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Warranty protects against problems

State law requires a one-year guarantee on newly built homes, but builders may offer more based upon other factors.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002


TAMPA -- Whether you're building a home or buying a house that's pre-owned, a good home warranty can buffer you from costly and unexpected repairs.

Often, sellers include a home warranty with the sale of their house. According to the National Home Warranty Association, that can increase the selling price by 2.2 percent and reduce selling time by 15 percent.

"It offers a sense of security for a buyer," says Kathy Pawelkop, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. Pawelkop says if the seller doesn't offer the warranty, she advises buyers to make the investment themselves.

"They're wonderful to have," she says.

American Home Shield sells a one-year plan for $310. It covers everything from central heat and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems to ceiling fans and refrigerators and stoves. Additional coverage is also available, ranging from $15 for a built-in microwave oven to $150 for a swimming pool with built-in spa equipment.

If anything goes wrong with a covered item, a repairman will fix it for $35 or less.

Florida law requires that builders offer a one-year construction warranty on newly built homes, although many builders offer more. The terms of those warranties vary widely by builder, home and community.

"Each builder is different," Pawelkop says. "Some give you a two-year warranty, some five and some 10. If you get a fly-by-night builder, they don't give you anything except a hard time at closing."

If a builder isn't willing to offer a generous home warranty, that should raise a red flag, Pawelkop says.

M/I Homes provides a 30-year structural warranty, which covers anything that has to do with the load-bearing functions of the home, such as the roof structure, foundation, floors and walls. That goes well beyond the 10 or 15 years most commonly offered by home builders, Pawelkop notes. The structural warranty is transferable to subsequent homeowners.

M/I also offers a two-year general warranty covering such essentials as plumbing, electrical systems, water heaters and air conditioning, and a one-year warranty covering anything related to workmanship, such as cracked tiles or faulty kitchen cabinets, says Tom Crawford, a company vice president. General Electric offers coverage of appliances for one year.

A builder representative tours the house with the homeowner 90 days after closing to determine what needs to be repaired.

Last fall, Gina Rathbun moved into her brand new M/I home in Highwoods Preserve in New Tampa. After 90 days, Rathbun says, all she noted were minor cosmetic problems, mostly related to bathroom finishes, and M/I fixed everything immediately.

Rathbun says the 30-year structural warranty on her house is comforting, but she assumed she was buying a house that wasn't going to fall apart. The one-year general warranty means much more to her.

"I know that if tomorrow I pick up the phone to tell them something small needs to be fixed I'll get a call back and (they'll) be out here to check out what's going on. That's better than any 30-year warranty," says Rathbun, who describes herself as an educated consumer.

When homeowners close on a Hannah-Bartoletta home, they receive a one-year, 40-page builder warranty. For the first year, Hannah-Bartoletta covers the house's structure, systems and workmanship. For the next nine years, the builder provides structural coverage through Homebuyer's Warranty, a company similar to American Home Shield.

Hannah-Bartoletta sales manager Cheryl Ferris says the company asks homeowners to live in their new house for 60 days before requesting non-emergency repairs.

"It gives them a chance to see what's working, what's not working and what needs to be tweaked," Ferris says.

After 60 days, the warranty department will address any issue covered under the warranty.

Homeowners should not be alarmed if they do see a problem in their new home, Ferris says. It's bound to happen.

"Just as a matter of having over 100 vendors working on a house you're always going to have room for adjustments or errors," Ferris says. "It's not an exact science to put a house together."

She estimates that more than 75 percent of the Hannah-Bartoletta homeowners have minor adjustments that need to be made in that first 60 days.

"A home is like anything else," she says. "It needs to be broken in."

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