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Home buyers say quality fell through the cracks

Buying a new home was exactly what a couple wanted to do. But when they moved into their $100,000 house, they didn't get exactly what they were looking for.

By COLLINS CONNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2000


Brooke and Pamela Hardy had two reasons to move from their nearly 50-year-old house in Dunedin to Wesley Chapel in Pasco County.

They wanted to cut Brooke Hardy's commute to work. And they wanted the thrill of owning a brand-new home.

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The commute is down but the thrill is gone.

Their $100,000 Pulte home looked wonderful when they walked through it on closing day in December 1998, Hardy said.

"But the day after we moved in, the very first morning, we woke up and started seeing all the defects," he said.

According to Hardy, the carpet was pieced together so it "almost looked like remnants." Baseboards were cracked and broken. Drywall was poorly patched. The house wasn't level. Several walls bowed. A window leaked repeatedly. The stucco was haphazardly applied.

"Pam didn't work for five months after we moved in, solely so we could take care of issues with our house," Hardy said.

He and his wife followed the company's complaint system, he said, but still had difficulty getting satisfactory warranty work.

"We had 20 to 30 service calls out here," he said. "The joke out here is, "If they can't fix it, they caulk it.' "

Before the company replaced the couple's carpet, he said, the seams had split. The Hardys asked Pulte to compensate them for their inconvenience by either upgrading the carpet or letting them choose a different color. The company said no, according to Hardy.

"They thought I was crazy," he said. "But there were two other individuals on the street and they gave them upgrades. And I go, "Hark, we had the same problems!' "

Hardy said he and his wife spent two months negotiating with the carpet vendor to get the color they wanted at no extra cost to Pulte.

"I wouldn't have been so angry about the quality of workmanship if they would have come through and treated us with respect," he said.

Joel Freedland, vice president of construction for Pulte's west Florida division, said though the couple may have verbally complained to Pulte workers, their file shows just five written service requests, each with several items to be fixed.

"My biggest concern is to make sure they're taken care of and make sure I'm training people so the people closest to the issue can respond appropriately," Freedland said. "I'm still going to go follow up and make sure everything is done to their satisfaction."

As part of its effort to ward off construction mistakes, Pulte holds cookouts to encourage teamwork among its subcontractors and bases its superintendent bonuses on customer-satisfaction rates, company officials told the Times.

Pulte also provides customers a two-year, everything-is-covered warranty.

"Today, it's not enough to just build a good home," said Ashton Young, the company's vice president of construction for the Florida region. "You have to help the customer enjoy the process as well. It's their view of the process and their whole relationship with you that decides whether you'll get a referral or not. If they went through a rocky road to get to the end, they're going to be unhappy with you and be unhappy with that home even if you correct every problem."

The Hardys are unhappy.

"If I had to do it over, either we would buy an older home, because construction of older homes is so much better, or I would pay more for a custom-made home by a builder I chose," Brooke Hardy said.

He said he has tried to shake off his distress over the experience. He was reluctant to even talk about it.

"Me being the homeowner, I want to make sure I get my money out of my house when I'm ready to sell it," he said.

"At the same time, my heart says the truth needs to be told," he said.

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