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New home orientation also important part of the process

Homeowner manual helping solve problems for owners, builders

You’re settled into your new home and discover a problem. What do you do? Most new homeowners call the builder no matter what the problem is or how long they’ve lived in the home.

Marty Milstead, executive director of the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi, said his members hear lots of complaints. “Of course we’re always interested and there are two sides to every story,” he said. “We recommend the use of an arbitration agreement and encourage both sides that court is a last resort.”

An arbitration agreement is signed before building is begun and spells out that a third party will come in to arbitrate any construction dispute. Milstead also mentioned the importance of the home right-to-repair law in the new home warranty act. It requires that builders be given a chance to repair whatever is wrong with a home.

“It’s complex to build and there are all the forces of nature to deal with,” he said. “From time to time things go wrong. We ask our builders to make these things right and they do.”

He added that there’s a lot of money involved in home building and different points of view. “That’s why we have written warranties and ask all parties to sign,” he said.

Nothing’s perfect, but…

The president of the association, Wade Quin, says there’s no house built that’s perfect. He says having a punch list helps and is fairly common among homebuilders. The new homeowners walk through the home and make a list of everything they want the builder to address.

“There are things I may miss that they will see. These are cosmetic and warranty things,” he said. “It may be touch-up painting, loose door knobs or a problem with the heating and air-conditioning system. We complete the list.”

Quin of Wade Quin Builders, LLC, of Brandon also does new home orientation with homeowners. “I show them how to turn off the water, where the breakers are and things like that,” he said. “At that point the cosmetics are done. We could never finish a house if the cosmetics were warranted but we have a one-year warranty on some items and six years on the structure.”

He says he hasn’t heard of any builder being sued since the right-to-repair law went into effect. The Ross Barnett Reservoir-area builder says he was sued a lot before tort reform was enacted in Mississippi. “We use arbitration agreements and try to settle problems,” he said. “The board of arbitrators is made up of people familiar with the construction industry.”

With 20 years in the business, he says he’s heard a variety of complaints but foundation problems are the biggest monetary issue.

“People are so different in what they like and dislike or want and don’t want,” he said. “After a year, some will ask us to come back and touch up paint where kids have colored on the wall.”

He, along with other builders, is proud of the homeowner’s manual that is now being given to homeowners by certified builders in the state. The tabbed, spiral bound manuals are also available at the association office and give tips for taking care of a home.

Tom Parry of Parry & Parry Construction Inc. of Jackson says the manuals have been needed for a long time. “It’s easy to use because it’s broken down into categories and you can flip to a category you have a question about,” he said. “It’s divided into homeowner responsibilities and builder responsibilities.”

He says builders are not in the maintenance business, and the manuals help homeowners know when to call for help and when they can handle things on their own.

The builder of mostly high-end homes says it’s imperative for builders to do follow-up on all new construction. “I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “I haven’t had anything major. If you cross all the Ts and dot all the Is, there won’t be a lot to do.”

He said builders in the Jackson area take extra precautions with foundations because of the shifting soil. Lab analyses of the soil will help determine how the foundation should be constructed.

“I get the lab involved with a lot of prep work,” he said. “I had $3,500 worth of lab fees recently on a big project.”

User-friendly from the start

Burlon Crocker, executive director of the Mississippi Housing Institution, is also proud of the homeowner handbook.

“It’s designed to be user friendly,” he said. “It outlines the entire process of who is supposed to do what. Having a book like this available is good for both sides. The homeowner doesn’t do this every day and there are a lot of things in the building industry that the homeowner doesn’t know.”

The institute was formed two years ago to be the educational arm of the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi. The purpose is to offer professional development through educational opportunities and to offer the certified builders program.

“That is the cornerstone of what we do. We establish the criteria for that program,” he said. “I travel the state to let builders know about the program.”

There are 75 certified builders in the state now. To apply for certification, a builder must be licensed, work full time in the industry, have the appropriate insurance coverage, be a member of the state and local associations and adhere to the National Homebuilders code of ethics. After certification, the builder must have a minimum of four hours of continuing education each year.

“The handbook is a working tool for both parties and is full of a lot of good common sense,” Crocker said. “It spells everything out.”

He said all builders dread those night calls from new homeowners but are prepared to meet legitimate needs. Homeowners too must know what to do. “The two are coming from different viewpoints,” he added.

The manual was adopted from one used by the Atlanta Homebuilders Association and the Mississippi association contracted to use it, Crocker said. Mississippi builders went through the book page by page and tailored the content to meet state needs.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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