Two recent reports questioning the quality of today's new homes have caused a stir in the home building industry.
The January 2004 issue of Consumer Reports contains a six-page article titled "Housewrecked," in which the magazine provides anecdotal evidence of shoddy home construction, quotes experts as saying as many as 150,000 new homes each year are "seriously" defective, lists common problems, warns consumers that they may not have much recourse if their home is defective, and advises them on how to prevent problems.
Jerry Howard, CEO of the NAHB, responded in a letter to Consumer Reports, calling the article a "serious disservice to American home buyers" and claiming that it "unfairly maligned the high quality and value of new homes today." The letter was scheduled to run in the magazine's March issue.
Also, starting on October 31, 2003, and continuing for a couple of weeks, the Orlando Sentinel ran a series of articles based on a lengthy investigation of new home construction in the area.
The project was conducted jointly with local television station WESH. The newspaper and station hired an experienced private home inspector to train a group of engineering students at the University of Central Florida to inspect the houses. Of the nearly 18,000 new homes sold in the area in 2001, 406 were randomly selected.
The inspections revealed an average of 7.5 problems per house. The report -- which has a margin of error of 5 percentage points -- found that nearly two-thirds of the houses had "leaks, cracks, and bad weatherstripping around windows and doors"; nearly as many had major cracks in the walls, floors, or deck; half had heating and cooling problems; one-fifth contained mold; and 18% drained poorly. Nearly 80% contained flaws that one of the Sentinel articles characterized as a "lack of attention to detail, fit, and finish." The first article in the series blames this on a "systemic lack of quality control by builders who are producing too many homes too fast, with not enough trained workers and inadequate oversight." The articles focus mainly on large production builders.
The articles were full of horror stories from homeowners, who complained not only of housing defects but also the difficulty in getting the builder to make repairs.
In response, Stephen Gidus, president of the HBA of Metro Orlando, wrote a letter to the editor, complaining, among other things, that the sample size was not sufficient to draw conclusions about an entire industry.
Gidus, himself a custom builder and remodeler, raised the concern that while the houses were built in 2001, they weren't inspected until between April and October of 2003. "After two years, you're going to have wear and tear," he says.
Gidus said that the area's builders have not experienced any sort of slowing in sales, despite what Sentinel reporter Dan Tracy called an "overwhelming" public response.
As of press time, it was too early to tell what negative effects on the industry, if any, would result from the Consumer Reports article, according to Paul Lopez of NAHB.