When your dream home turns into a nightmare

Debra Iodence is like any other new homeowner. When she moved into her $224,000 home in Dayton's Prospect Point she expected perfection, and hassle-free service from the developer if everything wasn't just right.

What she got instead was delays, irritation and a few nights in front of her computer writing angry letters to Landmark Homes.

Spring is when many new home owners move in and find their dream home isn't what they expected. And in a town like Dayton, where cookie-cutter homes are springing up phase by phase and owners are eager to buy and move in, suburbia isn't always picture perfect.

Gary Hoid, deputy director of investigations, said this is the season when more people file complaints to the Nevada State Contractors Board. He said 99 percent of the complaints concern aesthetic issues, not structural problems. The state employs about 18 investigators.

"Around this time of year people are getting into their houses," he said. "They go on their walk-through and sign off on it and don't notice certain problems until they've been in the house for a week or a few weeks."

Once a complaint is opened, a board investigator is assigned to have a site meeting with the contractor and the homeowner. The investigator looks into the workmanship, not the warranty.

A correction notice is issued for any problem that doesn't meet the minimum industry standard. The contractor then has a specified number of days to complete the project. If the problem isn't fixed, it then goes to a board hearing where disciplinary action may be decided.

A contractor can be penalized up to $10,000 for violations. The board can also suspend or revoke a license or order the contractor to hire another subcontractor to mend the problems.

Hoid said mistakes happen because the builders aren't perfect either.

"You're going to get complaints," Hoid said. "They want what they paid for and if there's something they're not happy with, then they'll complain."

Despite Dayton's deluge of new homeowners, he said the Contractors Board hasn't received many complaints.

Iodence, 48, said she's learned a lesson about home ownership: Customer service stops after the money has changed hands.

"I was very idealistic," she said while standing in the beige-tiled kitchen of her new home. "I expected everything to be exactly the way they presented it. But things were not done. When I got the keys for the place I walked into the kitchen and found the tile trim was mismatched. I had to keep reminding them to fix it."

Her litany of woes: The family was promised a September 2004 move-in, they got in four months late; the laundry room plumbing was installed on the wrong side of the wall; one bathroom was incorrectly framed; a rear concrete patio was not built. All of these problems were corrected.

The family, which includes her husband, Harold, and a cat named Ms. Piggy, rented a home for four months for $800 a month until the 1,658-square-foot house was completed in December.

Iodence said all of the subcontractors should have communicated better with her and each other, because it ended up affecting her life.

"I ended up with grass in my front lawn," she said. "I wanted rock. I'm allergic to grass!"

Biggest housing defect lawsuit

As frustrating as Iodence's situation is, it could be worse.

More than 1,400 homeowners in Southern Nevada filed the state's largest-ever construction defect lawsuit against Del Webb Communities in April, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Sun City Summerlin residents included in the lawsuit claim that Del Webb Communities failed to install metal strips designed to protect homes against water damage, particularly costly in the flood-prone Las Vegas Valley.

The Journal reported the homeowners are seeking about $70 million in damages, which is the largest monetary damage amount ever sought in Nevada for a construction defect complaint. Several of those homeowners moved out of their homes because of health issues related to mold damage.

Claire Fernandez was comfortable in her five-bedroom North Douglas County home in L'Adagio Estates until she discovered mold growing under the house.

"I've had the most problems," she said. "I guess I should've had my own home inspection done on the property, which I'm going to have done shortly."

It wasn't even the building inspector who discovered the mold - it was the man who installed her water softener. Fernandez said when the foundation was poured, the dirt under her home was still wet and then it was improperly ventilated.

"Be careful that you get what you paid for," she said.

Fernandez estimates that her $600,000 home, build by Syncon Homes, has ended up costing her about $200,000 more to replace features and fix problems.

Fernandez said she will file a complaint with the contractor's board and the Better Business Bureau.

Carol Kiel, a spokeswoman for Syncon Homes, said mold grew in a 10-by-10 foot space under Fernandez's home because of winter snow - but the developer has jumped through hoops to fix the problem.

"Syncon Homes called in an independent environmental services company to come in and test and they found nontoxic mold," Kiel said. "They called in an independent remediation company and they came in to remove it."

She said the remediation company will continue to take air samples inside and outside the home. Syncon paid for the cost of the remediation.

Where do I complain?

The Better Business Bureau can't pull a license or shut someone down, said Pam Morgan, its Northern Nevada president and chief executive officer. But it can start the process rolling on a non-responsive contractor. Once a complaint is made the record is open for three years.

"The contractors board is a regulatory agency, but the Better Business Bureau is more of the free-enterprise system," Morgan said. "We try and get people together and try to resolve disputes before it gets to the government or court actions."

The local office receives more than 3,000 complaints a year, and its records are used by enforcement agencies looking to close or sanction a company, she said. Bureau records show Northern Nevadans are checking out general contractors before they do business with them, but not a lot of complaints are coming in.

Since January 2004, the bureau has received about 2,200 inquiries on general contractors, but only 19 complaints were filed.

Landmark Homes had two complaints filed against it in the last 36 months, according to Better Business Bureau records. One concerned repair or service, and that was resolved. A complaint concerning customer service was unresolved. According to the contractors board, Landmark has resolved all of its complaints before they came up for disciplinary action.

James Bawden, president of Landmark Homes, said problems reported by homeowners such as Iodence are atypical. Subcontractors are not paid until after their work is inspected.

"The subcontractor base is light in the area, but we're not having any problems at this point," he said.

Bawden said customers who have problems with their homes should contact the company's customer service department.

Homeowners often turn to independent home inspectors, rather than relying on local government. Most county building officials only inspect for code compliance.

Bill Whalin, a master inspector and the owner of Inn-Spec Home Inspection Service, inspects new and old homes. He often detects small problems - such as unsealed bathroom tile grout - that, if not taken care of now, cost the homeowner thousands of dollars to repair later.

"It's very unfortunate that people don't do a thorough final walk-through and check all the lights and outlets," he said. "They often just move in and accept it as is. And the heater may be malfunctioning and the stove doesn't work on the broiler. Homeowners can do a lot of inspecting themselves. But they don't do a final walk-through and they sign their life away."

Whalin's advice to homeowners: Test and look at everything before moving into your home, even if it's a new house.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


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