Read the thoughts and musings of a cultured redneck here
My wife and I recently sold our townhome and set out to buy a new home. We spent a good deal of time researching, driving out to communities, and looking at floor plans. We finally settled on a new-construction development that was a Lennar community.
As we looked at the different floor plans we had a few that we liked, but ended up settling on a plan called the “Westley”. We chose a lot that was having the foundation laid so that we could still pick floor colors and have a little control over some features. We were excited to watch the home as it went up.
Of course once we sold the townhome we were displaced and without a home while the new home was being constructed. Based on the word Lennar gave us we would close on June 26th. Since we sold the townhome on June 5th that would give us about 3 weeks where we would shack up with my mom. This was where the “fun” began.
While the home was being constructed we made a few trips to the community to meet with the builder and to fill out paperwork regarding the loan. On one trip the home seemed to be a long way from “closing” and I asked the supervisor if he thought he was still on track to close on the 26th. He responded “Oh yeah, shoot if this good weather keeps up we may close early”. With the house still having a lot of work that needed to be done it was difficult to believe that timeline, but I am obviously not a builder and so I leaned on the supervisor’s expertise.
The day finally came for the walkthrough. As you can imagine, my wife and I were excited to go and review our soon-to-be new home. I had recently been to the home and had a list of items that I wanted to ensure were completed while we reviewed the home. At this meeting there were 2 building supervisors present, my wife and I, plus our real estate agent team members.
When we arrived at home we learned that the electricity had not been turned on. Translation: there was no air conditioning on and it was in the dead of the humid South Carolina summer. As all the windows were closed in the home it was like an oven and it didn’t take long before we all were sweating. The Lennar representatives told us that we would go through the home with blue tape and mark every item that needed to be touched up or corrected. They also indicated that this would be our only chance at creating a “punch list” and that moving forward only items on the list would be worked on. So this was our only opportunity to find items that were not done correctly – during the middle of a work day, in a house with no air condition, during the heat of the summer, and with a scheduled hour for the meeting. As you can imagine, the conditions were not the best for the walkthrough.
We started in the garage and I started asking about things and marking things up. The supervisors told me that the garage was “still a work in progress” and that a lot of work still needed to be done. I thought to myself that it wasn’t really fair to tell us that this was our only chance to make a punch list, but then to turn around and say that this area was still “in progress”. What were we supposed to do other than just trust them? We couldn’t really call out items that technically were not through or finished. That was the first of several red flags throughout the failed process.
As we went through the house we found several items that were not as they should be. There were door casings with no paint at all, door casings with large splinters, several areas that should have caulk that did not have caulk (such as the bathroom sinks), a noticeable bend in the metal in the front door’s casing, thin and uneven paint throughout the house, a metal awning over the bay window that looked terribly crafted, a crawl space door that had sprayed foam through 2 of the 5 gaps in the wood, and the main thing we noticed was a pretty nice hump in the dining room floor and in the kitchen pantry closet that was along the same seam in the floor. The uneven floor signaled a foundation that wasn’t level and that really concerned us.
By the end of the first walkthrough everyone was completely soaked in sweat, hot, and we had gone through 2 and a half rolls of blue tape. Every room in the house literally had blue tape all over it. In short, the home was a long ways from being ready and there was still a lot of work to be done. The following week our real estate agent spoke with a representative from Lennar who guaranteed our real estate agent that “Your clients won’t close until they are 100% happy".
As any home buyer would do we hired a home inspection company to inspect the house. A week or so later we met the home inspector at the house to review his report. He had been there 3 hours inspecting the house by the time we arrived. The good news was that in order to inspect the house the electricity had to be turned on, which meant this time we wouldn’t leave soaked in sweat. The home inspector found several of the items that we had blue-taped but he also found several more items that we hadn’t. He indicated that the vertical seams in the outer trim work needed to be caulked, an item which I had already raised to the supervisor in the first walkthrough and that they told me didn’t need caulk. He also identified areas where the bay windows & fireplace met the roof where there was clearly exposed wood beneath the flared edges. The inspector pointed it out to us and said “If I can see that wood and you can see it then you know that moisture can enter as well as bugs”. Needless to say you don’t need any wood exposed to the elements. The exposed wood was due to a technique Lennar uses in scenarios where bay windows connect back to fascia boards near the roof. This exposed wood scenario was present in several areas of the house’s roof. And since the air condition was on the inspector was able to identify a whistling sound in the air conditioning. The whistling sound represented air either coming through or getting out of somewhere that it shouldn’t and it could result in an increased bill to heat or cool the home.
In the end the Home Inspector created a staggering 85 page report filled with images and lists of issues with the house. I’ve included several images from the report in this blog entry. While we were glad that the home inspector found these issues it didn’t make us feel any better about the home.
By this time the builder had reviewed our punch list and had also received the inspector’s 85 page report. We worked with Lennar to accommodate their request to push back the closing by a week. A week later, when I arrived to this walkthrough I saw the entire front door being removed and there were several vehicles at the home. When I entered the house I learned that we now had a new supervisor. I’m not sure if the old one was fired, transferred, or what happened, but we would be dealing with a new supervisor going forward. There was also a Lennar representative there who appeared to be the manager of the supervisors. He maintained his distance throughout the walkthrough, but I saw him through the windows outside of the house just walking around and shaking his head as if here were saying “No” when looking at the craftsmanship of the home.
In our initial conversations with the construction supervisors our real estate agent let them know that we shouldn’t have even done the 1st walk through when we did. She told them that the house wasn’t nearly in the shape it should have been for a walkthrough. The Lennar team seemed apologetic and the new supervisor seemed to recognize that he was thrown into a difficult situation. While we were there talking one of the supervisors told us “We really do want to deliver a quality product to you all”. He seemed sincere and at the sight of seeing the front door being replaced and then hearing the reassurance from the Lennar crew I felt somewhat better initially.
As we re-walked through the home we again put blue tape on areas that needed to be updated. There were still several of the same areas that needed work. We just, again, put tape back on the same areas where we previously put tape. At one point the new supervisor said that we should just stop the walkthrough and let them revisit the entire house themselves. It was as if he recognized all the general theme of the issues and knew the house wasn’t ready for a walkthrough. Though, after making that comment they continued walking through with us. It was a little odd.
Upon walking into the dining room area it was apparent that nothing had been done with the hump in the floor. This was one of our major concerns that we had voiced to them several times. We called it out to them and continued the re-walk through. When we got to the attic we still heard the AC whistling. We again cited that to them along with the areas outside the needed caulking + the exposed wood above the windows. On this walkthrough the garage doors were up and we were able to see that the “stud” boards that the garage door was bolted to were bowing inward toward the door.
At the end of walkthrough we were in the garage talking with the Lennar representatives and our real estate agents. This time the corporate guy or the supervisor of the construction managers joined us. We again expressed concern over the hump in the floor and the most senior guy piped up saying that the hump in the floor was normal. I questioned him about that and he said that the hump in the floor was within their “tolerance” and that they wouldn’t be doing anything about it. My thought was that if something is within your tolerance then we shouldn’t be able to see it with a naked eye. My wife then spoke up saying that it was unfortunate to hear that Lennar was essentially drawing the line and not going to do anything to make the floor right. Her comment apparently got to the guy’s ego a bit because he puffed his chest out and said started telling us that he had been building houses for over 18 years and that this kind of thing is expected. I laughed out loud at him because he took my wife’s comment personally and tried to tell us how much of a building legend he was. I had never seen this guy before. All I knew was that he showed up, stood around, and was on his cell phone a lot. He could have been our neighbor for all I knew. I guess he wanted instant credibility because he wore work boots. I asked him to get his level and let’s go look at the floor. We went back into the dining room and found that the wall was also bowed. The level we used was a 6 foot level and was long enough to get from one hump to the next so to me it didn’t accurately represent the hump in the floor. They again stated that they would work on the wall, but not the floor.
By the time walkthrough #3 got here we were 3 weeks past schedule on the house. The lender was forced to extend the interest “rate-lock” agreement for the 2nd time and it was costing Lennar money each time. I had also started a new job and had been gone for 10 days which gave the builder plenty of time to fix the items that remained. I figured with me being gone so long Lennar should have no excuse for not having the items taken care of.
This walkthrough was unlike any other and was odd from the onset. We again showed up with our real estate agents and it became very clear that the Lennar sales representative + the construction manager were rushing us through the walkthrough. Why did they want to rush us? We had a punch list and before even addressing all items in one room, the Lennar reps were saying “Ok, what’s in the next room?” For much of the walkthrough I was lagging behind actually spending time looking at the issues they were supposed to fix.
When we continuously called out the thin paint the Lennar sales representative told us that in a walkthrough home buyers are supposed to stand 5 feet away from a wall and look rather then get up close to the wall. This puzzled us. If were are going to make a significant investment in a home I don’t care if I lay down on my back and look upside down. If something is supposed to have paint on it, then it should have paint on it. This goes back to a conversation I had one evening with a painter, but more on that later.
By the time we had gotten upstairs we had noticed the hump still in the floor downstairs + newly scratched up wood in the den area. When the lady told my wife to stand 5 feet away from the wall to review the thin paint it kind of put a line in the sand. We just all stood there in this one room and had an awkward moment of silence. I asked the question “So you’ve known about the punch list for over a month now and there are still issues. Are you going to fix these issues?” At this point the construction manager responded “The house is what it is and we are not making any more updates” and that essentially sealed the deal. At this point we were half-way through the walkthrough and we knew where we were headed. Though we continued walking through the rest of the house.
As we continued upstairs to the 3rd floor the building supervisor accused my wife of “creating new items” that were not on the initial punch list. As you may imagine that comment didn’t go over well. My wife responded “That’s interesting because I have video of all the items from both previous walkthroughs and if you want me to go downstairs and get my phone I can show you the video.” The supervisor responded “No you don’t have to do that” because he knew he’d been caught in a lie. After being pegged the supervisor commented, with a voice of frustration “I can’t be here all day watching people, I have other projects going on as well”. It seems like Lennar either has their supervisors on too many projects or that this guy didn’t really care about providing us a quality home.
As we reached the outside of the house I asked the supervisor about the mud that was on the fascia board above the garage. I called this out to them on the very first walkthrough over a month ago. The supervisor said they weren’t able to get it off. While we were going through the walkthrough a painter had arrived. The painter was Hispanic and I asked him in Spanish if it was possible to get the mud off. He went and grabbed his ladder, climbed it, and took 3 minutes to wipe the mud off. It was that simple. This action essentially meant that in 2 weeks’ time the supervisor hadn’t even attempted to wipe the mud off or had anyone see about it and then lied about it. That was at least 2 lies within an hour from the Lennar crew.
At the “end” of the walkthrough the supervisor asked me “Well what do you think?” What I thought was that the fact that they rushed us through the walkthrough, told us to stand 5 feet away from walls, got caught in multiple lies, and didn’t seem to care about the things that concerned us represented a surface level signal to a much more deeply rooted problem. And that problem was that Lennar wasn’t serious about not closing until we were happy and they weren’t serious about fixing the house. Ultimately they Lennar team knew we wouldn’t buy the house with the issues it had and they also knew they weren’t going to fix them. Consequently any time they spent with us was wasted time and wasted money. It was as if they wanted to hurry and get us through the process so they could start over a new buyer.
By this point in time we had already put down earnest money on the house and even transferred the down payment to the lawyer’s office. We were supposed to do the walkthrough in the morning, sign a release accepting the condition of the house, and close on the home the next day. It was down to the wire. We left without signing papers and told the Lennar reps we needed to think about some things. Of course everyone knew what was happening. The Lennar reps told our agents that they would refund us back the earnest money should we decide to withdraw the offer. This was a sign that they knew they were in the wrong.
We thought long and hard about the home. It was a nice floor plan, in a nice area, and a seemingly nice community in the making. However, we just didn’t feel good about things. You know that uneasy feeling you get in your stomach that’s always an indicator that you’re fixing to mess up… yeah that’s the one we had. The main things that led to our decision to withdraw were the poor quality home (the hump in the floor being number one), Lennar personnel rushing us through the walkthrough, and also getting mixed messages from Lennar throughout the process. They didn’t do a good job at building credibility and good will with us throughout the process.
At least for us, when considering making a large investment such as this, we wanted to feel good about it and have a sense of trust in the company with which we’d be doing business. We didn’t have that feeling and felt that we’d lost faith in Lennar by the time we got to the end of the process. As you just read it had not been easy to get the builder to take care of the items they guaranteed us they would take care of before buying the house… so needless to say, we didn’t have much faith in them coming back to fix things after they had our money.
I will give Lennar credit on the refund. They did refund us the earnest money we had put down on the house. By their paper work, which was heavily slanted towards them, they didn’t have to technically give us our money back. Though, I feel like they knew the house was not quality and thus they instantly agreed to refund us the earnest money. This was one of the few areas in which I’ll say they did right by us.
While my mom was a flexible and gracious host (thanks mom!), her home is about 50 miles from where we planned to live and where my wife works. The logistics were difficult to manage in this stressful time, so we decided to rent an apartment closer to the area we hope to live. As we looked for apartments we visited 3 apartment complexes that were brand new and still being built. This area of town is rapidly growing and thus there are houses, communities, and apartments going up everywhere. As my wife and I visited these apartment complexes I still had the flaws in the home we just backed out of in my mind. As we walked around I wasn’t so much paying the apartment representative attention as I was more so examining door casings, hardiplank implementations, observing where there was and wasn’t caulk, paint consistency, and the overall quality and craftsmanship of the buildings. And as you would imagine, there were things that were done differently than what we had just experienced with Lennar. For example, the caulking of vertical seams of the hardiplank, the same areas that the Lennar builders had just told us that didn’t need caulk. There also were no whistling air conditions, dents in door casings, door casings left completely without paint, paint in the carpet, stair “skirt” boards with dents in them, etc. The list could go on, but the point is that the quality was much better in the apartments we were reviewing than the house we’d just backed out of. After the apartment reviews I knew we had made the right the decision even though it was going to cause us more stress in the short term.
During this process we incurred several costs. We had to pay for the home inspection, movers, I’m still paying on the storage, we had nice gas tabs for our commutes, now we’re paying on an apartment, and the major cost was the inconvenience in time. Rescheduling furniture deliveries with multiple furniture companies, with movers, and with the internet installer all added up to make this a “fun” process.
The experience was unfortunate for both my wife and I and I believe for Lennar as well. We really did like the community, the floor plan, the lot, and the area of town. I believe that Lennar knew the specific house wasn’t well managed from the start and they knew the hump in the floor was an item they weren’t willing to fix because it would eat into their profit margins. I think once they recognized that we wanted something structurally updated with the house they just wanted us to hurry and withdraw our offer because they knew they weren’t going to get down to the foundation and fix it. The longer they kept us around the more money they were losing. In taking this stance they showed their true colors and literally left money on the table. I’m sure they will sell the house, but I’m also sure that house will have problems down the road.
So the process has been unpleasant, but tucked away in the frustrations and disappointments are great lessons to be learned. We learned what “problem areas” to look for when buying a house. We learned the signals and body language from home builders when things aren’t quite right. We learned about the core principals, ethics, and organizational character with which Lennar operates. We learned more about the house buying process in general and are better off for it in the long run. It was like a 3 month education on house buying. I would rather be displaced and incur stress in the short term in exchange for having a problematic house in the long run. Sure it’s not fun, but it would be even worse a few years from now if we had purchased that house.
The Lennar reps statement of “You won’t close until you’re 100% happy” still holds true and it is true because we will close on another house, with a different builder, in a community just up the road when we are 100% happy.
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