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The Washington Scene

Panel's Advice: Know the Home Builder

February 02, 1986|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — Know thy builder.

That's the first commandment of an unpublished, informal Buying Creed for Americans who have faith in the economy, hope for the future and a desire never to be the object of charity.

Somewhat surprising, knowing as much as possible about the person or firm building the new house that you intend to buy got top priority from a small consortium of experts.

They included a veteran marketing counselor, a long-experienced seller of new houses, a young but experienced builder of moderately priced single-family homes and town-houses and an older couple who bought and occupied several houses over the years.

All were asked to list two or three of the most important bits of advice that should be taken by buyers of new houses in any price range. The experts emphasized the absolute need to know the builder and everything that is possible to learn about the houses being built by the firm.

No answer was more emphatic nor more unequivocal than that from builder Robert Libson, who has sold more than 500 Washington-area houses in less than 10 years. Libson said: "Failure to know the record of the builder and to get a feel of the subdivision or the community in which he builds can be hazardous to your home-owning health. You should know his financing standing and what the owner-occupants of his houses (previously built and sold in the same area) think about him. To do a good job, a builder must have solid financial backing and the respect of his buyers."

Libson added that "getting to know the builder" is not difficult if the individual or firm has a track record. But what about the builder doing his first group of homes--like Libson himself was doing not many years ago?

"In that case, the prospective buyer will find it easier to meet the builder and to talk to him. Ask him directly about his financial stability, experience, credit references and even his former employer or firm. Believe me, a sincere young builder will be trying to build his reputation and he will be eager to give answers," Libson said.

Consumer specialist William Young of the National Assn. of Home Builders gave a definition of "quality" in home building, pointing out that it will be determined largely by the "quality" of the builder who constructs your house. Young suggested asking friends and relatives for recommendations of builders of relatively new houses in an area or subdivision where you plan to buy. Are they satisfied? Did they have unusual problems?

"Then go out and knock on doors and ask people how they like the homes already built and sold in the subdivision that really interests you," Young added. "Take notes, ask about customer services, try to check out the builder's financial reputation. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Find out about builder warranties and those on the appliances and products used in the house . . . and who will take care of your problems when you have some."

Veteran new-house salesman Thomas Leidy insisted that any really good builder will be proud of his track record and willing to point to houses previously built, and urged serious-minded prospective buyers to randomly interview some owner-occupants.

"No new house is perfect because there always seems to be a last-minute frenzy to get it ready," marketing expert W. A. Molster said. "But the builder or his representative will go over the various parts of the house in the pre-occupancy inspection. Then a list is made of the things to be fixed. A good builder will fix them promptly and take care of any real glitches or shortcomings in the first year of occupancy. This is highly important for the buyer. Previous buyers will be able to tell you whether the builder did right by them without too much pressuring and too many pleading telephone calls."

New homeowner Curtis Smith, who moved to an adult community in the Washington area after living a long time in the New York City suburbs, said his choice of a retirement-home community was based on the location and the amenities (golf, pool etc.) and the design of the house. "But I also was geared to know something about the reputation and track record of the builder. It meant something to me that this building firm was listed on the New York Stock Exchange and was nationally known." Smith summarized: "Know your builder and then keep a sharp eye on the house being bought."

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