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First-Timers Tell How They Did It, Offer Tips to Others

TALES FROM THE TRENCHES

April 09, 2000

I now have a $4,000 expense awaiting me. If I had talked to the neighbors, I would have learned that it is "common knowledge" that these homes have a history of this problem.

TERESE SCHWARTZ

Westlake Village

'Midnight Faxing to Britain' Saved the Day

My wife and I and our 6-year-old daughter moved to Los Angeles after living in Britain. One of our first priorities was to purchase a house.

Our mortgage broker insisted that we would have no problems attaining a loan, as our English credit history could be used. She even produced a pre-approval letter to help strengthen our negotiating hand.

We interviewed a number of Realtors and chose Linda Seyffert of Jim Dickson Realtors.

We spent a day with her viewing houses. The last one we looked at had come on the market only that day and was exactly what we were seeking: a small cottage in Sierra Madre.

We submitted an offer the next morning, and negotiations started that afternoon. At midnight, a price and a 30-day escrow were agreed upon. The inspections went fine, and everything was looking good.

Then, a week before close of escrow, we became concerned that our mortgage had yet to be approved.

Despite numerous attempts to push the broker along, progress was agonizingly slow. Communication was not good, and we received numerous requests for more personal information, further delaying the process.

Linda asked the sellers for an extension, but they were reluctant.

We realized we were in serious trouble, but Linda came to our rescue. She took us to meet Nectar Kalajian of Genuine Home Loans.

Nectar was able to arrange and confirm the mortgage within 12 hours--after much midnight faxing to Britain--and the deal was saved. On Feb. 15 we took possession of our new home, happy but exhausted.

Here are some of our lessons:

* Do your own research first. Focus on specific areas. This will reduce information overload.

* Check sale prices in areas that interest you. This will give you a good indication of the price you will have to pay for your home.

* Get pre-approved by the lender, not just the mortgage broker. As we discovered, an approval from a broker alone is not worth the paper it is written on.

* Select your realty agent carefully. Get a referral from a friend. Find a Realtor you click with; you are probably going to go through some stressful times with him or her, and you will need support if the going gets tough.

* Help the agent to help you. The more information you can give the agent, the better idea he or she will have of what you are seeking; and you will minimize time spent looking at unsuitable properties.

CHRIS AND ILDI DAVY

Sierra Madre

'We Had . . . Grown Wary of the Builder'

We had a home inspection done on our new home twice. The first time at the pre-Sheetrock phase and the second at the time of the walk-through.

During our visits to the site, we had become concerned about the quality of the work.

We had also grown wary of the builder for other reasons. After choosing our options, we found it difficult to get the design center personnel on the phone, especially after we found out that they had overcharged us for several options. (And we later learned that another buyer had bought our house plan for $19,000 less than we had.)

The builder had every right to raise prices because of market demand. But he had misrepresented the price of the other house in marketing material that he had shown us.

I imagine others were also shown the inflated price. We are considering legal action.

Despite our growing suspicions, we went through with the sale. We liked the interior layout and exterior architecture.

When we showed up for the walk-through, a major option that we had bought was not completely installed. It looked like the builder had simply put up parts of the rain gutters to fool us into thinking that the house was complete.

Twenty-four hours later, we filled up the bathtub and drained it. Water backed up into all of the bathroom sinks, tubs and toilets, spilling onto the floor.

We thought the home inspection would have caught this fault but were informed that most home inspectors do not fill the tub to check for blockages.

The worst part of this experience was the fact that up to this day (more than two weeks after the flooding), the carpet has not been replaced.

The customer service representative who is supposed to be fixing the discrepancies has never called us to apologize. In fact, no one from the company has ever formally apologized to us for the flooding, let alone the delay in getting our carpet replaced.

Of course, the signs of this builder's incompetence were everywhere before we even signed the loan papers. As much as you may like a home, it will only be as good as the customer service and the ethics of the sales staff.

You will usually be able to judge the quality of the customer service very early on in the process.

* How quickly do the builder's representatives return your calls?

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