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On Your Side

Fault Lines in Home Warranties

How to make sure your home warranty is all it's cracked up to be.

Money/On Your Side: Home Warranties

In dealing with company disputes - document everything in writing and seek supporting professional opinions. — Stuart Bradford

The Company: Pulte Homes

The Complaint: "The ceilings keep cracking!"

Ron Levine had just moved into his new dream home in Ashburn, Virginia, in 2008 when a two-foot-long crack appeared in the ceiling of his guest bedroom. He contacted the builder, Pulte Homes, which sent a worker to patch the drywall.

"The crack returned a few months later," Levine wrote to me. "This time it was much worse."

The builder again made repairs. Still, the crack came back, along with new ones. At a community meeting last fall, Levine learned that at least two dozen of his neighbors in the 300-acre adult-living development of Potomac Green had the same problem, and had received the same cosmetic fix, some as many as four times.

Levine and his neighbors, who typically had paid more than $300,000 for their homes, are convinced the problem goes deeper than the drywall—that it may involve roof trusses—and should be covered by Pulte's ten-year structural warranty rather than its one-year warranty on building materials; the company disagrees. Eric Younan, a Pulte spokesperson, told me the company was "working with these homeowners as a courtesy, even though their warranties have expired."

I responded that owners would undoubtedly call a fix for a persistent problem more than a courtesy. Younan replied, "Our standard practice is to take care of our homeowners."

Yet "standard practice" had already failed. I told him the owners needed Pulte's written commitment to fix the problems.

The same day, Younan's supervisor, Caryn Klebba, e-mailed me this statement: "Pulte Homes is committed to...implementing a permanent solution to the cracking which has developed in certain homes."

If you find yourself in a similar situation, document everything in writing, seek supporting professional opinions, and tell your story loud and far. Nothing gets a builder's attention faster than an obstacle to continued sales.

Have a complaint about customer service? Write to Ron.

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