Is Your New House a Safe Investment?

Would you be surprised to know that South Carolina does not require its contractors to obtain insurance? Did you know that they are only required to obtain a $15,000.00 bond? Would it surprise you to know that the South Carolina Code Enforcement would pass almost anything, regardless of the quality of work?

If these questions take you aback welcome to my reality!

In 2002, after my divorce, I began searching for a home for myself and my two children. I found a house that was completed in 2001. The house was finished just before all the terrorist attacks. As you aware the market went into a slump after the attacks so the house sat empty until August of the following year. I went in and viewed the house, spoke with the realtor about it. I was told it was never occupied. I came to find it had been used by the realtor’s company as a sales office, which was not disclosed to me prior to the sale. The only reason I found it had been used as a sales office is that prior to moving our things in I noticed the air conditioner didn’t work, nor did the refrigerator get cool enough and the water heater did not work. When I called the builder, or who I was told was the builder, he informed me it had been used as the sales office when the subdivision was being developed. This should have been my first indicator that something was terribly awry with the house.

At the closing there was a list of items that needed attention prior to the move in. The builder/seller assured my attorneys and I that all would be completed within 10 days. When I left the home in 2007 they had still not been completed. After contacting an attorney regarding the punchlist with the closing papers I was informed that the builder/seller did not have a contractor’s license, had filed bankruptcy and I had no recourse on him. With this in mind I submitted a request through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain all paperwork for the home. Upon receipt of the paperwork I came to find the “builder” was not who sold me the house. The builder was yet another gentleman, who had a contractor’s license. The “licensed” builder had loaned his license to who I thought was the builder of the home. Upon reviewing the job roster that was on site during construction I went online and searched the South Carolina Labor and Licensing Regulatory Commission website, unable to find any of the contractors that were listed, with the exception of the pest control and heating and air contractor. According to the website and individuals I spoke with at the LLR no such companies or license numbers related to those companies had ever been in existence.

Now at this point I wondered how they could possibly have contractor’s names and license numbers on a job roster for the construction site and all but two of them be invalid! Does South Carolina’s Code Enforcement not have an obligation to validate all contractors on a job site? Do they have no responsibility for checking the validity of contractors license numbers? I, again, through the Freedom of Information Act requested all inspection checks done on the house during construction. To my surprise Code Enforcement’s position was everything had gone along without too many corrections.

At this point I’m in total disbelief. This house was literally crumbling around us. The slab foundation was cracking. There were nail pops (protruding nails) from the stress on the supporting beams. The back door had not been nailed into the framework and could easily be removed by one man simply by pulling on it. Sparks shot out of the outlets, especially the one in the garage. The garage outlet was noted on the Code Enforcement’s list of things to repair, and obviously that wasn’t done. There was sloping or slanting of the floor from the slab being poorly constructed. There was water intrusion in the kitchen wall. A j-channel, which is supposed to channel water away from the interior of the house, was channeling it into the master bathroom wall. The garage floor looked like a spider web with all the cracks that developed. The grade of the ground surrounding the house angled towards the house instead of away from it. Underlayment on the roof was substandard. Code was not met for the nailing pattern in the roof. There was no interior access to the roof. Rain poured into the back door in the garage and under the garage door. The sliding glass door, to the back yard, was almost impossible to open due to the slab cracking. There was a dip in the concrete slab next to the master bathtub, which caused many slip and falls. There was a leak from the sewage boot over the kitchen.

With all these issues I decided to contact the lender to let them know. Obviously they weren’t interested in the issues with the house, only their payments. I next contacted a structural engineering company to come out and have a look at the residence. Upon examination they found enough deficiencies to write a 7 page report, not including photographs. There were indications of structural issues from the roof to the slab.

I then had a concrete engineering company come out and take some core samples throughout the residence. Upon removing the carpeting in the living room I found the slab looked more like a jigsaw puzzle than a slab. There were four different types of concrete with some additional white caulk like substance in other areas. The concrete company took 6 core samples from throughout the residence and garage. Upon receiving their report back I found that organics were found throughout the slab, which means the lot wasn’t cleared properly and wasn’t prepared properly before the slab was poured. They recommended either pouring an additional concrete layer throughout the house, which would hold about 5 years before the cracking would began again or tear out the entire slab and start over.

At this point I contacted the builder and the “licensed” builder and asked them to come to the house. Upon their arrival I provided each with copies of the report stating the deficiencies. I asked that they buy back the house as the cost to repair would be more than the cost of the house. They refused, but offered to “pretty it up” so that I could sell it. Had I accepted that offer I, and only I, would have been liable to any following owner for the deficiencies. I informed them that they would either have to buy back the house or I would file a lawsuit against them. They obviously didn’t have the money to buy the house back, or if they did they didn’t want to. They were both given the opportunity to have their experts come out and investigate my claims, compare them to the reports I had acquired and refused to do so.

Now I’m stuck in a house with serious enough deficiencies that it would require me to basically rebuild the home from the grade up. Now keep in mind this is the first house I had bought in my life. I’m paying the mortgage payments for a house that I’m going to have to get another loan to rebuild. Upon contacting an attorney about the situation I came to find the “licensed” builder had no insurance whatsoever. He did have a $15,000.00 surety bond with a company that was in rehabilitation! So again, no recourse. I was stuck with a house we couldn’t live in, mortgage payments and no way out of the mess. I did leave the house in May of 2007 and let the financing institution take back the house in foreclosure.

Apparently the builder isn’t liable, nor is the County, nor is the financial institution. Buyer beware, apparently the buck stops with you, not the people you entrust with most people’s largest purchase!

I spoke with the gentleman who bought it out of foreclosure and disclosed everything that was wrong with the house and showed him the reports. He turned around and sold the house to another unsuspecting person without disclosing anything I told him. I contacted the current owner and informed him of the situation. He was upset, understandably. His son was doing some work on the house and, from what my former neighbor told me, he thought the house was going to fall in on him. Apparently the slab had split yet again, right down the middle!

My hard learned lesson is what I relay to those who have not purchased a home and to those about to purchase a home, check everything, get inspectors out there, do everything you can to make sure that you don’t end up in the same situation I did. I hope my costly lesson can help someone else out before they are where I am! Buy houses built more than 100 years ago, they were built with integrity and pride!!

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