IF YOU ARE BUYING A NEW CONSTRUCTION HOME, the single most important thing you can do to protect your rights against defective construction or latent defects is to have the home inspected before the end of the first year of ownership.
This inspection is even more important than having a pre-closing inspection.
Unless you observe something concerning during the construction of your new home, we advise our clients to save the inspection fee and use the money to have a one-year warranty inspection performed (before the year is up).
Why Would I Wait to Fing Out if the Home is Defective?
A pre-closing home inspection can identify common defects and we often find minor issues like minor plumbing leaks, missing grout/caulking, sticky windows, or other common punch-list issues. Sometimes, we find AC vents or electrical outlets which were covered with drywall, loose driveway pavers, or broken sprinkler heads but these issues should also be found in a final walk-through with the builder. The main components which cause most latent defects are covered over.
While a competent home inspector with specific trade knowledge in framing, slab construction, or stucco may recognize concerns, unless there are specific and documented deviations from the local building code, there's very little you can do at this point. You have a contract with the builder and this contract stipulates you will accept the home provided it is built to local building code and is consistent with similar construction practices in the area.
If it passed all local building department inspections and received a Certificate of Occupancy, you are generally legally bound to close. While a competent home inspector, with qualifications above the minimum needed for licensure as a home inspector, may report areas of concern, that information has little legal standing. The builder, unless bound by specific custom contract specifications, isn't required to build to "best practices"; they are bound to build to local building code, which may not represent best practices. In short, there's no legal remedy for "predictive failure".
Wouldn't I Want to Know About Issues Before I Close on the Home?
Latent or concealed defective construction may become apparent after a few months but it may take longer. Early detection and notice are critical to your prosecution of a construction defect claim. Early detection may also reduce repair costs and avoid undue disruption. A builder is always more inclined to make minor repairs over expensive repairs. Should the builder deny your claim for repairs, you may need to make the repairs and absorb the cost while you pursue a legal remedy. Construction claims can take years to resolve.
You should insist your builder conduct a thorough walk-through inspection and test all appliances, windows, doors/locksets, lights, and fans. You should make note of both supply/return vents in each room. Look for missing grout in showers and caulking around tubs/sinks.
An 11th month or builder warranty inspection isn't the same as a pre-closing home inspection. The purpose of a builder warranty inspection is to document concerns or defects which are apparent BEFORE the initial one-year builder warranty expires. This is critical for your future protection against defective workmanship or materials.
State Law Restricts When A Buyer Can Make A Claim Against the Builder
Statute of Limitations and Statute of Repose. "The statute of limitations for breach of warranty claims founded upon the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property” is four years. Timing to initiate a cause of action involving latent construction defects “runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence”. The commencement of a construction defect case (irrespective of whether it involves patent or latent defects), however, cannot exceed the statute of repose, the timing of whichever event is latest.
You Must Alert the Builder to a Defect
The operative phrase here is "should have been discovered". This places increased burden on you, the homeowner, to recognize the condition and report it to the builder. Builders successfully argue the problem became large because the homeowner failed to notify them when it was first apparent, or they argue the problem was caused by neglect or improper maintenance.
While Florida law provides new construction home buyers with four years of warranty coverage for structural issues, most builders pass off their responsibility for warranty repairs to a third-party warranty company after one year. This disclosure is listed in your contract to purchase the home. You should take the time to understand what's covered and to what extent.
Often, home buyers don't receive full documentation on the warranty until closing or even after closing. Typically, the builder's structural warranty company will offer you additional home warranty plans which may provide repair coverage for appliances, pool equipment, and basic components in the home. If you are concerned with repair costs, this may be worth considering. The builder has no legal responsibility to repair/replace appliances generally beyond the first 90 days.
The builder's warranty covers structural and latent defects. It doesn't typically include normal and on-going maintenance not related to defective construction such as minor roof leakage, plumbing leaks, HVAC mechanical failure, paint, appliances, or other customary maintenance. Builders convey trade guarantees they receive from their subcontractors and it’s important that you understand who the contractors are and what, if any, guarantee they provide. Most contractors provide a one-year warranty on workmanship and they convey any applicable manufacturer guarantees for roofing, water heaters, windows/doors, or AC systems. Typically, the builder is not responsible for these components after one year.
Builders Legal Requirements
When you alert the builder to a concern or notify them of a defective condition, the builder may not be able to hand you off to a third-party warranty company! Builders are required to alert/notify the warranty company of known or suspected issues with the home. If they have been alerted to an issue, they cannot, in good faith, pass your claim to an unsuspecting third-party. Even if they do pass you off, you have met the requirements of the law in notification to the builder of your concern. Should a claim develop, the builder will have a difficult time convincing a Judge or Arbitrator that the problem was due to your neglect or failure to maintain the property!
You have made a significant financial investment in your new home and it’s critical that you understand your rights to receive a safe and habitable home. Most people buy new construction homes for peace of mind in believing the home shouldn't need expensive repairs for many years. New home buyers are shocked to learn their new home has major flaws that may be expensive to remediate. There may also be a loss of resale value due to disclosures of mold or moisture issues.
The good news is you have the option to protect your claim rights should latent defects affect your home. Based on over 40 years of inspection and building experience, we recommend the following:
Pre-Closing Punch Inspection (optional): We will inspect all windows, exterior doors, garage door, sprinkler system, appliances, shelving, electrical outlets, kitchen and bath fixtures, exterior siding, paint, foundation, and conduct a thermal scan of the walls/ceilings for buried vents/electrical outlets. We don't inspect components which are typically verified by the local building department. The fee is generally around $375.00 for an average-size home.
11th Month Warranty Inspection: At this inspection, we will inspect the roof, siding, paint, exterior doors and windows, the foundation, and conduct a thermal scan of the walls for evidence of moisture. This inspection is designed to identify problem wall cladding and foundation issues. If concerns are found, we will identify the issue and location so we can document future deterioration/progression of the issue. This is extremely valuable should a claim develop. The fee is based on the size/complexity of the home but typically costs around $450.00.
2nd Year Warranty Inspection: At this inspection, we will follow-up on our previous inspection (if done) and document any progression of previous issues found. If progression is evident, we may need to conduct invasive testing to support a claim. The fee is based on the size/complexity of the home and/or an issue. If no significant issue is present and we don't need to conduct invasive testing, the typical fee would be around $450.00.
4th Year/Final Warranty Inspection: This inspection is designed to identify structural issues as well as alert you to upcoming maintenance/repair needs.
You should understand construction law is complex and should you find yourself involved in a construction dispute; you will need an experienced construction law attorney. Having documentation that may prove the builder was aware of the issues but failed to remedy the problem will surely put a smile on your attorney's face.
Contact Property360 for Your New Construction Home Inspection
If you choose to have your new construction home inspected, you will need to hire a properly qualified inspector. As a minimum, your inspector should hold a Division 1 contractor license with additional certification in mold, moisture, and stucco wall claddings. Your inspector should be more qualified than the builder.
Property360 is a multi-disciplined property inspection firm offering new construction home inspections across Florida. We are licensed and insured to conduct mold/indoor air quality investigations, EIFS/Stucco inspections, insurance inspections, and termite inspections. We are one of the oldest and most qualified inspection firms having conducted thousands of inspections since 1986. Contact us at (904) 503-9808 to schedule your inspection, or visit us online to request your inspection today!
Property360 holds licensure as a Certified General Contractor, Mold Assessor, Level II EIFS/Stucco Inspector, and a Home Inspector.