By Donald Lawson, Professional Real Estate Inspector

I have the good fortune to deal with the home buying consumer on a daily basis. I also get to hear some of the 'deals' many of them have worked out with their respective new home builder.

Lately I've become aware of an increase in an alarming trend that has me concerned.

The story usually starts with my Client telling me the builder did not have the specific model home that they wanted to look at in the sub-division where they were looking at new homes. The builders salesperson then proceeds to send them to another sub-division that has the model of the home they want to buy. If the buyer is satisfied, then they will generally return to the model home/office in the first sub-division to sign the paper work and get the ball rolling on construction of their dream house.

This is where most consumers get in over their heads and the salesperson may 'stretch' the truth just a little. It's no secret that many a salesperson has 'forget' to tell the consumer that many items, systems and components they see on a model home do not automatically come with their package. They also 'forget' to tell many consumers that some of these packages can not even be built in their sub-division!

I guess it's like many of the car ads you see on TV, you know the ones. "Prices start at $10,000 for base models" then you see the little disclaimer at the bottom of the TV screen that says, "Model shown equipped with availabe options, price of model shown $34,289.33". With this home however, you will not even get a disclaimer!

For example, I had some Clients that were buying a new home on Lake Conroe. Their builder did not have a model of the home they wanted built in the sub-division, so they sent them to The Woodlands to see a model of this specific home. My Clients really liked this particular model because it had a large bay window in the front. Guess what? When their home was built, it was built without this bay window. When questioned, the supervisor and salesperson both told my Clients that none of the homes of this model in this sub-division would have bay windows. "That model home you saw with the bay window is only availabe in The Woodlands".  Funny how no one bothered to tell my Clients that before the contract was signed.

Many of my Clients never learn until the home is finished that they have been a victim of the 'bait and switch' game. Many times their home will have different fixtures, faucets, counter tops, appliances, door knobs, landscaping and accessories. How can a builder change all of these things after a contract has been signed? The secret is two little words in the contract. Standard Equipment .
When your contract calls for items, systems or components as 'standard equipment', you had better pay attention. You want to make sure your contract will specify what the 'standard equipment' is. If the model home has brushed stainless steel sink fixtures, you had better make sure they are specified in your contract. If not, don't be surprised if you end up with a builder grade economy sink fixture. Many of my Clients have learned the hard way that the 'standard equipment' that was installed in the model home was drastically downgraded after the contract was signed.

         The same goes for appliances. You must S-P-E-C-I-F-Y what the standard equipment will be! Do not accept lame excuses from your saleperson as to why the builder does not specify components used in a home. If your builder does not want to specify make, model, color, size, etc, find out why! Note: The " because everyone does it this way" statement is B.S., don't buy it for a minute.

         Another buzz word to watch ouf for is "or comparable", comparable to who? the builder? or you the consumer? If the specific equipment you specified can not be obtained, who's call will it be on the replacements? You or the Builder?

         I've seen homes that had cheap pine wood fences when the clients told the builder they wanted cedar. "Sorry, the pine is 'standard equipment'. Specify all that you can. One gate or two (I hate yards with only one gate!), what type and models of appliances, light fixtures, faucets, tubs and enclosures, shower doors, soap dishes, towel bars, clothes rods, commodes, cabinets, doors, thresholds, fireplaces, windows, door and cabinet hardware, paint color, ceiling texture, counter top material and design...and the list goes on. If you see it, specify what you want! You should be getting the picture now. Specify make, model number, design, color, numbers, locations, etc.

         There is a saying in the industry "If it's not in the plans, your not going to have it." Make sure all these specifics make it to the building plans also. Ask to see that they are on the plans. Do not take your salesperson or supervisors word for it.

         The same goes for landscaping. If you think your getting a specific type of landscaping, it had better be specified and that includes plant type, numbers and locations! Have the sales team show you the property lines. Do not settle for "about where that board is" You want to know what your buying. You don't want to have the tiny lot between two huge lots.

         Specify what areas will be sodded also. What happens if the sod dies? What kind of warranty does your sod carry, if it even has a warranty! I see sod put down over sand and the fill material for the foundation and it almost always dies eventually. Who responsibility is it if this happens? How about the other plants? What if they die within a short period of time?

         What about changing items after you have started construction? Easy, most builders will change several items for you. Change orders and upgrades is where a lot of profit is made in homes! Again, get it specified and on the plans. If you're paying to upgrade the light fixtures, make sure the electrician knows about it. He won't if it's not on the plans.

         Beware of asking the superintendent or salesperson to make some 'small changes'. These can be construed to be change orders and you may be charged for them! If the Superintendent or salesperson says it won't cost anything, get it in writing! You don't want to find out that the Hunter Douglas ceiling fan you had added in the Study is going to cost you $350 when they said they'd add it for nothing!

         Good Luck!

How to avoid the 'Bait and Switch' surprise when buying your new home

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