The old adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” holds true for many of us when it comes to saving money and living frugally. However, since the housing market has improved, more people are demanding access to newer and nicer buildings to live in. That being the case, new building communities have begun construction throughout the nation.
Living in a brand new building can be enchanting, but often, the shininess and prestige can give way to unanticipated creaks, breaks, noises and other annoyances that have not been worked out previously. If you’re buying new, it pays to take what steps you can to insure that the unit you’re purchasing is as close to perfect as it can be. Often, purchasing a home can be the biggest investment in your life, so being proactive about your home’s condition before you buy it is essential.
When it comes to construction failures in new buildings, often times it is not the designers fault, but just improper installation.
One of the most common examples of this is stucco problems. Cracked and crumbling stucco on the exterior of your building—particularly if the structure is relatively new—is more than just an annoyance and an aesthetic problem; it also may be an indication that the stucco was incorrectly applied, or that improper materials were used in the job. Both can be a major problem, because aside from contributing to the look of a property, stucco forms part of a building’s waterproofing system.
And imperfect stucco is just one aspect of compromised waterproofing that can haunt a multifamily building. Other details such as expansion joints, sealants and flashing can also morph into expensive repair emergencies if installed poorly or left uncompleted; new windows and sliding glass doors can also leak water if weather stripping is missing or improperly fitted. This is especially crucial in a hurricane-prone area such as South Florida. Poor installation of sliding glass doors can lead to deterioration between the gasket and actual glass, says Nicholas Siegfried, an associate attorney working in construction law for the Coral Gables-based law firm of Siegfried Rivera Hyman Lerner De La Torre Mars & Sobel, P.A. “It affects the look of the door, and its air-tightness,” he says.
Structural and installation problems can be particularly problematic in areas prone to severe weather.
Most defects are hidden and not easily recognizable during an open house. “Sometimes you don’t know there’s a problem with a sliding glass door or window until they don’t work,” says Steven Mainardi, PE, RS, principal founder and president of Delta Engineering & Inspection, Inc. in Sarasota.
According to the professionals, part of the disconnect that results in installation defects these days isn’t simply contractors rushing through jobs, or workers not knowing what they are doing, or not caring enough to do it right in every instance. There’s simply not enough management. “The critical issue is the poor oversight,” Mainardi says. “We don’t have many people watching the workforce, and the quality control is not there.”
Whether you attribute it to the shortage of skilled labor, or developers rushing projects, or subcontractors and their employees not caring enough about their work, one thing is certain: in the end, it’s often the association and/or the individual unit owners who have to deal with construction problems in their building, and frequently associations and individuals seek to redress their grievances with developers and their contractors. All may be held liable if the unit owner or association decide to sue. In such cases, lawyers often sue the insurance companies that insure these professionals, and also sue the developer’s insurer. But these proceedings are long, expensive, and can be acrimonious. Who needs the hassle if you can avoid it?
Florida state law provides statutory warranties of 1 to 3 years on some parts of a newly constructed building, and the contractor and subcontractors should also warranty their work. If the construction defect affects the entire building, the association can sue on behalf of all the owners to get compensation for repairs. The association also might have a claim to pursue if there’s a building code violation involved, or if the developer promised amenities that it didn’t deliver on, like a Pilates room, wine cellar, or a second pool.
Whenever the ribbon is cut on a brand-new condo or HOA, the excitement and luxury of all-new features and amenities is palpable—but it’s often cut with some disappointment over the things that weren’t done quite right, or weren’t done at all. By hiring professionals to look over your new abode and advise both you and your board about any issues they find, you’ll be in a much better position to make decisions, either about moving in, or about how your community can move forward and remedy some of these more common construction defects before they cost you and your new homeowners.