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November 5, 2007 FROM: Jean Van Rensselar 630-363-8081, fax: (630) 355-5966 email: JKVR@Prodigy.net Get the New Home You Pay For Judging quality – it’s as easy as choosing a new car. For many people, buying a new home means depleting savings accounts and even borrowing from relatives. It’s risky business unless you know what to look for in the way of quality. This means determining if your builder is reputable, identifying solid interior and exterior design, identifying sound construction materials and techniques, and knowing what constitutes superior service. In many ways, the process is the same as choosing a new car – reputable brand, style and design, quality components and workmanship, and expectations of customer service. Buying a New vs. an Existing Home The world is divided into two camps – those who love the appeal of existing homes and those who love the personalization, assurance and excitement of new homes. While existing homes may have mature landscaping; charming design touches, such as carved moldings; and are built with expensive building materials difficult to afford in a new home - such as full brick exteriors, today’s new homes have many advantages. Consider this… There are no surprises when you move in. Hopefully, you know how your home was built and what materials and techniques were used to build it. A reputable builder will also be sure that you know how to operate everything before you move in. Builders offer a wide selection of standard and upgrade options, from exterior materials to walkout basements to cabinets to floor coverings – to ensure you get exactly what you want. In addition, today’s design standards offer more interior open space, which combined with flexible floor plans, allows for greater interaction among family members and guests. Home building techniques have advanced at lighting speed - new homes are built with the highest quality construction, as well as safeguard features such as built-in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and, often, fire sprinkler systems. Most are both energy efficient and have superior indoor air quality Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.2 – important facets of today’s green building movement. Building products work better, last longer and are more visually appealing without using dangerous materials such as lead and asbestos. The quality of your home will always depend on the quality and reputation of your builder. With a new home, you know the builder. New homes are in communities designed for livability. The site designs balance private and public areas and often feature varied setbacks and mature landscaping. Expect paths for walking and bicycles; and space for play. New homes come with warranties. All reputable builders will include a one- year comprehensive warranty and a 10-year structural warranty. Often extended warranty programs are available. In the end, a new home is generally equipped with a more livable floor plan; easier and less expensive to maintain; less expensive to heat and cool; safer; and healthier. If you’ve read all this and have decided on new, read on – not all new homes are created equal. A new car is one of the most expensive purchases you will ever make, but it pales in comparison to the expense of a new home. If you follow the same procedure in choosing both, you can’t go wrong. Choosing a Builder and Community Even if you aren’t status conscious, you associate certain automobile companies with quality. A company that has been in business for many decades and conjures up positive experiences for you is more attractive than a company that is either unfamiliar or negative. If you are like most consumers, the first thing you’ll consider when buying a car is the price tag and the second thing is the brand. Without the backing of a reputable company, most consumers associate low price with poor quality. However, think about how you feel when you find a car in your price range manufactured by a company that signifies quality to you – you start to get serious, right? It’s the same with choosing a new home. You know what you can afford and you look for homes in that price range. You drive to a number of communities, but some don’t feel right – you don’t know the builder, you don’t know anyone who’s bought a home from that builder, and you see from the sales brochure that the company hasn’t been in business very long. According to Nancy Johnson, Director of Warranty Services for metropolitan Chicago-based builder, Wiseman-Hughes Enterprises, new homebuyers should look for a builder that has been in business for at least 25 years – the longer the better. “You can only stay in business for a long time if you are doing everything right,” she explained. “This means that you have a proven track record for quality construction, providing the types of homes that will stand the test of time, and a good reputation that brings in the referrals a builder needs to stay in business.”i Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.3 A reputable builder will provide an easy to understand warranty. It should be all- encompassing, covering material and workmanship for at least the first year and the structure (foundation, walls, and support elements) for 10 years. When it comes to choosing the community, first think about the location and your lifestyle. Dallas-based new home expert and TV host, Michael Holigan offers these considerations:ii Is it convenient to your work? Is it convenient to shopping? Are there quality schools in the area? Are there traffic problems in the area? Are municipal services available? Is there good police and fire protection? Is there a good medical facility in the area? Are parks and recreational facilities available? Are there cultural activities in the area? Holigan’s other community selection considerations include: Are property values appreciating? Is the neighborhood well maintained? Is the neighborhood safe? Is the area growing? Is the land historically significant? Are roads well maintained? Is the local economy stable? Is there heavy traffic in the area? Are future highways or developments planned? Will your children have playmates in the neighborhood? Are animals or pets allowed? Is there ample room for parking? Is the property’s topography (i.e. rolling hills) appealing? Are there open spaces or common land nearby? Are there wetlands, ponds or streams on the property? Is there convenient access to lots? One of the best ways to decide if a particular new car is right for you is to go for a test drive. The goal is to find out how comfortable it is – how it feels, without being influenced by the appearance. And you’ll want to get the feel of every community you visit also. When you drive into the property the first time, pay close attention to your gut reaction. Does it feel like home? Or do you feel vaguely uncomfortable and don’t know why? Quality Exterior and Interior Design Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.4 A great new car has electronic controls, easy to use instruments, and a comfortable interior. It has all these functional design elements and many more. But if it’s a keeper, it’s also attractive. Quality cars, like quality homes, are designed to be both easy to operate and easy on the eyes. According to Al Bloom, president of Bloom and Fiorino, Inc., architects in Oak Brook, Ill., a home’s exterior design should reflect the floor plan, meaning the exterior shell should be designed to accommodate the floor plan and not the other way around. In addition, the interior and exterior need to be proportional to each other. What Bloom calls “articulation” is also important – the design elements, such as the entry, that cut in and extend out. A well-articulated exterior has interesting features that provide an appealing mix of light and shadow; prominence and recession. Examples of design articulations are bay windows; chimneys; cupolas; turrets; cantilevers that project out over the first and second floor; and roof dormers. These quality design ingredients provide focal points, but be prepared to pay more – they generally add to the price of a home. Porches have the look of quality, as do homes with raised foundations and stately front steps. Anything else that creates projections, such as columns, signals quality. A home with an exterior that is not well proportioned is out of scale. Most people would find it unappealing, although they wouldn’t know what was wrong with it. The shape of the roof – whether gabled, dormer, flat, or hip should be in proportion to the size of the structure that is underneath. Roofing materials also add to the quality of a home. Heavy asphalt or Fiberglas shingles are thicker and break the roof up into smaller patterns. As far as the interior goes… “There should be sense of comfort when you walk into the entry of a home,” Bloom said. “This usually means a high ceiling, two-stories and an appealing staircase. The great example is the circular stairway in Gone with the Wind where the Southern belles came floating down to meet their suitors.”iii A quality floor plan is both functional and flexible. The entry should provide immediate access to public areas, such as living rooms and dining rooms. Semipublic areas such as kitchens, breakfast rooms, dens, and family areas – are deeper into the home. Assuming there are no handicap issues, private first floor spaces, such as bedrooms, should be designed into secluded areas. According to Dan O’Malley, a partner with the architectural firm, BSB Design, Inc., headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, a well designed home has a good line of sight from the front door into the home. “We don’t like to put too many spaces into a home plan,” he said. “We call that over-programming – where there are too many compartments. It detracts from the livability of a home. Even first-time homebuyers recognize the discomfort of a plan that is too compartmentalized. They can see that it constricts social interaction.”iv Buyers should look for a mix of formal and informal spaces, such as a family center that includes a kitchen, breakfast area, and family room. These rooms usually connect and are open to each other. The family center should have access to outdoor space, whether it’s a backyard, patio, or deck. Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.5 On the other hand, living rooms, dining rooms, and dens are considered formal. Although they usually connect with each other, they usually don’t connect to the informal areas. O’Malley added that a quality interior home design should include aesthetic details, such as arches, furniture niches, alcoves, and plant shelves. “I’ve found that people care more almost as much about visual appeal as they do functionality,” he said. “My favorite detail is a little valet counter by the garage entry into the home where family members can set down keys, small packages and other things they don’t want to forget.” Interesting, easy to use staircases also signal design quality. Instead of long straight-run stairs, look for staircases with extra-deep landings that have features such as an appealing window pattern and/or a window seat. Quality Construction Materials and Techniques If you know quality, you’ll look at the car’s materials; aluminum engine, leather seats, triple-coated finish, etc. and you’ll also look at how the car is put together – is the gap around the hood uniform, are the doors solid, is everything on the undercarriage secure? None of these things will matter for the first few months, but shoddy materials and workmanship will reveal themselves a year or two down the road. It’s the same with new homes. When it comes to building materials, Bloom believes quality windows and doors are essential. “Windows and doors are basically holes in the building and have to be sealed properly,” he said. “Better quality windows are double or triple-paned and have low-e insulation.” While recognizable door and window brands are some indicator of quality, many experienced builders opt for less-expensive non-name brands that perform as well. A solid indicator of quality is the air infiltration rate – which buyers can ask their builders about. Jana Hester is the production manager for Wiseman-Hughes – a position that ensures quality control throughout the construction process. “I realized the importance of bringing uniformity to all of our job sites,” she explained. “The trade people that work with us know the quality we expect. Part of my job is to be sure that everyone follows through.”v As in most products and services, details are important. Even though you might not be able to determine quality techniques by looking at your home as it’s being built, the condition of the job site is an indicator of the builder’s care. “It’s important to see how the site is run,” Hester said. “Are the fixtures, such as bathtubs, protected; is it broom clean, is debris at a minimum? How do the lots look; are the dumpsters overflowing; how is the builder managing the job site?” Don Zierer, Wiseman-Hughes’ director of field operations, agrees. “There are basic nuances of quality,” he said. “A home and jobsite that is well- maintained and cleaned up, signals excellence. The amount of debris left around the Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.6 house tells you what the individual tradesmen believe is expected of them in the way of workmanship.”vi A good builder will meet with you at the site well before the home is finished. You should be able to inspect the structure before it is insulated and dry-walled, so that you can see structural elements before they are covered. These inspections can disclose an option that was missed or one that was put in by mistake. They also indicate the construction quality.” Zierer explained, “If you are walking through a home before it is drywalled, look for signs of recent water - a stress crack in the foundation wall or water dripping through and around flashings and plywood decks. A pool of water in the basement needs to be explained. “All of the sealants that stop drafts, fires and air infiltration should be there before the drywall and insulation are in, so check to be sure that there are sealants around all windows and doors. You shouldn’t be able to see any light coming in through wall surfaces or where walls join openings. In a nutshell, look for water and light.” While it may be difficult to inspect the lumber, “Grade 3” lumber is inferior and not acceptable for home construction. If you see any lumber stamped with this grade, point it out to the builder. Also, if you see a strip of bark on the lumber that is more than a quarter-inch wide, bring this up. Bark tends to degrade lumber. According to Chris Jennings, at Colorado State University’s Department of Forest, Range, and Watershed Stewardship, “In almost all cases, dimension lumber (lumber that is between two and five inches thick and at least two inches wide) requires a grade stamp when it is to be used in structural applications, as per building code requirements. Lumber sold in the open market will also typically require a grade stamp. In this case, the grade stamp serves as an assurance that the lumber meets the expectations the buyer would typically have of the material.”vii There should also be a minimum of nails and staples exposed. Expect an orientation walk-through well before closing. The builder’s representative should go over everything in the house and show you how everything works. The representative will work with a checklist and note anything that is out of place, from a scratch on a countertop to the wrong carpet color. Finally, your local building inspector is your friend. Most municipalities conduct a series of rigorous inspections on every new home before it’s completed. They include inspections of the: Soil; Foundation walls; Backfill – for damping-proofing; Sewer and water connections; Framing; Electrical, plumbing, and HVAC; Sheeting and insulation; Exterior shell; Health and safety issues involving staircases, hand railings, and smoke and CO2 detectors; and Entire premises before you take occupancy; Get the New Home You Pay For, 10/15/07, p.7 If you contact them, some municipalities will let you know how well your home performed on these inspections. Service, Service, Service and …Service If you are buying a new car, you expect the company to stand behind its products. This means that if you need to replace either a major engine component or an instrument knob in ten years, you can contact the company for the parts. If you builder has been in business for more than 10 years, excellent customer service is one of the main reasons. No builder can survive very long without a strong history of satisfied homeowners who continually refer new buyers. Just like the job site, the sales office should be well manicured and clean. Does it look professional or just one step above a small circus tent? Look at the displays – are they neat, dust-free, and without missing letters and numbers? Is the information you need readily available? Expect your salespeople to be both courteous and truly helpful. This means, expect straightforward answers to your questions, easy to understand explanations, and prompt resolution of any issues. If possible, talk to the community’s existing homeowners to see how satisfied they are with the builder’s follow-through. Putting it all Together The cost of most new cars is a fraction of the cost of a home. Even if the car fails to live up to your expectations, there’s not a lot of damage done. Buying a home, on the other hand, is a decision that can affect the rest of your life. Follow the advice of experts and do your homework. A reputable builder will appreciate your interest and input and consider you a partner in the homebuilding process. Good luck with your new home – although, if you’ve followed the advice here – you won’t need it. Sources i Interview with Nancy Johnson, Sept. 10, 2007. ii Holigan, Michael. Location & Lot Selection Checklist, http://www2.newhomesource.com/newhomeguide/articles.aspx?sid=8b4f6ab77bf8466b903f3480 9e8a43ab&article=holiganlotselectionlis iii Interview with Al Bloom, Sept. 11, 2007 iv Interview with Dan O’Malley, Sept. 13, 2007 v Interview with Jana Hester, Sept. 25, 2007 vi Interview with Don Zierer, Sept. 26, 2007. vii Jennings, Chris. Overview of Lumber Grades and Building Codes colostate.edu/programs/.../Articles/Lumber grades building codes2.pdf
"Wiseman-Hughes Magazine Article"