real estate

Home builder must pay for contract 'typo'

Steve McLindenQuestionDear Real Estate Adviser,
We signed with a large builder to construct a home in central Florida that's worth more than $500,000. In our contract -- in the section where the exterior features are noted -- it clearly states we get a clay tile roof. When we asked the builder if we had a choice of roof color, he said the tile roof entry was a "typo" and that his company is only putting shingle roofs in our development (even though a model home nearby has tile).

Should we just let it go to avoid a war with the builder, who we fear may retaliate by delaying or screwing up the project?
-- Mike R.

AnswerDear Mike,
It's pretty clear the builder is contractually obliged to put a tile roof on your new home. As for the typo, I'm tempted to advise you to say your $500,000 purchase price was also a "typo" and that you only pay $450,000 in developments that are sans tile roofs. We can fantasize about that at least, can't we?

You are entitled to that roof because it was used as a selling point in your home purchase decision, barring a homeowner's association rule stating all roofs in your development must match.

First, you should find out why tile roofs are not being installed in your new subdivision. If it's because the underlying roofs there can't endure the extra weight, that's a pretty good reason. However, the minor reinforcement needed to accommodate that weight shouldn't be a huge engineering challenge, especially when a house is being built.

I suspect the no-tile dictum was issued because tile is significantly more expensive than shingles and the builder is trying to cut costs to adjust to today's pricing realities. Just a theory, mind you.

At the very least, you are owed a credit for the price difference between the two roofs, as asphalt-shingle roofs are much cheaper than clay-tile roofs.

Moreover, tiles roofs are cooler, so it's within your rights to ask for more insulation to mitigate the anticipated power-usage difference, should you end up settling for the cheaper shingles.

However, if you do go the tile route, realize that neither you, nor any contractors, nor that frisbee-flipping neighbor kid will be able to get up on the roof and do the cock-a-doodle-doo dance like they could on shingles, at least not without jeopardizing some tiles. Also, hail and falling tree limbs tend to do more damage to clay tiles than shingles.

I understand your concern about retaliation, but it's not the kind of thing most building companies or their contractors would practice if they hoped to stay in business for long. Buyers have been "beating up" builders in price and materials negotiations for quite a while now. As a result, it is practically unheard of that builders would screw up a job intentionally. As for unintentionally -- well, that's another story.

Regardless, it's always a good idea to stay in constant communication with the builder once construction commences in your house. Try to stop by the construction site whenever possible to make sure everything is being done according to your agreement. Mistakes are much easier to fix in the early stages.

Good luck! Here's hoping your renegotiations go as smooth as tile.

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