DeNova: Service Request

tomhanksIt’s been just over a week we have owned our home and the disappointment and frustration continue. There have been many supporting our stance on social media, but some have questioned why we went through with the close of escrow if noted problems were not addressed. Arguments can be made on both sides, but I went on a recommendation and we decided to get into our new home and use DeNova Home’s service request to rectify our outstanding issues.

Earlier this week I sent an email to DeNova Homes to address outstanding issues with our new Aspen home. It read:

DeNova Homes,

Disappointed doesn’t begin to describe the feelings we have towards to craftsmanship and finishing on our new Aspen home. Not only did we have one, but two inspections with Kevin, which seems to only have scratched the surface of the problems we have encountered the first 7 days in our new home. Much of the blue tape place was removed after our walk through, but the problems remained, with my wife finding balled up blue tape in cabinets and doors after we moved in.
As I mentioned in my previous e-mail and noted mentioned to Kelly and Wendy, prior to closing, the e-stone in the master bathroom is unacceptable! I understand we had the opportunity to over pay for tile in this area, unfortunately when we were dealing with the sales office, we never saw a standard bathroom in any of the models before we made our decision to buy. If we knew the e-stone would overhang the actual bathtub, not be cut straight and have poor caulking, rest assured I would have spent money to have tile put in. One of the e-stone walls had a chip in it during our first walk through, which was noted during the inspection with Kevin. The following walk through it appeared as if the enter wall was cut and shortened to remove that chip and now it does not match the other two walls.
It also appears as the house was never cleaned before we took ownership, if it was, then my 10 year could have done a better job cleaning the house. Dirt, dust, sawdust and many nails, screws and razor blades have been found in MANY parts of the yard and home.
The following is the first list of items we have seen in just 7 days in our new DeNova Homes. Hopefully they are all corrected to our satisfaction, because right now I am having buyer’s remorse having spent nearly $500,000 on a new home. Attached is a zip file detailing each item listed below by number.
Attached to this email was a list of 37 items we noted as “outstanding” many of which were issues BEFORE we closed and were promised they would be fixed based on inspection worksheet signed by the warranty manager. To highlight these items I sent them 37 images to go along with each problem. The response to our service request was a bit disheartening:

Good Afternoon Steven,

We are currently reviewing your recent email as well as the attached pictures. I will get back to you once I’ve had a chance to discuss these issues with my management team.

In the meantime, I would like to schedule my detailer Carlos for this Wednesday between the hours of 7:30 and 3:30 to complete all paint touch ups as well as multiple miscellaneous items.

Please let me know if he will have access.

As mentioned in my previous post, Carlos arrived early on last Wednesday. Escorted by my wife, they walked the home and pointed out items we feel should have been caught, if not corrected before close of escrow on March 17. Gone was the blue tape, replaced by green tape to denote areas that need attention. Needless to say there was quite a few pieces scattered through the house. Carlos agreed the paint was unacceptable, many walls, doors and trim either lacking a second coat of paint, but many runs and drips, as if the paint subcontractor didn’t care. Chances are they didn’t, guess I need to remember that.

Unfortunately due to the fact we had moved in a few days prior, Carlos couldn’t successfully accomplish the repair. He spoke to the warranty manager and explained the shortcomings and problems that existed. It was agreed he would come back with a crew to repair the outstanding issues before the 30 day period is over.

There has still been no further discussion on our master bathtub of the newel post at the top of the stairs. I am guessing DeNova Homes will try to slide it through as “standard” and “acceptable”, yet I feel they are making no headway if these major items continue to go unaddressed. I will give Carlos a chance to clean up a majority of the issues we reported last week. My wife will be the determining factor if the work is done to her satisfaction. Yet, if items on our list continue to fall by the wayside as we draw closer to our 30 day warranty, we will be forced to escalate our problems.

Second Time’s a Charm

In a manner of speaking, the second walk through of our new DeNova Homes, should have been finished to this level of quality. If it were, chances are there would have been few complaints on our part and no phone calls to directors and people above those we have had to deal with. That still does not take away from the fact the master bathroom is unacceptable. The level of craftsmanship is no better than poor I would like to think that anyone who didn’t upgrade their master bathroom to tile would stick to their guns like we have in hopes of resolving this problem.

As we did a few days ago, we met Kevin, the Warranty Manager at our new home at Emerson Ranch, in Oakley. As an aside, I still won’t recommend anyone to purchase a home from this at this point until I see them follow through with our home, which might possible change my opinion of them. But currently, they really don’t rank much higher than KB Homes and the snafu we have had with broken pipes in the last two homes we have owned in Oakley.

With Kevin in tow, we began walking the home again, it was amazing to see many of the original issues dealt with. You could tell new paint had been laid, as we walked up our “upgraded” front door was being painted. I really only had two issues, both of which I considered major in nature and I knew neither had been taken care of correctly. The only way the master bathroom becomes satisfactory is to tile the walls, anything less, at this point is unacceptable.

The newel post at the top of the stairs had been worked on again, but the post is still not straight some more bondo and another coat of paint. Maybe, as our realtor said a few days ago, if we would have see it we would have been okay with it. But knowing what it looked like originally and the work they have done, a new post is the only way I will be happy with the banister. Maybe that makes me an asshole for not giving in on these two items alone, but with the price we are spending and the quality of the house, things need to be up to a standard before the house is presented to us, the buyer. It wasn’t, so we got out the fine toothed comb and went through the remainder of the house nothing every little discrepancy. Why not?

While there were still many imperfections, mostly in the paint my wife was more pleased today than she was two days ago. Still Kevin was madly taking notes of items to pass along that required attention. The list was nowhere near as long, but still some items were left outstanding that my wife and I agreed upon needed attention. When you start throwing around not closing and withholding funds, along with phone calls to the higher level people at DeNova shit started to get done. But did it ever need to come to this?

I am very thankful we retained a realtor through this entire process, with John Canning of Canning Dream Homes, I am not sure we would have been as tenacious as he was. He wanted to make things right and in my opinion has gone above an beyond as our realtor to get us what we want and more importantly to see us happy in our new “dream home.” We had a good realtor when we purchased our first home, but this time around I believe we have gained a friend based solely on John’s dedication to make things right.

As the walk through continued my wife pointed out areas that were still unacceptable, meaning someone pulled the blue paint tape and never fix that item, as there were quite a few of those. I am thankful I took pictures of all the tape, as I was walking room to room, mobile phone in hand comparing the picture to the home. While I won’t say I was 100% pleased, the finishing was an improvement. If and when we close, there will still be walls to touch up with paint or even window sills that went unpainted, believe it or not. How this gets past quality control is beyond me.

There is still a considerable amount of work to be done IF we plan on closing escrow on Friday and picking up keys to our new home. Even after that, we will still have 90 days to report items that don’t meet our standards and we will be dealing with Kevin again to make it right. With any luck we will be moved in by the middle of next week and will start tagging items on that warranty list.

DeNova Do Over

IMG_0901Is there such thing as a “do over” when it comes to new home buying? Right about now, I wish there was. Unfortunately, we are at a point in the negotiations, where we would end up surrendering all of our deposit as it is “non-refundable.” We knew this going in but little did we know we would face such a challenge when it comes to the finishing touch on our new home.

Built by DeNova Homes out of Concord, I was highly impressed initially with the homes they offered. That’s the problem when you walk the model homes, you are struck by the quality and “upgrades”, which come at a premium price. You don’t get to see a bare bones home with little to no upgrades and that is where the problems began.

Kelly and Wendy have been very pleasant to work with through the process to date. There have a been a few items that we were told our house would come with, only to find out that wasn’t included. Still, we were able to call them, ask questions and see our home through the later stages of construction. We entered into negotiations and the home was complete minus the flooring and counter tops, so we had already past many of the inspections we have signed off on.

IMG_0880Looking back, the design center visit was a fiasco! We were allotted an amount of money by the developers to purchase this home, some of which would go towards closing costs and the remainder to be used on those “upgrades” that made the model homes look, something special. We spent the money accordingly on tile flooring downstairs, leaving just the Great Room as the only carpeted area. The carpet through out the house was upgrade, as the standard carpet looked and felt very cheap. What impressed me while walking the models was the full back splash in the kitchen, this is something I wanted, but could have purchased and had it install after we bought the house for a fraction of the cost. The remainder of the money went towards window treatments on all but 3 windows.

When it was all said and done, we felt good about our selections and went a few thousand over what we were allowed to spend, this came directly out of our (well my wife’s pocket). That left us with the bathrooms being finished in something called “engineered stone” or “e-stone.” Engineered stone is a composite material made of crushed stone bound together by an adhesive, (most commonly polymer resin, with some newer versions using cement mix).

IMG_0734That is where the problem began, touring the models all of the master bathroom used upgrade tiles in the tub area. We never got to see a “standard”, as DeNova Homes call it, bathroom. Let me say I was in shock when I saw the lack of craftsmanship. I doubt anyone would accept the quality of work the developer was trying to pass on. The cuts were uneven, seams in highly visible areas and the e-stone hung out over the tub by at least a quarter of an inch. On all account UNACCEPTABLE! How did this pass quality control?

This was communicated early on and has been the top of the list to be repaired. When my wife marked a chip in the e-stone during our walk through last week, we were curious as to how the chip would be removed. The developers end up cutting off the bottom of the overhanging e-stone, so now it does not match the other two walls in the tub area. Again, unacceptable! In fact it was made worse.

IMG_0861The newel post at the top of the stairwell was hit and cracked, not completely off but it was another area of concern before we walked through. The construction superintendent said we would never know it was there. His would could be no further from the truth, as we were looking for the repair and it’s terrible! It appears they filled the area, sanded it and repainted it. The post line isn’t even straight now.

IMG_0878I can go on and on when it comes to small items, many my wife pointed out to the warranty manager during our walk though. Many answers we continued to get from the warranty manager usually included the word “aesthetics.” Using blue painters tape my wife pointed out flaw after flaw in every room and hallway. Needless to say the newel post and the bathroom were major flaws, marked but not much was said by the warranty manager.

IMG_0834The finishing coat of paint had runs on the walls, door frames and baseboard, that is if it had a finishing coat. It appeared as if some of the trim work had only a single coat of paint or in a few cases no paint at all! Walls with very thin coat of paint, missing paint and fish eyes in the paint caused more blue tape to be stuck. How this house passed any sort of quality control inspection is beyond me. It’s been very frustrating dealing with the developer and not getting anywhere. To no one’s surprise you can walk the models and all these “aesthetics” were not an issue.

Now that we are a day from the close of escrow it will be curious to see what direction the developer takes. Right now I intended on having the escrow company withhold the transfer of the money unless our problems are fixed. There’s no way around not accomplishing the work. The developer has been made aware of this as well, so the ball is in their court, we will see if they want to play.

Mortgage Bound

sienna_frontWe never intended to settle into a new home when we began our house hunting adventures. After contacting John at Canning Dream Homes, I developed a rather short list of homes to tour. I can’t say they were overly impressive as the stock in Oakley was quite limited because of many ‘Pending’ offers. After our first purchase back in 2004, I would like to think we have learned a few things about the home buying process. which would not lead us down that same disastrous road we traveled when we purchased the first time. From the enter buying process to the interest free loan for the first 12 months to two bad refinances and a shitload of debt, it was amazing we survived as long as we did in our first house.

While the end result caused stress and frustration, we entered the home buying process in a much better position than in 2004. After touring 6 homes it became apparent, “our house” wasn’t “in the middle of the street” (Madness reset) or to be found in Oakley, based on what we wanted in a house. It was somewhat frustrating, as we were growing out of the renting experience and needed to reestablish ourselves in a place to call our own.

John was wonderful enough to take my wife out to a new housing development in Oakley called Emerson Ranch built by DeNova Homes. While I didn’t accompany them on the first trip to Emerson Ranch I stopped by after my wife raved about the model they were looking at. Of course, models being models are staged with great looking furnishings and have MANY upgrades added to the base home.

For a few days I felt we were rushing into a new home before seriously considering other options. Both options had good and bad associated with them. One night, while lying in bed I decided to look out towards Valley Springs and was shocked at what we could buy for $350,000 to $375,000. One of my main concerns was property size. I wanted a minimum of 3 acres, something I was not going to find in Oakley. Valley Springs was amazing. The prices fell within our range and many of the homes we looked at on met many of our requirements we were looking. I even found a 2500 sq. ft. home with 40 acres! Not only could I run ultras on my property, we could camp and fish in the Calaveras River, which ran through land!

Yet until the size strapped lots in Oakley, the commute and schools in Valley Springs became an issue. With a single high school and only a handful of elementary and junior high school, commuting our son to school would not be as simple as a 2 minute ride down to the corner to drop him off. Living in the foothills of the Sierras would also turn my 45 minute commute into a 2:15 commute. One way! So was buying out in Valley Spring realistic? Probably not, but I would make the sacrifice and commute if it allowed us a place to buy.

Back in Oakley, my wife and I were getting excited as we talked to our realtor, as well as Kelly and Wendy at DeNova Homes. The homes weren’t moving as fast as they had expected and there were some good upgrades and credits being offered to entice people into buying. After visiting the development a second time and walking through a few of the “Move-In Ready” homes, as well as the model, we decided to put down a soft deposit in order to hold the house. It was their only single story floor plan (Amber), which was a few hundred square feet smaller than the rental we are in. Even worse, the footprint of the slab, left very little room in the backyard to house some sort of kennel for my wife’s breeding hobby (Bengal cats).

After spending a few days reading the 3 inch binder full of fine print, rules, regulations and more stuff that I probably didn’t care about. A day later my wife, with John in tow were back at Emerson Ranch and I received a phone call about purchasing a bigger home, which was the next floor plan up, called the Sienna. This home made a bit more sense. It provided us with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a California Room, something as a Californian since 1971 I had never heard of, as well as a fireplace in about 2300 square feet.

Not having walked the larger models I was taken back by the size of this home, it was rather well laid out, seemed to have a good flow and energy through out. The kitchen was amazing. I can’t believe the amount of storage space with dual pantries and about 30′ of counter space! I could have people in the kitchen and still be able to cook comfortably! This house was about $30,000 more, but broken down into mortgage terms that came out to about $210 a month. Then I remember the wise words of my friend Brian N, as well as our realtor, “happy wife, happy life.” I know she would love this home, as would I, so we moved our deposit to the larger floor plan and started the paperwork.

One of my requirements for a home was a 3-car garage and I missed the next floor plan up, the Emberglow had just that. I got very excited, especially since the price of this home was JUST another $10,000 (or $70/month on my mortgage). I drive out to Emerson Ranch and walked the floor plan. My main concern, the garage, which was actually a 2-car garage with a tandem garage extending one side. It worked for me, but the downstairs floor plan was terrible. The ‘Great Room’ wasn’t so great and seemed to run into the kitchen, which now included a nook. It just didn’t flow well and I knew it the moment I walked it. The master bathroom, which it offered more closet space, was smaller than the previous model, but the upstairs did have a loft, which overlooked the entry way. At over 2600 square feet, it was too much house, even though the garage was nice.

Now that paperwork has been started we are probably 4-6 weeks away from closing on our new home. Still very hard to believe we are going through the new home buying process. Unlike our previous home, where we were carrying quite a bit of debt, this time we are debt free, earn more money and the entire situation feels right.

Time To Buy?

aspenIt’s been a little over 3 years since Venus Jackson-Kennedy and Bank of America took our house and sold it at auction inside of 30 days after the foreclosure. It was amazing to see just how quickly things moved. Worse part, the house was sold at maybe 50% of what we purchased it at back in 2004. The lack of communication, the shady, underhand and behind closed door deals didn’t provide of much chance in keeping our home. It got to the point losing it would actually be a winning proposition, but now how it played out. If it were under our conditions, things would have been more beneficial, but looking back I chalk this up as a learning experience.

Many things have changed since that fateful day in November I found out we were losing our home. Needless to say, my wife was livid, as was I. All the communication with B of A and filling out of paperwork was for not, as I was continually told I “made too much money” in regards to refinancing or restructuring our loans. It didn’t help that was was underwater with two car payments and three credits, all of which carried balances at their limits. To say I have learned something is an understatement as I continue to work towards improving my credit score. It will still be another 4 years before the foreclosure is completely off my record.

Just this year I finally reapplied for two lines of credit; Victoria’s Secret and this past November for Amazon. Until this point, I decided to hold off on any credit cards, as if I didn’t have the money to buy something, I didn’t need it. I was surprised with VS approved me for a $500 limit. This was the first step to reestablish my credit. I also paid off my 2007 Ford Ranger, which put more money in our bank. In February my MIL was kind enough to co-sign so we could get out of our Hyundai Genesis Coupe and into a more family friendly Kia Optima. By her co-siging, the monthly payments dropped approximately $200 in monthly payments! Early in 2015 I applied for an Amazon card and was denied, this past November, I opened a small line of credit. Both of these will help me build a strong credit history moving forward.

With the help of my wife’s friend, we got in contact with a local lender and filed paperwork to see what we could pre-approve at for a new home loan. Until now, my wife and I had just talked about moving and hadn’t really moved on anything. We would look at Redfin and Realtor, but didn’t really consider anything a reality. I renewed our 2 year rental contract with Waypoint Homes in 2014 knowing it would cost me a month’s rent to get our of it.

I was excited to hear our pre-approval came through, higher than what I anticipated it would be at and this began the house hunting. Knowing now, what we didn’t know in 2004 we made of list of items we wanted our new home to have:

  • 2000 sq. feet
  • .25 acres or more
  • 3-4 bedrooms
  • 2+ bathrooms
  • big kitchen
  • built within the last 5-7 years
  • 3-car garage
  • ranch style (no second floor)

With some basic information gathered we started looking in Oakley for potential sites. Unfortunately, as my wife can attest to, we ran into MANY homes that looked to be a good fit, but they were ‘pending’ leaving up to continue to look. I expanded our search to Brentwood, but I found out their prices were usually about $100,000 higher than Oakley. So while I didn’t rule this area out, I was hoping something would be found.

Early in December I contacted a real estate agent, who is local to the area and surprisingly enough gives a portion of his commission to a school of our choice. Thought was awesome, he would donate some money to Vintage Parkway. I had also spoke to him a few years earlier, as he was walking the neighborhood handing flyers out, we spoke about about 30 minutes and explained my situation, the loss of our first house and being in a rental until we were ready to buy again. So we took him on as our agent….to date.

During our search and somewhat on a whim, I added Valley Springs to our search area. If you don’t know where Valley Springs is about 40 miles northeast of Stockton, as you near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. This would have resulted in a commute of about 2:15 for me. ONE WAY! But I would have been more than willing to drive it. The best part of searching out here was to see just how far our money would go. I found one property that had a 2000 sq. foot home with 40 acres! Amazing! I could run, camp and fish in my backyard! After discussing our options, my wife and I decided we wanted to stay local in Oakley, but living in Valley Springs after Zachary is out of school would be possible.

With the realtor we went and toured about 6 or so homes. I can’t say I was too impressed with what Oakley had to offer. There was one that had distinct possibility, it was built as a split level with a crawlspace, something you don’t see in California often. The property had a nice large backyard, unfortunately it needed a new roof. Not an investment I wanted to get involved with in a new home. Just days after looking at this home it went pending. The other two homes we saw required A LOT of work, neither were “move in ready” and with what little time I had, I knew none of these homes would work for us.

On a recommendation by the realtor, we visited a new housing developments in Oakley called Emerson Ranch. Located about 2 miles away from our current home, this is a all new development that currently has two builders, but not many moving in. I can’t compare looking at a new, staged home and a previously lived in home. The model looked amazing, but that is the point in order to drive prospective buyers. I do believe my wife and I were both sucked in to the possibilities of owning a new home!

Unfortunately this new home was pricier than any other home we had looked at to date. The other drawback, the lot size, 52’x100′, pretty much you typical “postage stamp” lot, neighbors within spitting distance. I never have been fond of these sort of developments, but the house did offer some of the aspects we were looking for in a house. Can we overlook the areas in which the house is lacking, while spending a bit more than we anticipated? We will see.

The home, built be DeNova Homes, who’s reputation as “one of the Bay Area’s most respected builders traces back to the company’s commitment to quality and integrity.”Surely they must have a better reputation than KB Homes, who I refuse to buy from after all sorts of plumbing issues in the first house we purchased. We were both impressed by the styling of home, obviously taken to the next level by the interior design and staging, as well as countless “upgrades” in the models we visited.

Along with the realtor, we were able to visit two other similar floorplans that were in different stages of construction. The second home lacked some of the upgrades, most notably, the California Room (read covered patio) and the fireplace with built in cabinetry. So it would stand to reason this home was about $20,000 cheaper than the final home we looked at, which included the aforementioned upgrades.

We decided NOT to rush into the purchase of any home, new or otherwise but felt time wasn’t on our side as the developer was looking to “make a deal” with an incentive based purchase. After discussing between ourselves and realtor, we decided to put a deposit, to confirm a “soft hold” on the final model we walked through. We meet on Sunday and decide if we will move forward to pull our deposit and continue looking. Chances are if we pass this new home up, these new homes will only be priced higher, possibly out of what we are willing to pay to get our of rental and into “our” home.

There have been a few new home show up on my search list in Oakley, shared them with my wife, but after seeing a new home, it’s very hard to take two steps back and make the decision to purchase a pre-owned home. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I can only surmise that, if we had not visited Emerson Ranch, we will be a bit more excited about seeing these new listing pop up.