Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Help Me Howard: No Home Built
With the housing market down, it's easy to forget that many people purchased pre-construction homes during the boom, some of which have still yet to be built. One couple says their dream home is nothing more than a pile of dirt, and they want their deposit back, but can they get it? Here's Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Valois Nunez: "It was a quiet, clean, organized neighborhood and very nice, so we liked it."
It's a nice walk through a peaceful neighborhood, till you get here.
Claudia Zapata: "It's frustrating because we've been waiting. This is our dream."
Welcome to what should have been Claudia and Valois' Home, now disguised as an empty, dirt-filled lot.
Valois Nunez: "Nothing, no results. You see the land."
Claudia Zapata: "There's nothing, not even a foundation is put on."
In January 2005, the couple put down a $15,000 deposit on a $280,000 home.
Valois Nunez: "We just wanted a bigger place for our kids and my wife and all that."
Then, they waited.
Claudia Zapata: "The contract says the house was supposed to be built in two years."
Valois Nunez: "Two years."
You don't need a degree in math to figure out a house should be sitting on this lot by now.
Claudia Zapata: "It's been three years waiting, and we haven't had any results."
A few months ago, Claudia sent the builder a letter asking for her $15,000 deposit back.
Claudia Zapata: "It's $15,000 that I would have been able to put that money away in a bank and be able to earn interest and nothing."
They did get a letter from the builder defending his failure to build within two years, adding that the contract was still binding and "fully enforceable."
Valois Nunez: "The excuse they put is hurricanes, more excuses, the hurricanes and weather problems."
Claudia Zapata: "And the permits, they say they haven't been able to get the permits for the site."
The problem with that? The rest of the homes in the neighborhood were built.
Claudia Zapata: "That's why we don't understand why if they've built that house, and they built this house, and the one in the middle is just an empty lot."
Claudia laughs, but there is nothing funny about your deposit tied up in a pile of dirt that should have produced your family's dream home, so the couple's request is concrete and simple.
Claudia Zapata: "I just want the down payment I gave them back, and that's it."
But if the builder is right, the contract is still binding, which is why Claudia and Valois called that lawyer named Howard, Mr. Finkelstein.
Howard Finkelstein: "The contract is not binding on the buyer because, under federal law, the house has to be finished within two years unless the builder puts exceptions in to give himself more time, but, in this case, the exceptions violated Florida law because they went too far. As a result, legally, the builder has to return Claudia's deposit."
When we called the builder, he told us the house would have been built by now if he had assurance Claudia would close, that in this market a lot of people aren't closing. He added, "We've been victimized too and suffered delays out of our control." We reiterated the couple was legally entitled to their deposit and wanted it back. He then said, if that's what they want, they we will return their deposit.
The law is on Claudia's side, but not everyone who paid for a pre-construction home.
Howard Finkelstein: "We are getting a lot of e-mails like this. With house prices sinking, the house is not worth the price the buyer agreed to pay, and they want out of the contract or the price lowered. In these cases, the buyers agreed to the price, and they have to pay."
Like many prospective buyers right now, Claudia and Valois may just sit, wait and watch the market bottom out before jumping in again.
Claudia Zapata: "I only owe $15,000 on my townhouse. I'll pay my townhouse, and I'll free the mortgage and wait to get another house."
Patrick Fraser: "A lot of people end up walking away from a deposit that they could have gotten back. Before you give up your deposit, talk to a real estate attorney and, as a matter of fact, talk to them before you sign the deal. They can understand all that legal gobbledygook that is put in their by other lawyers to confuse everyone."
A busted dream about to leave you dirt poor? Need to build up your lot in your life? Contact us, we'll construct a legal solution, and it won't take two years.
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