My Toll Experience

How To Protect Yourself

If you want to avoid ending up in a situation like mine, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself, no matter who the builder is.  I provide these courtesy of two attorneys who have themselves ended up with shoddy Toll Brothers homes.

Do your homework.  Research the builder out the wazoo

Read everything you can find about the builder on the internet, especially those articles that deal with customer complaints or litigation.   Search by builder name.  Use a search string that is expansive enough to find as much information as possible, e.g., “Jones Brothers complaints” or “Smith Builders lawsuits.”

Search the web for websites dedicated specifically to problems with builders, such as www.hadd.com.  (This stands for “Homeowners against Deficient Dwellings.”)  See how many complaints have been lodged against the builder from whom you are considering making a purchase.   If contact information is available for the homeowners who have registered complaints, contact them to determine whether their problems were ever addressed.  Other websites that may help are www.hobb.org, www.yelp.org, www.consumerist.com, www.consumercomplaintagency.com, www.my3cents.com, http://www.topix.com/forum/com/tol/TCEEUR8Q6VP3C6Q0R, http://www.ripoffreport.com/, http://www.consumeraffairs.com/housing/toll-brothers.html, and www.complaintsboard.com.  (If anyone reading this knows of others, please email them to me at Ellen.nevins@yahoo.com and I will add them to the list.)

Talk to homeowners who are already living in homes that were built by the builder in question.  Drive around and knock on their doors if you have to.  Or get the homeowners’ names and addresses from their tax records (or even their mailboxes) and then get their telephone numbers from www.whitepages.com, www.anywho.com, or www.Intelius.com

Ask them what their experience with the builder was like, and how satisfied they are with the final product.  Is the house well-constructed?  What problems have they had?  What kinds of problems have their neighbors had?  How responsive was the builder to resolving these problems?  Also, find out how long the owner has lived in the house, because some of the more serious structural problems may not manifest themselves for several years.  In my case, the basement walls did not start cracking and leaking until I had been in the house for nearly six years, and the upstairs walls did not start splitting apart until I had been in the house for seven years.

Contact your state department of consumer affairs and request copies of all complaints that have been lodged against the builder.  You are entitled to this under the Freedom of Information Act.  You can find the contact information for your state consumer protection agency at www.usa.gov/directory/stateconsumer/index.shtml

Contact your state attorney general to find out what actions, if any, have been taken against the builder by state authorities.  You can find the contact information for your state attorney general at www.naag.org.

Contact your state and local Better Business Bureaus to find out how many complaints have been lodged against the builder.  You can find the contact information for your state and local branches at www.bbb.org.

Contact your county courthouse for information about lawsuits that have been filed against the builder within your county and state.  Many states have websites that enable you to search for lawsuits by plaintiff or defendant.  Find out if such a website is available in your area, and if it is, search it to see how many lawsuits have been brought against the builder and how these have been resolved.  If no such website is available, contact the clerk at your county courthouse and ask him or her to search the court calendar for you.  This is how I first learned of the many lawsuits that have been brought against Toll Brothers right here in New Jersey.  Had I seen this sooner, I never would have bought a house from them.

Ensure that the Terms of the Contract are Complete, Clear, Valid, and Fair:

Do not sign any contract that is not 100% complete at the time of signing, i.e., do not sign any contract to which any documents or attachments can be added at a later date.  If you do, you will have no control over what is added, yet you may still be held liable for it. 

Do not sign any contract until you have had it thoroughly reviewed by a competent attorney and are absolutely sure that you clearly understand, and agree to abide by, every word of it.   If the language is vague or confusing, be suspicious as to WHY it is vague or confusing.  What adverse terms is the creator of the contract trying to bury, in the confusing language? 

Do not give in to pressure tactics by sales people who want you to sign a contract on the spot, without attorney review.  These sales people are not the slightest bit interested in protecting your rights; they are interested only in making a buck.

Do not sign any contract that does not allow you to negotiate any of the terms.  Any builder who intends to treat you fairly will negotiate. 

Do not sign any contract that forces you into arbitration as a means of resolving disputes – YOU WILL LOSE.  Statistics have shown that big companies almost always win arbitrated disputes.  In addition, you cannot be sure that the arbitrators are truly impartial.  Do not sign away your right to litigate.  Most states allow you to litigate or arbitrate; do not sign any contract that forces you to give up a state-given right!  Besides, even if you win, the builder may refuse to pay you, as Toll has done at least once, with a potential homebuyer in West Chester, PA.  (The buyer's attorney has since advised me that Toll DID finally pay his client.)  

Do not sign any contract that forces you to forfeit your deposit if you do not obtain the financing you need to go through with the purchase.  Ensure that your contract clearly states that your deposit will be refunded in a timely manner, e.g., within 30 says, if for any reason you fail to obtain financing. 

Do not believe a sales person’s promise that you will qualify for a mortgage with Toll’s in-house mortgage branch.  Toll’s sales people have made this promise to many would-be homebuyers across the country, only to have Toll deny the mortgage and refuse to refund the deposit.  To date, they have refused to return more than $123,000,000 in deposits.

Do not sign any contract that gives the builder the right to come after you for the full amount of the down payment or, worse yet, the full purchase price of the house, if you are unable to go through with the purchase for any valid reason. 

When signing a contract, sign your name vertically in the center of the left-hand margin of every page in the contract, using blue ink.  This will enable you to detect forgeries, and will also ensure that no pages are added to the contract after you sign it.

Ask the Following Questions.  GET THE ANSWERS IN WRITING, and include them in the contract so they are binding.

What are the provisions of the warranty offered by the builder?  Get a copy of the warranty, read it thoroughly, and ensure that the terms are acceptable to you.  (Be aware that most warranties are very weak and afford you little actual protection.  If the builder with whom you are dealing is not honest, essentially you will have no recourse.) 

Get a guarantee in writing from the builder that he or she will honor the warrantee to the letter.  If any actions you may take with regard to the house after closing may invalidate any of the provisions of the warranty, find out exactly what these actions are, and get this in writing.  Determine exactly what changes you can make that will not invalidate the warranty, and get this in writing.  For example, if you put in a swimming pool before the builder has resolved any grading problems anywhere on the property, will this invalidate your right to have the builder resolve grading problems on the entire property, even those areas that are several hundred feet from the pool and were not disturbed in any way by the addition of the pool?

Within what time frame will the builder honor the warranty?  Get this in writing.  To ensure that the builder honors this commitment, include a provision that imposes financial penalties upon the builder if this provision is not met.

Who will actually build your house?  Will it be built by the same people who built the model, or by a different crew?  What are the specific qualifications of the people who will be building your house? 

What building code will be in effect?  Get a copy of it, and read it.  If your local library doesn’t have a copy, you can order a copy online for about $60.

What steps will the builder take to ensure quality?  What quality inspections will be made during the construction?  How often will they be made? By whom?  Will the results of these quality inspections be documented?  In what form?  Will these results be made available to you?  If not, why not?

Will accurate, site-specific plans be used for the house, or will generic plans be used?  (This says something about the builder’s tendency to cut corners.  If he is not using plans drawn up specifically for your house, on your lot, you are asking for problems by going ahead with the purchase.)

What are the specific tolerances for deviations from the plans?  What are the tolerances for deviations in room sizes?  Will the price of the house be adjusted accordingly, if the sizes of the rooms are significantly smaller than those shown on the plans? 

If options are selected that increase the size of the house, will the HVAC be adjusted accordingly?

Will the builder guarantee that the house will satisfy all code requirements, i.e., will the walls be the correct depth and appropriately reinforced, and the support beams set correctly?  If any code violations are found, does the builder agree to remediate these code violations at his / her own expense, and also to pay any incidental expenses that you may incur as a result, such as living expenses while the repairs are being made?

Is there a dollar amount on the warranty work that the builder will agree to do?  If the warrantee work exceeds a certain percentage of the purchase price, will the builder agree to buy back the house for the full purchase price, and also to pay interest from the date of closing?  What is that percentage? 

Is the builder willing to escrow a portion of the purchase price until such time as all warranty work has been completed and all code requirements fully met?  If not, why not?

Other Steps to Take:

Bring in a structural engineer of your own to check out the construction at each stage, to be sure that all codes are being met and that the quality is as it should be.  Yes, this will cost you several thousand dollars up front, but it can save you many thousands of dollars in legal fees and a great deal of aggravation later on.  If the builder will not allow this, do not buy the house.  All reputable builders will welcome inspection by a structural engineer, as these builders have nothing to hide.

Script embedded in HTML

Website Builder