My Toll Experience

Warranty Work

I first submitted my punch list to Toll in May 1998 by handing it personally to the Site Manager.  I submitted it several more times over the next few months, sometimes in person, and sometimes by mailing it to Toll headquarters, but heard nothing in response.  I called the construction trailer a number of times, and sent several letters to Toll headquarters to find out when the punch list items would be addressed, but got still no response.  Even the subcontractors who had worked on the house ignored us.  When I called the plumber about the downstairs toilet, which has never worked correctly, I could not even get him to return phone calls – and I left a dozen messages requesting that he do so.  The final time I called, I left a message stating that the courtesy of a reply would be appreciated.  None was ever forthcoming. 

My father died on May 30, 1999.  I had heard nothing from Toll regarding the punch list items during the entire time he had been living with me.  Three weeks after he died, I got a call from a Toll employee telling me that the warranty work was scheduled to begin the following week.  I explained that my father had just died, and asked if we could reschedule for a month or two later.  The woman told me very honestly that she could not make any guarantees about when she would be able to get the repair crew back, so I told her to go ahead as scheduled.  Fortunately, I was working at home at that time, so I could accommodate the punch list crew.  Otherwise, I do not know how the work could ever have been done.

The repair crew showed up, and made a bad situation worse.  They were nice young men, but only one had any construction experience to speak of, and they had no supervision while they were at my house.  The so-called “manager” would deliver the crew in the morning, and then leave.  So even when my house was being repaired, it did not get the supervision it should have gotten.

Two of the punch list crew had prison records at that time.  (They themselves told me this.)  Two more have since spent time in jail.  Two have since acknowledged that they all were doing drugs on a regular basis during the entire period they were doing punch list work for Toll.  One was seriously intellectually challenged.  These are the people Toll brings in to work on their “quality” houses.  Why?  I believe it is because they are cheap labor, the cheapest Toll can find.  This is the caliber of person Toll sends out to ensure “quality” and “luxury.”   Virtually every Toll homeowner I have spoken with has told me that the people sent to do the punch list work on their houses were under-qualified and actually made things even worse. (See Related Articles and video.) 

The crew worked hard, but didn’t really know what they were doing, and made a mess.  No drop cloths were used.  I ended up with spackle dust all over everything, including my brand new living room furniture, and inside the grooves of my $16,233 hardwood floors.  (See photos.)  They yanked out the wires for my stereo speakers and never reconnected them.  They got white paint all over my front door and also on a camel hair coat and several good wool suits while they were painting my closets.  (See photos.)

The repair crew showed up sporadically at best, leaving my house in complete disarray while waiting to be finished.  They would show up one day, then not show up again for two or three days or, in one case, an entire week.  Sometimes when they were supposed to show up and didn’t, I would get a phone call at 4:00 p.m. from the “manager” telling me they weren’t going to make it that day; other times, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a call, they just didn’t show. 

When they were “finished,” i.e., when they had done what they had been authorized to do, they just stopped coming.  They never even cleaned up after themselves or put the furniture back where it had been before they started.  It took me months to get all of that spackle dust cleaned up.  I literally had to use a toothbrush and a hair dryer to loosen up the spackle dust between the grooves in the hardwood floors before I could vacuum it out.

In any case, about ten weeks after they started repairing my house, they stopped showing up, despite the fact that many of the items on my punch list had not been addressed, and nothing had been done about the cracked tiles, the front door, the electrical connections that had never been hooked up, or the walls that were out of plumb – which is most of them.  At that point, I tried to call Fred Claudio, who was in charge of the punch list items, to find out when the rest of the needed repairs would be made.  I called dozens of times, week after week, and left dozens of messages, but I never heard a word.  (I would learn when conducting my interviews that this was typical of Toll: to ignore your complaints until you gave up and went away.  They are walking away from their warranty work all over this country.  (See Related Articles and video.)  In my sub-division alone, they have walked away from at least $1,500,000 in punch list work, excluding the work that needs to be done on my house.  I know this because many of my neighbors have told me what they have spent correcting Toll’s mistakes and cleaning up their messes.  Several of my neighbors have had to spend several hundred thousand dollars apiece -- this, after any warranty work had been completed.  Most recently, one of my neighbors called to advise me that her house now needs $86,000 in repairs to the stucco exterior. 

Finally, in August 1999, I broke down and bought a fax machine for the express purpose of faxing my punch lists to Fred Claudio.  From then on, I faxed him a copy of my punch list every Monday and asked for the courtesy of a return phone call to discuss the open items.  None was forthcoming.

On September 16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit.  I ended up with 18” of water in my basement, for the simple reason that the soil against my basement walls sloped down toward the walls rather than away from them – a blatant code violation – and the sump pump discharged only a few inches from the basement wall.  (See photo.)  This meant that the water was in effect being recirculated – pumped out, only to run backwards toward the house and then back into the basement.  Because most of my parents’ belongings were still down there, a great many of their things were destroyed: oriental rugs, furniture, lamps, mattresses, clothes, luggage, books, etc.  (See photos.)  I filed a claim with Peerless, my homeowner’s insurance carrier, to collect against my $5,000 rider.  The Peerless agent came, saw, and wrote me a check for $5,000 on the spot, then apologized for not being able to give me more.  He said that if he gave me even a nickel for each item I had lost; it would be well over the $5,000. (This $5,000 paid to have the basement cleaned and disinfected TWICE – that is how bad the mold was – but that is all it covered.)  He estimated my total loss at $35,000.  It took five 20-yard dumpsters to hold everything that was ruined.  Had the ground been graded properly – away from the house instead of toward it -- and the sump pump discharge located farther from the house, I question whether there would have been any loss at all, let alone one so great.  However, I fared better than some of my neighbors.  One of them ended up with more than six feet of water in his basement.  To this day, many of my neighbors STILL end up with water in their basements when there is a heavy rain - as do many other Toll Brothers homeowners throughout the area.

As a result, every single thing that had been in the basement had to be removed, so the basement floor, walls, furnace, A/C units, and everything else could be cleaned and disinfected – mold was all over everything.  (It still is.)  Those things that had been destroyed and were to be thrown out were piled in the driveway until such time as I could get them all into dumpsters – it took weeks.  Those things that could be salvaged were moved first to the garage, and then to the first floor of my house.  It took me three years to get all of the stuff on the first floor back downstairs.  Progress was continually hampered by the problems with the basement walls, the on-going investigation of which has seriously restricted my ability to use my own basement. 

By some fluke, I actually managed to catch up with Mr. Claudio by phone in mid-October 1999.  When I told him why I was calling, he told me that he didn’t think he even had a copy of my punch list.  At that, I actually laughed!  By that time, he must have had at least eight copies, as I had been faxing them weekly for more than two months, along with a request that he contact me to discuss it.  He finally acknowledged that yes, he did have a copy of my punch list, but it didn’t matter, because Toll “had already spent the $10,000 they had allotted for repairs to [my] house.”  The fact that the house needed a great deal more work did not enter the picture.  Toll was not the slightest bit interested in doing what it took to make my house right or bringing it up to code where needed.  They had gone through the motions, made a show of repairing several of the minor cosmetic problems, and that was it.  That was all they were going to do.  I might add that, at no time when I was in the process of buying the house, did anyone tell me that there was a $10,000 cap on warranty work.  I might also add that Mr. Claudio remarked about the $10,000 cap to one of my neighbors as well.

The punch list manager did return several months later, to replace the counter top in the shared bath on the second floor.  He removed the old top, which was not the correct one, and plunked down the new one—which has no drain holes.  (The one in the model most definitely has drain holes.).  He spackled around the ends and then left.  He had not done any sanding, and had broken a light switch while fitting in the top.  (See photos.)

I asked when he would be coming back to finish the job; I got no commitment.  It was four months before he called to say he was coming back.  By that time, I had hired an attorney to represent me in this matter.

I might add that when I commented on the lack of drain holes, the manager insulted my intelligence by telling me that “that’s the way they do it now.”  The fact is, a sink with no drain holes is another blatant violation of code.  It is NOT “how they do it now.”  It was Toll’s way of saving a buck.

In 2000, my attorney came and looked at the house, and then sent a letter to Toll expressing my dissatisfaction with the way the house had been constructed, and Toll’s failure to fix it.  In response, he got a letter from Gerry Lewis, a Project Manager for Toll, who told us that we had to take the matter up with the warranty company.  I sent a letter to the warranty company, and they responded by disavowing any responsibility and advising me that I had to take the matter up with the builder.  My attorney then sent another letter to Mr. Lewis, who finally agreed to come look at the problems with the house.  He did so, and as a result agreed to address only the most minor cosmetic issues.  While acknowledging the structural and other major problems in writing, he stated very clearly that Toll was not willing to fix any of them.  (See Lewis letter.)

I then made a number of attempts to contact Rick Hartmann, the Toll VP responsible for my area, to advise him of the situation.  I left at least ten messages for Mr. Hartmann, and never got a call back.  Finally, in desperation, I called and asked to speak with Bob Toll. I was put through to his secretary, and explained the entire situation to her.  She asked me if I had spoken with Mr. Hartmann.  I replied that no, I hadn’t, but I sure had tried to!  She took my name and phone number, and said that she personally would have Mr. Hartmann call me.  She then put me through to his voice mail, so I could leave another message of my own for him.  Nonetheless, he never called me back.  With one exception, all of my neighbors had equally poor luck getting Mr. Hartmann or anyone else at Toll to respond to them in any way.  One couple who lives near me, both of whom are attorneys, sent Bob Toll three letters by certified mail.  He never responded to any of them.  They then retained an attorney, and the attorney sent several letters by certified mail to Bob Toll.  Even the attorney got no response.  For all Bob Toll’s claims that Toll stands by their product, the evidence clearly refutes this statement, and unless he is completely out of touch with reality, I have to believe that even Bob Toll knows this is false advertising and  consumer fraud.  As the surveys taken by JD Power and Associates show, Toll is rated average or below in terms of customer satisfaction in every almost area of this country in which they build. 

FYI, Bob Toll also claims that Toll Brothers is the nation’s Number 1 builder of “luxury” homes.  If you search for a definition of “luxury homes,” you can see that “cookie cutter houses” in sub-divisions – which is exactly what most Toll Brothers houses are -- do not qualify as “luxury homes" in the first place.  (You can find a good definition of "luxury home" at www.luxuryhomedigest.com/2006/11/01/and-just-what-is-a-luxury-home-2/.)  And according to the statistics posted by Builder Online in 2012, (www.builderonline.com/builder100/2011.aspx) Toll is ranked not 1st but 12th.  When you sort the list by Luxury Builders, Toll Brothers is listed fourth.  One Curbed commenter summed it up as follows: "Toll is to luxury housing what McDonalds is to salads."  From all indications, truth in advertising is not a high priority with Toll Brothers.

Because my house is so seriously flawed as to be unmarketable, according to a realtor who has seen it and also Judge deAlmeida, and because I will have to be able to sell this house for full price at some point in order to retire, despite the fact that I have been working since I was 16 years old and have worked two jobs much of my life, I filed suit in July 2001, an action that would have been unnecessary if Toll Brothers truly built quality homes and provided anything remotely resembling good customer service.  (A copy of the complaint is attached.)  


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