Newlyweds' American dream becomes 'American nightmare'

Local couple shares lessons learned after building new home

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – It was supposed to be where newly married couple Robin and Rabiah Burk would start their future together: A brand new home in Jacksonville Beach they had built from the ground up.

"It's the American dream," Rabiah Burk told News4Jax.

The couple saved and planned, but say they picked a builder too quickly. Things were going fine in the beginning, but nearing the end of construction, Burk says problems started.

"Everything that you dreamed of, building a custom home or building your first home, and then you get to month 11 or 12 and the builder says, 'Well, I'm out of money, and you give us the money or we're just going to move on,'" said Burk.

The couple hadn't budgeted for it, but say since the builder was out of money, they had no choice but to fork over more cash.

Burk gave News4Jax a tour of the inside of her home, pointing out the things that are missing -- things one might expect to be included.

"The good news about this house, we have no mirrors. So it doesn't matter what you look like in here," joked Burk. "I would assume that the builder would have given us some mirrors and some lights, most homes, I thought would come with that kind of stuff."

She also assumed she would have doors for every room.

"We have no doors to the master bedroom, which is really fun with the kids coming down the stairs and just walking into the master bedroom," Burk explained.

That's not all. The Burks also have no closet inside the master bedroom and have no pantry in the kitchen -- also things they expected with the price tag.

But it gets worse for the newlyweds. They had to deal with two major, unrelated flooding issues after they moved in.

The first one was caused by the air conditioner. One single unit was installed upstairs for more than 5000 square feet. It froze up.

"I brought in an expert and they said the downstairs should have its own air conditioner," Burk told News4Jax. "They said the engineer just didn't take into consideration it's a tall house and it's just pure negligence on their part."

The second floor was drenched because of it. The carpets had to be pulled up to allow everything that got wet to dry out.

The other flooding problem occurred in the unfinished kitchen. This damage was extensive, too.

"So the water line to the fridge was installed improperly and it broke," explained Burk. "We have to replace all of the cabinets, all the baseboards. This entire island has to come out. Yeah, so much for the joy of home ownership, right?"

The Burks had to bring in Servpro, a company with special equipment, to dry everything out.

Because the couple says it has encountered even more issues -- one after another -- they want to share the lessons they learned to help prevent another family from experiencing what they have.

"I would have interviewed more builders. I would have gone to see their product. I would have gone to talk to the people that used those builders and I would have taken my time," Burk explained to News4Jax.

Attorney ET Fernandez, who is not representing the Burks, agrees.

"There should be a very long list that they [builders] are proud to give you or take you by and give you the address, 'I built that home. I built this one over here. Please feel free to go knock on that door and talk to those homeowners,'" Fernandez said.

Fernandez admits he is now an expert in construction law because of his own mistakes.

"It's worth spending a few hundred dollars or even to a thousand to go sit down with an attorney and go okay,  'here's my project. What should I have in mind when I go looking for a builder?' And let them give you that advice. As an attorney, I skipped that step and wished I hadn't," he explained.

The things Fernandez advises you to do are things the Burks wish they had done themselves.

"I don't want to seem ungrateful, I love my life. I love that we have the opportunity to chase the American dream, and it just seems like it's more of an American nightmare," Burk said.

Protect yourself when buying a new home

When you are thinking of buying a new home, the National Association of Home Builders offers the following list of questions you should ask:

  • Will the builder give you references of recent buyers/occupants?
  • Does the builder have a financing plan established?
  • Are there options in the floor plan — for example, can a basement or deck be added?
  • Can a room such as the basement be left unfinished?
  • How much "customizing" can be done versus standard features?
  • Can appliances be up- or down-graded?
  • Are there any additional fees relating to the home or development?
  • Will there be a homeowners’ association? If so, what will the dues cost and what do they cover?
  • Does the builder offer a warranty program?
  • Does the price include landscaping? What if the plants die within a year?
  • Are there any restrictive covenants?
  • What are the estimated taxes on the property?
  • How is the school system rated?
  • Are day care and grocery stores convenient and satisfactory?
  • What about emergency facilities — police, fire department and hospitals?
  • Are there any major development plans for the area in the next five years?

Helpful links from NAHB