JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Kimberly Baker said building a home has been a lifelong dream for her and her husband. That dream has turned into a nightmare. She said the builder told her their house in the Glen Eagle subdivision on the Westside would be finished within eight or nine months. Yet, it has been nearly two years.
“We pretty much don’t have nowhere to live. It’s terrible,” she explained in November when she contacted the I-TEAM after waiting 19 months for her home to be finished by Advantage Home Builders. She paid a $7,500 binder when she signed a contract with the builder in April 2019, 10 months before the pandemic started.
She said the builder has blamed the delay on the pandemic and difficulties getting supplies. “But I’m watching houses and communities being built every day,” Baker explained. She expected some delays, but not nearly two years of delays – delays that the builder says are now over, as the Bakers should have their home soon.
Baker said she struggled at first to find a place to rent during the build, since she was told it would take less than a year and most landlords require a yearlong rental agreement. Then, she was hesitant to extend her rental lease when she said the builder kept telling her the house was close to being completed. “He doesn’t communicate,” she said about Doug Griesemer, owner of Advantage Home Builders. She said calls to his cell phone would go unanswered for days.
Then, she started seeing similar complaints of delays involving the builder posted online. Nervous, she did some research and discovered a lien filed against the house she planned to make her home. The I-TEAM did some digging as well, after Baker contacted us. We discovered liens claiming Advantage Home Builders owes money to seven companies.
We found at least 40 liens filed by subcontractors or suppliers which, as far back as 2019, provided materials or services for homes being built by Advantage Home Builders but had not been paid. The addresses include houses in three Duval County subdivisions: LeverRock Place, Glen Eagle and Liberty Square, as well as one house in another neighborhood, Emily’s Walk. (See end of story for details of liens.)
We contacted Griesemer, the owner of Advantage Home Builders, last month, asking why it was taking so long to finish Baker’s house and why he had so many liens filed against his company. Over the phone, he told the I-TEAM that his financial partner had run into “money trouble,” but that he had “worked it out.” He also said he had 12 houses that he was trying to close as soon as possible. He assured me all the liens would be paid and Baker would be able to move into her home at the end of January.
That did not happen.
Last week, the I-TEAM contacted Griesemer again. He said Baker’s home is now scheduled for closing on March 5. Below is his response to our question about the delays and the liens.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond. As we discussed, we are a small family owned business. We have been doing our absolute best to deliver the quality homes to our buyers. We have encountered several obstacles including COVID 19 but are confident we can meet our obligations.
Our buyers Mr. and Mrs. Baker are scheduled to close on March the 5th. I received that date from their lender this morning. Their loan is a V.A. loan and requires a V.A inspection, the bank is scheduling the inspection for next week. We are in final punchout on this home.
All liens on our homes will be paid off and the homes will close with a clear title. Advantage is working it’s way through these challenging times. Based on our schedules and barring any unanticipated delays, we plan to close 11 homes in the next 45 days. We closed a home last Friday and will continue to move forward to close more homes. Our buyers are anxious for us to complete the homes and we are as well.
We have all endured so much during this pandemic. With the help from our subcontractors, lenders, attorneys and home owners, we know we can work through this. I hope the media will be part of the solution for businesses. We have been a part of this community for a long time and plan to remain.
Signing a contract
Before signing a contract with any builder, local attorney Campbell Ford said he would recommend adding certain legal language that could help prevent frustrating delays, called a liquidated damages clause. “For every day or period of time that you decide upon, there will be a dollar amount that the builder can be charged for missing that deadline,” he explained. Ford suggests you start by having a conversation with your builder about a realistic timeline to complete your home. Once a reasonable timeline is agreed upon, then a liquidated damages clause should incentivize the builder to stay on track.
When we interviewed Baker in November, she was concerned about some of the quality of work inside her home. Those concerns are usually addressed at the end with the builder. This is commonly referred to as the “punch list,” the work that needs to be fixed at the end because of “wear and tear” damage that can be caused by subcontractors working in the house. For example, dings in walls, missed paint spots, and tile and grout mistakes.
In general, some builders who finish one job quickly then move on to another, and it can be difficult to get them to come back out to finish the “punch list.” Ford suggests adding a retainage clause to your contract. “For example, you can have a 5% retainage or a 10% retainage, meaning if you get a draw from the builder and you have to pay the builder $30,000, you keep 5 or 10% back all the way to the end of the project and then that final check, which is your retainage, will be paid once the house is fully complete,” he explained. “I see with a lot of people, the builder is done, they got their money and they don’t want to come back and take care of the final details. But of course, if they are going to get a big chunk of their contract price, which is that 5 or 10%, they are going to come back and get it done so everyone is happy,” explained Ford.
Do your homework
Before you hire a builder or anyone, for that matter, to do work on your home, you need to do your homework. First, check to make sure they are licensed. Here in the state of Florida that can be done through a search with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
You should also check with your local county clerk of court’s office. Many have online portals (see links below) that allow you to see if a builder is facing any outstanding civil lawsuits. Keep in mind, not all complaints rise to the level of a lawsuit, which is why you can search a county’s “official records” for anything related to a builder, which will provide information about any liens that were filed but may have eventually been paid. This may provide a clearer picture of the builder’s financial stability. Working with a builder who has liens that are unpaid for a period of time should be a red flag.
For more about the lien process, watch our interview with Ford on The Morning Show:
Clerk of Court websites in Northeast Florida: