It’s common to assume that a brand new house will be built well and all the systems will function properly. But in reality, that’s not always the case. And with building activity picking up and new tradespeople, with varying degrees of expertise and experience, going to work for the builders mistakes can happen.

New construction generally comes with a one-year warranty given by the builder. As your first anniversary approaches, you will be asked to compile a “punch list” of any items that need to be addressed. It’s very common and normal for there to be a laundry list of minor items that were discovered after you moved in, and reputable builders will make sure these items are taken care of.

But what happens when you don’t discover the defect until several years after you’ve lived in the house? The builder could be out of business by then, or moved away from the area. Or simply not be willing to accept responsibility for the problem anymore. The statute of limitations on claims for defects in new homes is set at the state level. Ten years is the norm in most states for structural defects, as is the case in NC. In some cases it may take years before a problem becomes obvious, such as defects relating to moisture issues or excessive settling of the house.

So what should you do to protect yourself from this happening to you?

1) Hire an independent home inspector to inspect the house prior to closing on it. He can insure that anything missed by the builder and his crew is flagged, as well as alert you to any code violations or improper building techniques.

2) Ask for the insurance information for the general contractor, in case hidden defects become known later, and keep it in your house file in case you need it.

3) Be aware that you have rights even past the initial one year period that may extend up to nine additional years or more. If you suspect there’s a problem with the house, call an outside expert with no financial stake in the home. Sometimes homeowners err by calling their builder first, but they should bring in a good home inspector who can tell them whether or not they should seek the help of a well-qualified contractor or an architectural engineer.

How Do You Know There May Be a Problem?

1) Sticky Doors – While some settling is normal, when doors won’t open and close smoothly it’s a sign the settling may be excessive and there could be a structural problem.

2) Uneven Floors – When the foundation and flooring system is built correctly, your floors should remain level and smooth for many years. If they are not, it’s a sign of a structural problem.

3) Cracks Above Doors or Windows – Diagonal cracks in the sheetrock, often seen above windows or doorways, is not a good sign. Vertical hairline cracks are not uncommon signs of normal settling, however diagonal lines are a red flag.