Homeowners organize in battle against developers

Thomas Gardiner/Staff Community residents share ideas and stories from difficulties in their new homes built by Crown, Wilson Parker, or D.R. Horton in the Augusta area.

What started as a grassroots group of homeowners picketing against quality concerns with their home construction has morphed into a unified coalition of neighborhoods from both Columbia and Richmond counties.

 

More than two dozen homeowners are now telling their stories about irrigation leaks, water leaks and mold behind the walls of their new houses. The homeowners, who gathered in The Retreat at Baker Place on Thursday evening, came from several neighborhoods around the Augusta area. Their homes were built by Wilson Parker Homes, Crown Builders and D.R. Horton. All the companies are now part of D.R. Horton.

“Thank God for the ice storm,” said homeowner Maria Staley, from Crown community The Hamptons in Richmond County.

Her home was built in 2010 and was damaged by Winter Storm Pax in 2014.

“If it weren’t for the damage, we wouldn’t have known there was mold in the wall.”

Terrance Callahan has mold growing through the sheetrock from the ground floor through the top of the upstairs bedroom in his house, built in 2011 in the Hidden Creek subdivision by Wilson Parker. He said once it grew through the sheet rock and became visible, his insurance company wouldn’t honor a claim.

He said the mold grew because of water that got between the walls after the homebuilder failed to install flashing on the roof. Flashing is a metal piece used to control water flow across and off a roof.

“They just didn’t put any in and we didn’t know till the mold grew through,” he said.

“When they found the mold in my house, I tried to get the builder to install the flashing and do repairs, but they told me I had to take it to arbitration because my warranty was expired. They said the cost for arbitration was $1,000,” Staley said.

She said she just wants her house fixed. She said the builders failed to install the flashing, which is the root cause for her mold problems.

Callahan said the neighborhoods were built very quickly and his neighborhood didn’t feel safe in the early days.

“The neighborhood went up really quickly. I left town on a Thursday and when I came back Sunday, a new house was up and they were working on more. If a whole neighborhood is built in three months, you can bet it’s going to have problems,” he said.

Callahan said it took three years for street lights to be installed and he felt uncomfortable with his kids at the bus stop in early mornings. Callahan and several other homeowners said the construction workers slept in the houses they were building, and often left beer cans and other trash around the neighborhood. He said they would often be up late creating a lot of noise.

The homeowners said developers gave military incentives, targeting active duty at Fort Gordon and retired military with access to loans guaranteed by the Veterans Administration. VA home loans are guaranteed by the federal government, meaning the lender gets paid even if a mortgage holder fails to pay.

A D.R. Horton spokeswoman said last week that the company takes homeowners concerns seriously and were working with the customers. However, the company has denied any wrongdoing in email correspondence provided to the newspaper by some residents.

D.R. Horton, along with defunct companies Wilson Parker and Crown Builders, have had complaints and cases against homeowners both locally and nationally in the past. In 2016, a home in the Allen Farms subdivision in Evans had to be lifted by the foundation to handle what was called a swimming-pool-sized hole and water in 2016. Allen Farms was a Crown community.

The coalition, which came together after a Facebook live video of a public protest about the construction concerns, said it wants to move forward publicly as a team and speak with a more unified voice. Many spoke out against further picketing and are instead planning a public meeting. The coalition is calling for local and state representatives to attend in an effort to gather resources and better determine how to move forward.

They expressed concern for the effect this public fight will have on home prices and about future military members moving into the area. With thousands scheduled to move into the Augusta area during the transition of the Army Cyber Command into Fort Gordon, they fear new owners could end up with costly repairs on their hands.

“We are here for the long haul, this is my retirement home,” said Harold Mitchell. “There are lot of active duty that will be coming in and rotating out in a few years. We have been fighting this for years; how far do you think they’ll get?”

Callahan said he and other residents have had to pay more than $10,000 a year in repairs for problems that could have been avoided with proper construction.

“That’s a lot of money. We can’t expect an E-6 (enlisted rank) to be able to afford a house and that much in repairs. You’re my neighbor, so if I’m having problems, I know you are too,” he said.

The homeowner coalition is planning to hold the public meeting in early July and is inviting county, city and state representatives to attend. For more information, email Terrance Callahan at tjcall.tc@gmail.com.

 

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

Owners say builders targeted vets then left them with shoddy homes
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