Even newly built homes are rarely perfect. Either while construction is still underway or after you've moved in, you may notice minor issues that you can live with, like paint splotches where they shouldn't be, or uneven tile grout. Or you may notice major issues -- which may, in legal terms, be considered "construction defects," and likely worth following up on, such as faulty installation of windows or anything else that results in water intrusion.
Of course, you may not be able to spot every sort of defect, particularly as your contractor or builder wraps up the job. Some may be located behind the finished surfaces of your home, such as improper or incomplete paper or metal flashing around window and doors, structural framing deficiencies, or poor roof installation.
Even a home inspector may not see these conditions, as the inspector is not responsible for opening up walls to look for them. But the issues described below are red flags, indicating that you may want to retain a professional contractor to investigate further.
The contractor can advise you whether they indicate a possible construction defect, or whether they can easily be corrected through simple repairs or maintenance. (For instance, slight cracks in stucco, siding, or wood trim may be addressed in the normal repainting cycle for your location.)
Here are some tips for examining your almost-built or newly built home for signs that its construction was substandard and may contain major defects.
Ideally, you should monitor your home's construction all along the way.
If your home is being built by a developer (as part of a planned community), then you should also arrange to conduct a final examination of the home before the closing date. At this time, you can also bring in a professional inspector to identify issues and write up a report. This allows you to raise issues with the builder while you still have maximum leverage.
If a general contractor is building you a custom home, you should ask questions as the work progresses, and should also have the opportunity for an end-of-construction walk-through. If you do not obtain satisfactory answers to your questions along the way, consider bringing an independently hired contractor to attend the walk-through with you.
If you have already closed on the purchase, and didn't have a chance to inspect the home pre-closing or at the end of construction, it's not too late to take action. In fact, some issues – particularly those to do with water intrusion – may not come to your attention until after you have lived in the house for a while (or at least been through a rainstorm or two).
Now let's assume that your home has been finished, and perhaps that you've moved in. Here are some ways to examine the quality of the finished product.
Take a walk around the outside of your newly built home, with a camera and notepad in hand. Issues to do with exterior surfaces, sealing of windows and doors, a patio or deck, and concrete surfacing should be your main focus here.
If the exterior of your house is stucco, look for cracks that are larger than "hairline" – particularly at the corners of windows and doors. If the surface of the stucco is flaking or "spalling" off, this may indicate that the stucco was not applied properly.
Where the siding is a wood product, look for significant waviness of the boards and (if it has rained since the house was built) see if the ends and edges of the boards appear swollen from moisture intrusion. Inspect wood trim around doors, windows, and other locations to see if joints have opened up or cracks in the wood have developed. These conditions may develop over time.
Look for gaps between the stucco and windows, doors, hose bibs, pipes, ducts, and electrical fixtures. These gaps could be sources of water intrusion.
If you have exterior decks or patios, look for cracks in the walking surfaces and at the intersection between the deck and the wall of the house.
Problems with your roof are more difficult to observe and require the assistance of a trained professional. You should not walk on your roof. In fact, if the roof is made of tile, you could void the manufacturer's warranty by doing so. Watch for signs of water intrusion on the interior ceilings and walls.
Cracks in concrete sidewalks, driveways, garage floors, or retaining walls could indicate that the soils were not properly prepared or that the concrete structures were not properly installed.
Your next task is to walk around the interior of your home.
Look for water stains around windows and doors on the wood trim or drywall, particularly at the window sills or at the base of exterior doors.
Inspect all interior wall and ceiling surfaces for cracks in the drywall, which could indicate soils movement or structural framing problems. (Lesser drywall problems such as nail pops and tape cracks can easily be addressed the next time you paint the interior of the home.)
If doors are sticking shut, they may have been installed incorrectly. In the case of bathroom or kitchen doors, if the tops and bottoms were not painted, moisture may be causing the wood to expand.
Check for flooring issues such as: tile cracks; uneven wood floor boards or widening cracks between boards; water stains in carpeting or other flooring at the base of windows, doors, or showers; and discolored or curling linoleum. Some of these problems could result from water infiltrating through cracks in the foundation.
Look for water stains under kitchen sinks.
An inability to control heat and air conditioning in rooms may indicate problems with your HVAC system.
Check to see if any electrical plugs or switches do not work.
As mentioned, you will probably want to hire a general contractor to give a professional opinion on the problem and look for others that you may not have noticed.
Your next step depends on whether you have agreed with the builder to notify him or her and provide an opportunity for repairs. If that hasn't worked, however, or if the problems seem more serious than mere repairs can address, you may need to pursue legal action.