Buying new construction offers some home buyers a sense of security. But in Fife, dozens of homeowners have issues popping up across their home. Now they’re facing thousands of dollars in repairs while dealing with an unresponsive builder.
From the outside, in, Tracy Berg’s home has become a nightmare for her family.
“No caulking around vents. No sort of weather proofing around windows whatsoever,” explained Berg. “Overdriven nails in the siding. We’ve got water coming in all three floors.”
The Berg’s bought their new construction home in Fife almost three years ago. It was built by Highmark Homes and is in the Valley Haven development.
“This house was going to be not only a good investment but it was everything we wanted,” recalled Berg.
But in six short months, that all changed. A puddle of water was discovered along the length of a third floor room. Soon after Tracy found mold on her kids’ toys on the second floor and over the holidays, the water issue finally took over the whole house.
The Berg’s aren’t the only ones left soaking wet. 28 other homes in Valley Haven have similar issues.
All were built by Highmark and its owner, Tom Tollen.
“We’re not the bad guys. We shouldn’t be punished for the way this house was built,” said Berg.
The Berg’s reported the issues to their home warranty but when the contractor came out, the response wasn’t what they expected.
“It was actually him that started pointing out, oh, hey I see your neighbor’s house, there’s no flashing above the windows and oh, hmm, Ok. I’m going to have to step out and call them. When he came back in I knew that he knew there was a big problem here,” said Berg.
Berg didn’t trust Highmark to assess or repair the issues correctly so she and other homeowners hired Chris Casey’s firm to fight their issues in court.
“This wasn’t the equivalent of a bad day. This was the means and methods employed throughout,” said Casey.
Casey said Highmark and Tollen failed to follow state law by building homes that don’t meet the International Building Code. He brought in experts who found incorrect siding installation, windows and doors.
Photos of Valley Haven homes show moisture issues causing mushrooms to grow, centipedes under carpet, cracked walls and excessive moisture behind the siding.
“They don’t have the money to perform the repairs or rip the houses down and start again,” explained Casey.
According to Casey, Tollen is one of the top builders in western Washington with hundreds of homes in dozens of developments. Tollen’s been seen cruising through them in this yellow Lamborghini. While he’s hitting the gas, the homeowners are lawyering up. From Bremerton to Lynnwood, families are hiring Casey for issues similar to what’s happening in Fife.
If you count up the number of properties and developments, could be potentially more than 10 million dollars.
Tracy’s home was permitted by the city of Fife. In the lawsuit, Highmark and Tollen say they’ve done nothing wrong. But Chris says he can prove it wasn’t built to code.
In a hearing last month the attorney for Highmark and Tollen, Patrick McKenna, said their contracts make no promises about their quality of work.
“Let’s just assume for the moment, for arguments sake, that the building code violations exist, just for this moment. So what? How does that breach the contract? How does that breach the warranties?” asked McKenna.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen replied with exactly what I was thinking.
“I understand that I don’t have a building code in front of me but I can’t imagine there’s a building code in this country that would allow for that kind of workmanship to meet the minimum threshold,” said Judge Sorensen.
I would like to follow up but Tollen isn’t talking to me.
In the meantime, the Berg’s hopes of a shiny new home have dampened as rainwater continues to soak the inside of their house. At least this family knows it isn’t suffering alone as its biggest investment takes an unnecessary bath.
“I want to love but my house but I can’t be happy here knowing what I know and knowing what it’s going to take to fix it. Feeling very stuck because until these houses are fixed, there’s nothing we can do with them. We can’t sell it. We can’t do anything,” explained Berg.
No decision was reached at this hearing. The two parties will meet again early next month.
One more important thing to note: Tollen is still building homes but no longer under the Highmark name.
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