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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2018 1 month ago

Winter Garden couple fights Lennar for home repairs

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A $1.09 million estate in Winter Garden was supposed to be their dream home. But seven months after purchasing the home, Torey Eisenman and Bill Gustavson said it has become a nightmare.
by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

Torey Eisenman surveys the carcass that was once the upstairs to her brand new, six-bedroom, five-bath, 5,557-square-foot estate in the Emerald Pointe community in Winter Garden. With the hardwood floors and subfloor ripped out, she can see the guts — the beams, the electrical, the plumbing. 

She sees imperfections — air ducts that she’s been told were installed incorrectly. She sees oddities in the wiring. And on this day — more than three months after half her home had been left uninhabitable — she still sees the same problem that started this entire ordeal in the first place: To her eye, the beams still aren’t level. 

Eisenman and her husband, Bill Gustavson, closed on the $1,094,300 CalAtlantic home Dec. 29, 2017. Nestled in the private Emerald Pointe community in Hickory Hammock, the home boasts picturesque views of Johns Lake and, better yet, access to the water itself.

Eisenman and Gustavson said it was their dream home — the paradise for which they had been searching for their son. Now 15, the boy has endured years of medical problems. He was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia, a circulatory condition in which most of his blood stays in his lower body when he stands. This increases his heart rate and can lead to dizziness, fainting and lightheadedness. He also battles gastroparesis, a condition that affects muscles in the stomach and prevents proper digestion; pectus excavatum, a condition in which the breastbone is sunken into the chest; and anxiety.

Combined, their son’s afflictions prevent him from any traditional athletic activities. Johns Lake offered an opportunity for personal watercrafts and other recreation.

After closing, the family moved into the new home — excited to begin a new chapter in their lives. But it all unraveled four months later in April, when an installer came to set up a pool table in the upstairs game room.

TRUSS ISSUES
Eisenman said the pool-table installer noticed a problem with the floor.

“There was a half-inch difference within five feet,” Eisenman said. 

At that time, Eisenman and Gustavson added it to a list of problems they already discovered in their new home — a hole in a closet door, missing cabinet doors, unsecured window sills, a backsplash that was installed crooked, a missing shower head — more than 22 issues total. They assumed the floor not being level was an isolated problem.

But when contractors from Lennar Corporation, which had completed a merger with CalAtlantic Group Inc. in February, came to address the issue in April, they ripped out the flooring and subfloor in nearly the entire second story of the home. According to Lennar Customer Care Manager Don Smith, the extensive demolition was necessary because of the adhesive used to install the hardwood floor to the subfloor.

As of Tuesday, July 24, it remains in that same condition. 

The first delay came shortly after the contractors completed the demolition. To begin putting the home back together, Lennar needed to obtain a work permit, which first required Eisenman and Gustavson to sign a Notice of Commencement. However, that document named CalAtlantic as the contractor rather than Lennar. 

Eisenman and Gustavson wanted Lennar’s name on it; they refused to sign.

In a letter to Eisenman and Gustavson dated May 7, Lennar Customer Care Manager Don Smith wrote: “Please keep in mind that your home’s warranty may be voided if you refuse to cooperate with us in any manner, including but not limited to signing the NOC and permitting access to your home. … If we do not receive a signed NOC by Tuesday, May 8, and thereafter granted access and full cooperation by you, we will consider the warranty void, and we will consider this matter closed.”

Eisenman and Gustavson hired an attorney, and by late May, the parties had been able to make some progress. Eisenman signed an NOC with the city of Winter Garden Monday, May 21, with Lennar named as the contractor; however, Lennar didn’t pick it up until Thursday, May 24. And in an email dated May 30, Smith told Gustavson the NOC the document was not usable because it wasn’t the original document.

However, eventually, Lennar did use the NOC; it was filed with the Orange County comptroller June 4. A permit application also was signed June 1, and that same day, Smith wrote in an email to Eisenman that Lennar would place “an order for lumber today and start talking with the vendors ASAP. I will let you know as soon as I can so you can make living arrangements.”

Optimistic, Eisenman and Gustavson drove their son and two dogs to Nashville to stay with a family member while work would be done.

However, Eisenman said Lennar’s attorney sent a letter requesting releases and confidentiality agreements. 

“And then the attorneys argued for a month,” she said.

Meanwhile, the family has been split apart — Eisenman and Gustavson have been in temporary housing, and their son is still in Tennessee.

“This was supposed to be our dream house,” Gustavson said. “Now, it has become our worst nightmare. Our family is separated, and at the end of the day, all we want is our home fixed according to plan. We haven’t asked for anything else.”

Eisenman said the stress has become too much to bear.

“For his birthday June 21, my son said, ‘All I want is my bedroom,’” Eisenman said, wiping tears from her eyes. “We can only fight for so long.”

By the beginning of July, the parties had been able to move forward. Lennar drafted a work order, signed July 5, which stated work was to commence July 9. However, in the two weeks since then, Eisenman said contractors have been in the house for about 22 hours total. The second-floor is still uninhabitable, and their son has been away for nearly two months.

Last week, Lennar Customer Service Representative Daniel Holtzapple told Eisenman Lennar planned to come by to install insulation — before receiving an engineer’s report from the city of Winter Garden inspector regarding the nailing work completed.

“I would think you need to get inspections before you cover up the work,” Eisenman wrote to Holtzapple. “Who is checking the work done today? Are the engineers certifying the work done today was done properly?”

And thus began another delay.

The flooring in this Emerald Pointe home was torn out in April. As of July 24, it still is missing.

DAVID VS. GOLIATH
Since the problems surfaced, Lennar has remained committed to fixing the home, the company said through its media consultant, Los Angeles-based Glenn Bunting.

“Lennar has devoted extensive resources to resolve this issue during the past few months, but we had to wait for the homeowner’s permission to make the repair,” Lennar officials said through Bunting. “While the home was built by CalAtlantic, we at Lennar are committed to fixing the problem and to making the homeowner happy. … As one of the nation’s leading homebuilders, we will continue to stand behind the quality of our homes as we do for all of our customers.”

Through Bunting, the company also said it has agreed to pay Eisenman and Gustavson $400 per day while the repairs are made. Eisenman said the original offer was $200 per day, and although the money has helped, it doesn’t allow her family to secure stable housing. A hotel is not an option because of the family’s dogs, and the family cannot sign a long-term lease for a temporary home.

“We have two days’ notice to go back to the home once they are finished, therefore we cannot do long-term leases,” Eisenman said. “This is a huge inconvenience and a stress on my son, and that is why we have not been able to bring him back home. They don’t seem to get the health issues that are affected here. It is a bigger issue than just what they’re paying per diem.”

Furthermore, Eisenman said it does not cover the expenses incurred to hire a lawyer to get Lennar to pull a permit and engineers into the home. 

“We have spent over $20,000 just for consultants, and we still need an engineer to confirm the work is done properly,” she said.

Eisenman is no stranger to real estate. Currently, she owns and operates Benchmark Real Estate Group. But previously, she served as director of customer service for KB Home, Beazer Homes and Pulte Homes and even worked for Lennar itself from 1994 to 2001.

With her background, Eisenman said she felt confident she could navigate any problems that arose. That it became such an ordeal despite her experience has spurred her to action.

“We’re lucky — we are able to fight,” she said. “But there are people who can’t fight at all.”

Eisenman said contracts between buyers and builders offer little ability for recourse for the consumer. She said her contract with CalAtlantic contained language giving the builder control over the time and date of closing — regardless of issues discovered during the final walkthrough phase — once it received a certificate of occupancy. 

“Seller will not have any liability to buyer for any extension of the closing date,” the contract reads.

Furthermore, Eisenman said her contract prevents her from suing the builder or joining a class-action suit. And finally, for any defects in the home, the builder reserved the right to decide whether to replace, repair or pay the buyer “the reasonable cost of repair or replacement.”

“These contracts need to be changed to protect the buyer,” Eisenman said. “This story needs to be told.”

Michael Eng is the executive editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism....

See All Articles by Michael

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