Beware The Ghostwriter

By Christopher E. Carter, P.E.

Dear Mr. Builder:

My wife and I purchased one of your homes two years ago in the “Happy Meadows” subdivision. We have been satisfied with the home until recently, as we’ve experienced some problems, and are not so happy anymore.

The door to our two-year old daughter’s bedroom sometimes sticks and cannot be opened. When this happens, it is very upsetting to her and us, as she cannot get out, and we cannot get in. Also, in the kitchen, some of the ceramic floor tiles have cracked and separated, which occasionally cut my young son’s feet when he walks around barefoot. Lastly, we’ve noticed a strong mildewey smell in the basement with some dark stains on the drywall near our sump pump. Please advise.


Mr. and Mrs. Homer Owner

My apology to the warranty professionals out there, as they are now certainly groaning with elevated blood pressure! Yet this is the kind of letter that can typically be seen from one of their homeowners. The scary thing about this is – it wasn’t written by the homeowner. It was ghostwritten by their attorney.

A ghostwritten letter will usually be sent by certified, return receipt, U.S. mail, and represent the end product of several months of investigation and preparation by homeowner-hired experts and advocates. All the expert reports have been prepared, and are ready to go. Participants behind the sample letter above could be: a structural engineer, an architect, an experienced ceramic tile installer, an industrial hygienist, and of course, a coordinating attorney.

A ghostwritten letter is designed to test and record a builder’s response to a warranty claim so that any misstep can be exploited during settlement negotiations or trial. As a warranty professional, you can count on your every action, whether spoken or written, to be documented, dissected, and evaluated during administration of the claim for possible use against your company.

Builders who have a solid warranty program in place, have properly trained personnel, and have a corporate philosophy of accountability and product quality, should have no problem with this kind of trap. Their people are excellent communicators and claim file administrators. Their warranty staff is constantly training, and stays current with legal precedent and legislative changes that affect claims handling. They also realize that hidden cameras may be recording everything they do and say when they come to a home to investigate. But that’s okay. They are fair, firm, flexible, and professional, and pay or fix no more than they owe.

As for the other kind of builder? Let’s just say, Casper is not a friendly g-g-ghost!