Descriptions of “vintage,” “refurbished” and “pre-owned” can persuade the decision toward some purchases—cars, computers, that perfect James Dean-era leather jacket—but for South Florida homebuyers, the allure of shiny and new is often too hard to ignore. Moving into a brand-new building or even a gut rehab certainly has its benefits, but there are also plenty of downsides to buying new units. Smart buyers brush up on these potential pitfalls before finding themselves in a money pit. And if it’s too late for that, then there are certain courses of action that can help recoup some losses.
At the height of the real estate boom in the mid-2000s, developers built quickly to keep pace with demand. That was good for eager buyers—and not so good for eager buyers. Some developers got into the game simply to make money, rather than provide a lasting product. Speedy delivery coupled with some sketchy oversight has led to problems with new-construction homes. “Whenever there is a building boom, builders become more interested in building projects quickly than in building them correctly,” says Matthew J. Johnson, managing partner at the Florida office of Condo Defects Law Group, LLP.
The most common problems involve water leakage, and it’s not necessarily detectable when someone’s looking at a building with wide-eyed buyer’s eyes. It might be due to flashing that’s left unfinished or done incorrectly at roofs, parapet walls, and windows; downspouts incorrectly tied into sewer lines; or problems with flooding in lower units and basements.
A thorough pre-sale inspection should catch some of these things but doesn’t always. For instance, sometimes a condo building’s roof isn’t easily accessible or the developer of the new building purposefully prevents access to avoid discovery of problems. In other cases, the developer actually may linger in control of the association board, making it difficult to find problems, and then leave the board without the reserves to pay for repairs.
Oscar Garcia, district manager of KW Property Management, based out of Miami, is currently dealing with a situation like this. “The developer resigned from the board, and not only has he not set up reserves, he did not fix the problem and walks away from it, leaving them empty-handed with no money to sue him,” he says. “I’m encouraging them to do a bake sale, have a sidewalk sale, a car wash, collect funds to get a post-engineering report.” Garcia’s goal is to at least begin the process of approaching the developer to do the right thing.