Homeowners Fight Major Home Builder Over Foundation Issues

Couple said cracks in the home’s foundation need fixing; builder said the cracks are cosmetic

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A North Texas family battles a home-building giant over possible foundation issues. (Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014)

    First-time homebuyers in Anna face an uphill battle against a homebuilding giant over cracks in their home, which they say indicate possible foundation problems.

    High school football coach Matt Nix and his wife Denise bought their house in 2008.  It’s a home where they planned on planting roots and making memories long into the future with their two young children. 

    But a few years after moving in, they noticed a crack in the wall in their master bedroom.  Then, they noticed the top of door between the master bedroom and the master bathroom was uneven, and it was no longer catching.

    “It surprised me because the house wasn’t very old,” said Denise Nix.

    The home was constructed in 2004 and was still under limited warranty. It was built by Fort Worth-based D.R. Horton, America’s largest homebuilder, which closed 24,155 properties last year, more than any other builder.

    After the Nix’s noticed the cracks they called Advanced Foundation Repair, the company contracted by D.R. Horton.  Advanced Foundation Repair inspected the home in November 2011. Matt Nix told NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit that the company called the cracks cosmetic.

    In a letter to NBC 5, D.R. Horton spokeswoman Marissa Awtry wrote that Advanced Foundation Repair “advised that the home was within acceptable tolerances for new construction and did not recommend foundation repair.”

    But in North Texas homes can experience seasonal movement where the clay soil can expand in the winter, when the soil retains more moisture, and contract in the summer when it’s drier.  This can lead to cosmetic cracks in the walls. That’s why a good watering regime is a key component to keeping foundation problems at bay.  Advanced Foundation Repair provided the Nix’s with a watering program and told them to keep dirt against the foundation. But that was easier said than done.

    “I couldn’t keep dirt up against the house because it just kept, you know, eroding away,” said Matt Nix.

    That’s because the couple’s home sits at the end of a street appropriately named Hilltop Drive.  And this little house atop a hill has a sloping backyard that ends at a creek bed.  Nix hoped a patio would help, so he built one.  But that may have compounded the problem.

    As the cracks progressively got worse, the couple called three other foundation companies. All three wrote estimates recommending thousands of dollars in repairs.

    “If you let this go too much longer it’s going to be a major issue with that back side of the house,” Matt said the companies told him.

    So once again, earlier this year, Nix had Advanced Foundation Repair return for a second inspection.

    “The areas of concern appear to be cosmetic issues resulting from seasonal movement of the foundation,” wrote Robert Snyder, president of Advanced Foundation Repair, in a letter to D.R. Horton. “At this time, we recommend that no foundation repairs be made.”

    And again, Advanced Foundation Repair suggested a watering program for the home.

    “It made me think, ‘Well these guys are just in business together somehow,’” said Nix.

    But when NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit spoke with Snyder he said that’s not the case at all and that there is no financial incentive to deny a repair.

    “We’re losing money if we don’t sell something. So there’s every incentive for us, typically, if it needs it, to recommend repair work,” Snyder said.

    “These “cosmetic” cracks do not support a claim of structural failure in the foundation, and therefore, are not covered under the 10-year Structural Warranty of this nine-and-a-half-year old home,” wrote D.R. Horton’s Awtry, in an email response to NBC 5.

    NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit showed video of the house and the foundation repair estimates to civil engineer Sahadat Hossain. Unlike any of the companies that have a financial stake in this home, he has none.  Instead he teaches a class on foundations at the University of Texas at Arlington.  

    “Everything suggests they have a problem.”  Hossain said. “It’s not cosmetic.”

    Hossain explained that he believed based on the direction of the cracks, there was what's called differential settlement or the foundation was settling unevenly.

    "Anytime you have a diagonal or horizontal crack, you know it's always associated with differential movement," he said.

    NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit also showed Hossain a copy of the engineering report that said the home’s foundation design met code.  

    But he was still concerned about the slope in the backyard, and said a retaining wall may mitigate the effect of the backyard slope by reducing soil movement.  He said the only way to know for sure was to do a soil analysis of the slope, which is not required by city or state law.

    NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit asked D.R. Horton for its soil report for this house.  It would not provide it.  But the company said the foundation was “designed by a structural engineer in accordance with the findings of the geotechnical engineer’s specific soil report relevant to the community.”

    After NBC 5 called D.R. Horton, an engineer reinspected the home, accompanied by a D.R. Horton representative.

    “D.R. Horton and our home warranty company continue to work with the homeowner to assist in this matter,” Awtry wrote.

    Now Matt and Denise Nix wait to see if D.R. Horton will repair a problem they say is getting worse.

    “Six thousand dollars for a foundation repair isn’t quite something in our budget right now,” said Nix, of the problem they’ll have to fix. “I’m hoping we can get this resolved.”

    The family expects to hear from D.R. Horton later this month once the report is complete.

    • Engineers said if you’re building a house in North Texas, consider pier and beam foundation.  While it’s more expensive in the short term, it could save you thousands in the long run.
    • And if you need foundation repair, experts say piers used to lift your foundation should go as deep as 15 feet.  Anything less could be just a temporary fix.
    • North Texans really do need a proper watering program to keep the foundation from drying out.  Consult an expert if you have questions.
    • And finally if you’re considering new landscaping, keep large trees at least 20 feet away from the house as they tend to pull water away from the home and that can lead to problems.