THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Interrupted dream: Couple and company lift house cloud

When problems with their dream home started appearing, Marcia and Jim Wills turned into documentarians. Soon, armed with copies of letters, e-mails, memoranda, and numerous photos of alleged flaws that extended from the foundation to the roof of the manufactured home, they began waging a lengthy battle with Oakwood Homes. Their struggle ended January 30, when they videotaped their tour of the house with representatives of Oakwood Homes and the meeting that followed. At long last, I'm pleased to report, resolution is in sight. 

When I wrote about the couple's dilemma two months ago ["Shard sale," January 4], the general manager of Oakwood's Charlottesville office, William Beasley, was threatening to sue. The Willses, in response, asserted that the house didn't meet Louisa County building codes, even though Oakwood guarantees that its manufactured homes "will be delivered and set to meet all State and County codes." 

In late November, Marcia Wills met with Beasley at the house. Among the problems she listed were interior painting and drywall work that had never been finished, damaged shingles, lags in the center beam, uninsulated water pipes, "low spots" in the kitchen floor, and vinyl siding that had been improperly attached. (I witnessed the last item for myself and can attest that Jim Wills was easily able to pull the siding away from the house.) The most serious allegation was that the house was attached to the foundation only every 18" instead of every 6". 

The Willses claim that during the meeting, Beasley told Marcia that they should get estimates for the remaining work. They did, and sent an itemized summary to Beasley on December 6. After subtracting the $3,100 Beasley had agreed to deduct from the house price to cover the drywall work and interior painting, the total came to $21,088. The Willses still owed $14,233 on the house, which meant that if they were to hire contractors to bring the house in line with both Louisa County codes and what they believed were Oakwood's contractual obligations, the company would owe them $6,855.

In response, Beasley wrote to say that Oakwood Homes refused to authorize or pay for any of the work. "It has become apparent to me," he wrote, "that this issue needs to be addressed by other means"– which meant that he had forwarded the Willses' file to attorney Larry Miller and instructed him to collect the contract balance of $14,233, plus "any collection fees which can be legally recovered." So much for the dream of a dream home; things had taken a decidedly darker turn south. 

The couple met January 30 with Beasley and Jim Carver, Norfolk regional manager for Oakwood's parent company, Clayton Homes. With a camcorder recording their every word and gesture, Carver and Beasley agreed to complete all the exterior work and to reduce the contract price by $4,800; the Willses will hire a contractor for the interior work. A Clayton Homes employee delivered the revised contract on February 7, which the Willses signed. The last detail is that Miller will file a motion of nonsuit to halt Oakwood's suit against the couple.

After driving out to Louisa to view the house, I contacted Oakwood, whose marketing materials promise "dream homes." The corporate spokesman, Chris Nicely, would not comment on the Willses' situation, but he said the company wants "100 percent customer satisfaction." I'm not sure you could call the Willses satisfied customers, but at least no one's headed to court.

"If we had not had such good records," Marcia says, "we would probably have been out of luck on a lot of the items they say they will fix." This, she adds, might be sage advice for anyone planning a dream home of their own. 

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville 22902.