A painted house: Is it smooth or slick?

It's been nine months since Brenda Beverly moved into her house on Chippewa Lane at Lake Monticello, nine months since she walked through the house with her real-estate agent and one of the builder's employees and pointed out a number of so-called "punch-list" problems she wanted fixed. In the months that followed, she claims, she tried repeatedly to get the builder to fix them, but nothing happened.

Beverly, who bought the house from Swift Run Inc. in November 2002, had two main complaints on the walk-through: the interior paint job, she contended, was substandard, and the trim around two of the doors had noticeable gouges. There were also a number of smaller problems, such as nail-pops and shoe molding that had been split by a nail.

According to Beverly, the builder's employee– she didn't get his name– said, in response to each problem she pointed out, "I'm sure we'll take care of this."

Her attention was diverted, at first, from the interior problems by an acrimonious dispute over landscaping. When that was resolved, she says, she began urging the builder, Jim Spence, to address the paint job and the other punch-list items. She claims that after some fruitless conversations he finally said, "Take it or leave it." Spence denies this allegation.

I went through the house with Beverly on July 30 and saw the change in wall texture that irks her. The surface does appear to vary, every few square feet, from rough to smooth, and some of the wood trim does appear damaged. Two items she hadn't noticed during the walk-through, but pointed out to me, are protruding nails on the deck steps and a bathroom wall that might be crooked.

I met with attorney William Tucker, Realtor Ray Caddell, and Spence's son Jamie (Spence Sr. was on vacation) on August 5; Caddell is the listing agent for homes built by Swift Run, which is owned by his wife, Teresa, and Tucker. The three men focused almost exclusively on Beverly's failure to go through what they consider the right channels; for instance, Caddell says that she should have addressed her concerns to Swift Run instead of Spence Sr.

Spence Jr., who is president of Haden Homes, and– as he stressed several times– had nothing to do with Beverly's house, felt so strongly about the issue that he declared, "This lady is crazy."

One of the things they said repeatedly is that such problems come up routinely with new homes, which just made me wonder even harder why Swift Run seemed so reluctant to resolve Beverly's concerns. Caddell finally said that if Beverly would send the list to him, he would consider it– but added, "It's hard for us to get shot-gunned into doing it."

We met again on August 12; this time we were joined by Caddell's wife and Spence Sr. instead of Jr. Spence claimed that a list had in fact been made during or after the walk-through and the items resolved. I asked to see a copy, but, as Tucker later reported, no list could be found.

On the issue of his behavior toward Beverly, Spence denies her claim that he refused to return messages; as I can attest, he doesn't have voice mail (whether he did last winter, of course, I can't say).

In a dramatic move, Caddell announced that he and Tucker would buy Beverly's house back for whatever she paid and allow her to live there free for 30 days after closing. I was concerned that he might view this as a litmus test– i.e., "If she's really unhappy, she'll prove it by selling her house." Tucker, however, assured me that that wasn't the case.

Here's what we finally agreed on, after almost two weeks of meetings, phone calls, and faxes: On August 15, one of Spence's foremen was scheduled to go through the house with Beverly, accompanied by the worker who would be responsible for carrying out whatever repairs both sides agreed were reasonable. If Beverly isn't satisfied, I'll take another tour and report on my findings.

Tucker's final words on the subject were, "I don't want to be associated with a company that doesn't do things right."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second St. NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.