Shining light: But not through the roof!

The sigh of relief that Diana Bolden's going to breathe when she finally moves into her new home may be more forceful than most such sighs of relief. That's because the construction process, which Bolden embarked on when she signed a contract with Nationwide Homes last March 31, has turned out to be significantly longer and more difficult than she expected.

Nationwide sells modular homes, which are constructed in two parts– front and back– at a manufacturing plant and then set on the foundation and joined. On its website, Nationwide says, "The home is designed and built in a climate-controlled environment. This means harmful weather never touches the inside of your home."

The inside of Bolden's house, unfortunately, wasn't so lucky.

The house wasn't placed on the foundation until September 12, due to a string of problems: Excavation took longer than expected because the site was so rocky, and then there were snafus, largely bureaucratic, with the septic system and well. Then came the worst one yet: On September 17, the open joint between the two halves was covered with plastic sheeting– which promptly blew off when Hurricane Isabel came through the next day. If the joint had been sealed, the interior would have been watertight.

Instead, there was serious water and mold damage to the house's interior. When I spoke with Dan Goodin, Nationwide's consumer division vice president, I wondered aloud whether this might be a cautionary tale for people thinking of buying a modular home. Goodin took strong exception to that, and said that of the roughly 40 houses Nationwide will install in Virginia during this year of record rain, Bolden's is "the only one [I'm] aware of having significant water damage."

Which isn't to say that the company, headquartered in Martinsville, wasn't concerned. Because of Bolden's situation and "a few others," Goodin told me, both the manager and the construction supervisor for the Charlottesville office were terminated in October. "Customers weren't being treated the way they needed to be treated," he explained.

Goodin also said that he'd given the new construction supervisor "carte blanche" to remedy Bolden's situation, and had directed that all water- or mold-damaged items be replaced rather than repaired.

I had seen pictures of the damage before I toured the house and am glad to report that it looks like matters on that score have been resolved. Or have they? Bolden's husband, Richard, claims that daylight still shows through the roofline seam, which can be viewed through a hole cut for access to the attic. It was dark when I visited, however, so I could not confirm this.

In addition to the water damage and delay, Bolden claims that Nationwide has been slow to respond to her concerns. The latest headache, she says, has been the large rear deck: When the subcontractor arrived to install it, he found that because of an incline, the work would be more involved– and expensive– than estimated on the $117,000 contract for the house. That meant opening negotiations with Nationwide to decide who would cover the extra costs.

When I spoke with Goodin, he said he had assumed that Bolden was satisfied with the project's status. Quite the opposite, I replied, and suggested he speak with her. He called Bolden the same day, and the result was that the new manager of the Charlottesville office, Tony Santoro, arranged to walk through the house with Bolden on December 8. According to an email from Bolden, Santoro's goal for the inspection was to "fix or make right any of our frustrations."

When Nationwide has had sufficient time to address Bolden's concerns, I'll check with her and see where things stand. If problems develop, I'll follow up in a future column.

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