By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
-- "Commitment to Excellence III,"
a booklet for David Weekley employees
Claudia Murillo still gets that rapt, tilt-of-the-head look when she recalls the day she, her husband Carlos and her two children moved into their newly constructed David Weekley home. "We were so happy," Murillo says. "Everything was so good."
Not that all had gone smoothly. At the April 1989 closing, the title company informed the Murillos that a 16-foot utility easement -- which the Weekley salesman had neglected to mention -- bisected the spot in the back yard where they had intended to build a swimming pool. Nonetheless, the Murillos signed the closing papers.
After all, when you've lived in a trailer park most of your life, as Claudia had, and you've struggled for years to build a business and scrape together the $10,000 down payment, and you're ready to make the move of a lifetime, disappointment over the lack of a swimming pool isn't reason enough to postpone your dream another six months or more.
So the following week, the family occupied the $97,000, four-bedroom house at 3651 Laurel Hollow Drive, on the bulb end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the growing Cypresswood subdivision of suburban Spring. It was a little more than they could afford, but the neighborhood was good for the kids. And besides, it carried the name of Houston-based David Weekley, one of the nation's biggest homebuilders. "That's why I wanted to buy it," Claudia says. "I had heard his reputation was real good, and he stood behind his work."
As is common with new homes, detail work still needed to be done. When Weekley failed to take care of the unfinished items after more than a month of requests to do so, however, Carlos posted a sign in the front yard that said, "Come Talk to Me Before You Buy a David Weekley Home." That day, says Claudia, a crew arrived and tackled the checklist.
But mere protests couldn't solve their next problem. Carlos Murillo owned and operated a security company, so he couldn't figure out why the state-of-the-art alarm system he'd installed kept going off. About once a week, Claudia recalls, he'd have to leave a job site downtown and race home, where he'd determine that no burglar had intruded and reset the alarm.
One afternoon, about six months after they had bought the house, Carlos was doing some yard work and noticed a jagged gap in the mortar where the exterior brick wall had split. Closer examination revealed what appeared to be a crack in the slab. Shortly thereafter, cracks appeared in the living room Sheetrock and ceiling. He called Weekley Homes, which inspected the premises. Just a few surface cracks, the Murillos were told, the result of the normal settling process that occurs with many slab foundations in Texas. There was nothing to be concerned about.
Indeed, cracked and shifting foundations are the bane of many homeowners in the Houston area, with its expanding and contracting gumbo soil. But the seriousness of the problem at the Murillos' house -- and only six months after its construction -- seemed oddly suspicious to Carlos. So he hired his own inspector, who delivered an altogether different opinion: the foundation was splitting apart, in effect twisting the whole structure like a pretzel. When the kitchen wallpaper was peeled back, the Sheetrock looked like a spider web. "I came home and saw all the cracks," says Claudia, "and I started crying."
And Carlos finally figured out what was causing his alarm to sound. One afternoon, while his niece was working in the room they used as the security company office, one of the windows suddenly groaned and bowed outward like a giant bubble, then cracked.
Okay, said David Weekley Homes. We'll take care of it.
We call it "custom quality," and you can feel and see this higher level of craftsmanship
in every David Weekley home. Look at the
finishes and details on mantels and cabinets. The evenness of things. The way windows
and moldings fit. The roof. It will
tell you a lot about a builder's dedication.
-- From a Weekley Homes brochure
For the next three years, the Murillos endured a constant stream of repairmen in and out of their residence. A foundation repair company jacked up the house and put in piers to stabilize the slab -- three times. Crews of Sheetrock hangers and painters regularly paid visits to repair the repairs of the repairs, often leaving the house trashed at the end of the day. "You'd come home every day, and there was something they messed up," says Claudia.
Workers also helped themselves to the phone without asking, racking up long-distance bills to Mexico, though Claudia says they paid them off. And the leering looks at her teenage daughter and other troubling behavior made the Murillos feel uneasy when away from home, and uneasy while there.