By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Even so, Cobarruvias is unimpressed. "Trusting the home-building industry to advocate for the homeowner is like trusting a terrorist to advocate for homeland security," he says. "Their interest is not for the homeowner or the consumer. It's to protect their industry. And they're doing a very good job of it."
For example, the commission plans to set up rules for how private arbitrators resolve housing disputes. Ware Wendell, policy director for Texas Watch, was appointed to the task force five months after it had begun meeting. He's the only member from a consumer rights group. "Forced arbitration used to be the single worst thing about trying to hold a bad home builder accountable," he says. "Now, with the administrative maze you have to run at the TRCC, it's a question as to how many homeowners will actually have the time, patience and resources to persevere on to the arbitration stage, which hasn't gotten any easier."
The commission and the law that created it have destroyed the credibility of Texas home builders, critics say. And for that, they heap much of the blame on home builder Perry. "When he has a defect, he should have enough integrity to stand up and fix it," Cobarruvias says. "And the reason we have this commission is he hasn't done it. He would rather stand behind his attorneys than stand behind his homes."
On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, Agnew stares in disgust at a two- by ten-foot sliver of grass in front of his town house. Perry's home-warranty company commanded him to water this peewee lawn, arguing that the moisture would keep his cement foundation from cracking. But a Perry engineer later said that the water would make cracks bigger.
Agnew heard mixed messages from Perry Homes from the start. He walked inside the house shortly after agreeing to buy it and found the living room chandelier smashed on the floor. A superintendent denied knowing about the damage, Agnew says, until he pressed him into admitting a cleaning crew had left a faucet running in a bathroom, drenching the third floor and turning the ceilings to putty. Agnew moved into the house anyway, trusting that Perry had fixed the problem.
Over the next few months, Perry sent workers to make a string of repairs. They covered nails that were poking through drywall and fixed a leaky pipe connection in a wall. But Agnew says Perry did only a surface job. Two doors in the house now swing closed on their own, making him wonder if his town house is like a callow Tower of Pisa.
Outside, he points to a fissure on his driveway, which began as a schism the width of a credit card and gradually migrated up the drive and into the floor of his garage. Perry injected epoxy into the crack, but that hasn't kept it from growing. "It gets bigger and bigger every day," he says.
Agnew is not a picky homeowner. He complains reticently and a bit timidly. But he lives with his elderly mother-in-law, who can't climb the steep stairs and needs to move into a one-story house where she can walk around. He says two potential buyers who saw the cracked garage floor weren't interested.
"All I want is Bob Perry to fix it," he says.
If only patching the cracks in Perry's neighborhoods were as easy. Indeed, fixing Sutton Square means different things to different people. Agnew and many of his neighbors want to see the last of the little houses replaced with town homes. Yet other local residents want to save what they can of the old neighborhood.
On a recent weekday, an old man pushes a shopping cart through the neighborhood. It's filled not with groceries but with old clothes and wicker baskets. A town-house resident calls out to him: "Are you stealing this stuff?"
No, he says. "They were taking it away."