Crack in home foundation derails couple's retirement

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) In 2006, Stephen and Margaret Lynch thought they were buying their dream home in Carolina Forest's Bellegrove Oaks community.  They were recently retired and looking to move from New York to Myrtle Beach.  They never imagined their dream home, built by Centex, would turn the first few years of retirement into a nightmare.  Margaret says they barely had a chance to put their feet up before things started going wrong.

"The dishwasher leaked, the kitchen sink wasn't hooked up, that leaked all over. The washer and dryer leaked out [and] flooded the whole garage," Margaret recalls.  "A lot of things were wrong."

The couple was upset to see so many problems at first, but they attributed it to being new home owners.  Besides, they said their Centex representative seemed to be understanding and quick to help resolve issues.

After the initial problems were fixed, the Lynchs noticed what they say was a hairline crack in their linoleum flooring in the kitchen.  They called their Centex rep for help.

"Bill said 'You know, it's normal down here 'cause we're on a slab, it's not like New York, you know'." Margaret remembers, "We're like 'Alright'."

It turns out the hairline crack in the kitchen was doing far more damage in another part of the house.  Margaret got on the phone again, calling her Centex rep.

"I said 'The grout in the bathroom is cracked' so they originally gave me a hard time, said they wouldn't fix it, but they did eventually fix it," Margaret said.  "A couple months later it cracked again.  They said there was no subfloor down, so they put a membrane down and [said] it shouldn't crack.  But it's cracked again."

The couple had a feeling the problem was more complex than just replacing flooring, so in February 2009, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

"At that point, we started tearing everything up, saying 'What the heck else is wrong'," Margaret said.  "That's when we found the crack goes through the entire house."

It's not uncommon for concrete to crack.  In fact, the South Carolina residential construction standards even state cracking is "characteristic of concrete" and that cracks in foundations generally do not affect the structural strength of the home.

The Lynchs say at first, the size of the crack wasn't changing and their Centex rep reassured them with a letter saying, in part, "The good news is that it is warrantable and will be covered under your 10 year structural warranty by Centex homes."  Margaret and Steve say they didn't like the solution the company wanted to provide, which was to grout the cracks in the foundation and lay down new flooring.

Margaret told the rep it wasn't going to be enough.

"It's good, it's a start," She says she told him, "but you still need to fix the problem underneath."

That problem, the couple says, is unsettled soil that has left a void underneath the concrete foundation.  Overtime as the cracks grew, one side started to drop.  The Lynchs say the drop only confirms their fear the house is not stable.

"Am I gonna be able to sell this if an inspector comes in?" Margaret wonders. "Cause all these inspections are saying 'No, this is not good'."

One of those inspections was from Geometrics Consulting, a firm hired by Centex to check the cracking at the Lynchs house and offer a solution to the problem.  Geometrics decided their measurements and testing found the house needed helical piers underneath to stabilize the foundation; a process Centex said would costs tens of thousands of dollars.

When pressed on the issue by the Lynchs Centex rep, the Geometrics engineer agrees to a much cheaper solution suggested by Centex, saying "the settlement cracking was not as severe as their report suggested" and the company didn't feel the settling of the house warranted spending in the neighborhood of $30,000 to install the piers.

In an email exchange, Geometrics engineers agreed a grout injection Centex proposed "should be an adequate repair method."

The Lynchs say the decision left them speechless.

"Wait a second, you paid for an engineer company to come out and give you a report, they told you what they think we need and now you're saying you can't go by them?" Margaret recalls telling Centex.

The couple says over time, they got worn down by Centex.  On top of the constant battle trying to get the reps to call them back and living in a house with a concrete floor, both of them went back to work to try and pay for upgrades they feel the home needs.

"When we finally said we would take the epoxy, because we still had a few years left on the warranty, they said 'we're not gonna give it to you now, it's off the table'."

Margaret also says she went through Centex rep after Centex rep, finding several times the person assigned to their case was no longer with the company.  When she did speak with someone, she says customer service was not their first priority.

"I feel like I've had to be on the defense from the very beginning," Margaret says. "[One rep said] 'Come on Miss Lynch, let's face it, you didn't buy a million dollar house'."

It may not have cost a million dollars, but the home was supposed to be a retirement haven for Margaret and Stephen.  Her dream was to put tile flooring down in the kitchen she loves to entertain in; but one Centex rep told her that to avoid cracks in her tile, she'd have to settle for another type of flooring.

"You should be able to buy a house that you can come in and put down tile, you shouldn't have a house that 'no, you can't put down tile'," Margaret says.

At least one engineering firm agreed, saying even if a cracked foundation isn't automatically warrantable, the fact the Lynchs can't put down tile, their choice of flooring, the foundation can't support what's referred to as a "dead load".  And that's a failure of the home's foundation.

WMBF News tried to contact Centex for comment on the Lynchs case in early June.  Company spokesman Travis Parman responded to our request by email and said he would gather the Lynchs information and get back to us.  Nearly two weeks later, we reached out to Parman again, by email, asking if he had an update.  He said nobody would be available to go on camera because the Lynchs complaints were not legitimate.

We pressed again for an interview, to try and sort out the inconsistencies in Centex reports about the Lynchs home, even offering to drive to a regional office in Charleston, SC.  Parman said the soonest an interview could be set up was the week of July 11, one month after we first contacted Centex for comment.  When we tried to confirm a date and time, Parman never responded.  One last phone call was made to Parman before deadline and again, no response.

"They don't wanna help you, they don't answer calls, they don't send ya emails, they don't come back with their word that they say," Margaret said.

She said she's done contacting Centex for help, but she wants other prospective buyers to beware.

"If one person, you know, doesn't have this happen, I'll feel better cause it's just been such a long haul."

Margaret has kept a huge file of the years of correspondence she's had with Centex.  She says at this point, she and her husband plan to pay to fix the foundation themselves because at least they know the house will be stable and someday, they'll be able to sell it.

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