Navigating a New Home Build – Warranty

February 15, 2022 (Reston, Virginia)

As you settle into your new home, it’s important to understand what potential issues are—and aren’t—covered by the builder’s warranty and manufacturer warranties, and how to approach warranty claims.

A builder’s warranty may be issued and backed by your builder, or a builder may purchase a warranty from a third-party, independent company. It’s important not to confuse a builder’s warranty with products that are sometimes called home warranties but are more accurately a type of service contract that a buyer or seller may purchase to cover an older home. Those products are usually limited to things like appliances, plumbing, and HVAC systems.

A builder’s warranty typically covers workmanship and materials used in the construction of a home. Ideally, you should read the warranty in depth prior to signing a purchase contract, since the warranty represents part of the builder’s commitment to you as the buyer. It’s also advisable to review the warranty again prior to (or at) closing with the settlement attorney. That’s helpful, as it allows you to refamiliarize yourself with the ongoing relationship with your builder (or warrantor).

The warranty should clearly detail the following information:

  • What parts of the home are covered by the warranty and for how long.
    • Different systems and parts of a structure are covered for different periods of time. While warranties differ significantly among builders, examples include:
      • One-year warranty period on workmanship and materials for exterior siding, doors and trim, flooring. A year is long enough to allow the home to go through one seasonal cycle of weather and humidity changes, to settle, and for the new owner to live there long enough to make sure all the systems work properly.
      • Mechanical systems and manufactured goods have their own warranties, which are typically conveyed to the buyer. Two, five or even ten-year coverage may apply for appliances, HVAC, plumbing, or electrical systems.
      • Warranties may offer five-year or 10-year coverage for structural issues that might affect the integrity of the house or cause safety issues. These kinds of issues are extremely rare, especially in Northern Virginia, where County oversight is considerable, so this coverage is more often for a sense of safety than of actual value.
  • How to make a claim. The warranty should be accompanied by information on when and how to make a claim with the builder versus when to place a claim under the manufacturer’s warranty. In some cases, this could depend on the nature of a particular problem, as well as what component is affected. For example, if a home leaks from a skylight, the builder is likely responsible if the problem results from improper installation, while the manufacturer’s warranty would be liable if the leak is due to a defective skylight. In some cases, a builder may help homeowners place a manufacturer claim.
  • How the repair or replacement work is to be performed. Typically, the builder will inspect the issue and arrange, if practical, for the original contractor to make repairs since they have specific familiarity with the home and the component or system. This also provides homeowners the opportunity to establish relationships with these service providers.
  • The process for settling any potential disputes between the owner and the builder. Good builders stand behind their warranties because they value their customers, and they want to maintain their reputations. They usually strive to make things right and ensure they have met their obligations under their warranty. If there is a disagreement, some warranties stipulate they be settled through third-party mediation or arbitration, which can avoid costly legal fees for both parties.

It’s important for homeowners to understand what isn’t covered by builder or manufacturer warranties, and situations that can void warranty coverage:

  • Cosmetic items, or items that only affect the appearance of a material and not it’s function or structural purpose. These items ought to be identified at the walk-through, and should appear on the resulting list. A builder will usually not warrant cosmetic damage after the walk-through, as it is very difficult to determine if it resulted from normal wear and tear or existed prior to settlement.
  • Normal wear and tear, such as fading or scuffing of paint over time, minor cracks or joint spaces due to settling, or hardwood flooring wear from high heels and pet traffic. A builder may elect to fix nail pops and caulk cracks at the end of a warranty that result from normal settlement, but it is typically at the builder’s discretion.
  • Damage resulting from lack of maintenance, such as landscaping elements that die when not watered or water damage from not replacing loose or missing caulk or failing to clean gutters.
  • Damage from natural disasters, such as roofing destroyed by high winds or siding damage from a falling tree.
  • Damage caused by work performed after settlement by another contractor or the homeowner, such as tiles cracked when installing a shelf or drywall damage while hanging curtains.
  • Improper use of a product, such as applying a proscribed harsh cleaner on the seals of a self-cleaning oven.
  • “Secondary damage” is usually not warranted. That means that the builder may be responsible to repair or replace elements of the home damaged by a leak, but not the furniture or artwork nearby. That would typically be covered by homeowner’s insurance.

In the event that you experience an emergency of some sort, like a burst pipe, during your warranty period, do NOT wait to reach the builder to have it corrected. Minimize the damage and call a repairperson, ideally the one who built the house, before further damage occurs. Contact information and instructions for such (hopefully unlikely) events should be included in your settlement package.

About Gulick Group, Inc.: Established in 1987, Reston-based Gulick Group has developed communities throughout Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, including One Cameron Place and Newport Shores in Reston, The Reserve in McLean, Autumn Wood, Grovemont, and the three Riverbend Communities in Great Falls, Red Cedar West in Leesburg, and Wild Meadow in Ashburn.