Final-Finish Expert Offers Buying Tips : Ex-Construction Inspector Aims Book at New-House Purchasers

Times Staff Writer

For most of his 25 years as a construction specialist, William Marchiony has been a lot like Inspector 12 in the Hanes TV commercial: A house wasn't finished until Marchiony said it was finished.

Actually, the "final finish" expert is quite the opposite of the proverbial tough assembly inspector. Gentle and good-natured, with a background in residential real estate brokerage, Marchiony maintains that being a Gemini with a Virgo ascendant may partially explain why he is so "very picky."

Often, after a job superintendent would brag in trade jargon that a house was "history" (meaning it was finished), Marchiony would look it over and counter with his favorite expression: "It may be a historical novel to you, Charlie, but it ain't finished yet."

His many years as final-finish expert for a number of developers convinced Marchiony how often new-home buyers get cheated simply by not being aware of flaws and demanding that they be corrected.

A buyer's "walk through" is the best and perhaps the last opportunity to examine a house in minute detail before signing on the line, Marchiony said. "At this point the buyer still has the financial clout on his side to get things corrected."

The Last 5%

Most building contractors and tract developers, he explained, do a very acceptable job on 95% of the house, but it is the completion of the myriad of details in the last 5%, like gathering the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, that requires careful examination.

"Defects in materials and workmanship are often overlooked through problems in scheduling or lack of proper supervision in those final stages," the now-retired inspector stressed.

"Contractors used to be paid for a total job," he said, "but nowadays, because of so much subcontracting, quantity often takes precedence over quality."

A warning from Marchiony: "Walk through a new house you're about to buy during daylight hours. Leave the kids at home. Don't take along well-meaning friends or relatives. It's counterproductive. You need to concentrate."

Marchiony sums up the whys and hows of this kind of scrutiny, step-by-step, in his book, "The New House Buyer's Guide," which he has written to assist the buyer with the "walk through."

It tells readers what to look for in every room and area, and warns that, if the're buying in a development, they should study the model to get a clear picture of what their house should look like.

"And don't get side-tracked by the decorator items," he added. "One clever marketing technique is to scale down the furniture to make the rooms look larger. Think of your own furnishings and your own needs and avoid being overwhelmed by some dazzling window treatment."

Most Builders Reputable

On the bright side, Marchiony believes that while there are still unscrupulous developers out there, most reputable builders are more consumer-oriented and will voluntarily point out defects that the buyer may not have noticed, offering assurance that they will be corrected before delivery.

These could include scrapes or dents in the walls or ceilings, chipped or dented appliances, cracked window glass or tile or missing screens; warranties on appliances usually cover appliance performance for a pre-determined period.

A thorough check of warp damage on doors, out-of-square windows, delamination and weather stripping is useful, and one should not overlook the garage, which probably receives one of the most hurried examinations by most new-home buyers, Marchiony said.

The inclusion of an electric garage opener, if promised, or installation of electrical wiring to accommodate one at a later date, should be checked. Last but not least, the surface of the garage floor should be at least four inches below the first floor level of the house to prevent any water that gets into the garage from entering the house.

It is reasonable to expect that most items would be corrected by the builder within a month, but scheduling of subcontractors may require additional time. Builders will usually try to expedite--the philosophy being that "word of mouth" advertising through a satisfied customer is the best approach of all.

Marchiony said that many states now have set up licensing requirements for general contractors but that the licensing effectiveness will vary from state to state. California is among those implementing tough laws while other states, like Delaware, license for revenue purposes only and waive state exam requirements and job-site monitoring.

Consumer Complaint Response

In contrast to the discrepancy in licensing effectiveness, he added, all 50 states have set up consumer protection agencies that respond positively to consumer complaints. Marchiony's book lists these with addresses and phone numbers.

A special chapter deals with security and safety and explains the "knockout" key that, when inserted into the lock, pushes the last tumbler in the lock out of position, making the builder's key inoperable, with only a master key remaining in possession of the superintendent.

Master tumblers can later be replaced to make the master key inoperable. Visual surveillance procedures are examined in detail, as are other security topics, including smoke detectors and safety measures for children.

"The New House Buyer's Guide" may be ordered for $20.09, including tax and postage, from Carefree Living Co., 2509 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91362.

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