For buyers, housing slowdown may bring higher quality

Sep. 13--This year's slowdown in homebuilding might mean better quality of construction for buyers.

That's because builders are no longer in such a hurry to finish houses.

"The builders are carrying higher amounts of inventory than they have in the past," said Paula Sonkin, vice president of the real estate and construction industries practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "They are delivering more homes on time and complete, so there are fewer construction problems.

"It's a silver lining to the slowdown in the market."

During boom times when builders are scrambling to finish thousands of houses, there are more chances for construction errors, Ms. Sonkin said.

Now, builders are selling more homes out of completed inventory, and overall construction is down by almost 40 percent for the year.

California-based J.D. Power just completed its annual survey on the U.S. homebuilding industry.

The consumer market research found that overall complaints about new-home quality are about 7 percent lower this year.

The most common complaints are about sidewalk, driveway and foundation cracks; crooked walls; visible carpet seams; and landscaping.

Among builders, Dallas-based Centex Homes had the highest customer satisfaction ranking in J.D. Power's nationwide survey of recent homebuyers. Pulte Homes Inc. -- which also builds in North Texas -- was second in the national poll.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, J.D. Power's research rated Huntington Homes highest in both new-home quality and customer satisfaction. Fox & Jacobs Homes and Centex Homes were next in satisfaction ratings. Sotherby Homes ranked second in overall quality.

The annual ranking is closely watched by both consumers and builders. A high or low ranking in the poll can mean a difference of thousands of home sales.

"If they are at the top of the list, they will be advertising it and telling their customers," said David Brown with housing analyst Metrostudy Inc. "In this market, anything they can do to set them apart from others is important."

Customers in the Power survey rated the builders based on factors including warranty, customer service, construction managers, sales staff, home readiness, price and value, and workmanship and materials.

On average, homebuyers have about 13 problems with their new homes.

Customers were also asked to evaluate homebuilders' mortgage companies. Centex's CTX Mortgage got the top rating in that category.

In terms of overall quality, the D-FW area was about 10th among the 34 U.S. housing markets J.D. Power surveyed.

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