Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Home Builder Review: Standard Pacific

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to provide a candid account of the new construction process for others considering going this route. It was especially daunting for us because the first house we built is our first home ever. When I was still surfing blogs for insight, I seemed to find bits and pieces, but a lot of bloggers largely excluded their experience with their builder.

Like, tell me how none of your doors close and the roof leaks, but not the builder who did the shoddy work. Thanks?

To me, your builder not only dictates the quality of your house, but the experience could affect the perception of your home. Hypothetically, if every time I spoke with one of our builder's representatives it was bad news, I would think of the house as a burden, not a haven, before we even move in. Then, every time anything went wrong, no matter how small or routine, I'd blame them. "What do you mean a light burned out?! Probably due to our home's terrible craftsmanship." Only there would be blog-inappropriate words.

So, if any one out there is looking at building a new home, here's the official account of my experience with Standard Pacific Homes.

The good: The people we met and worked with were so nice and genuine. They quickly answered every question they could and helped us find the answer when they couldn't.

One of the main things that stands out to me is before we even signed a contract, we asked our sales rep, Josh, about the demographic makeup of the community. Being a couple of marketing majors considering building in a gentrifying part of town, we were pretty obsessed with what type of people were attracted to the neighborhood. Problem is real estate agents aren't allowed to comment on specific demographics as part of the Equal Housing Act (or something like that; basically, they don't want people to discriminate against neighborhoods due to the neighbors themselves).

What Josh did do was put us in contact with a current resident who could answer all our non-P.C. questions. Even though Josh couldn't control the answers that resident gave us and risked losing a sale, he took the risk. He showed integrity by not breaking his real estate agent oath. And he showed he believed in the product by trusting the fate of his commission to a third party. Honestly, I don't know if we would have chosen this neighborhood over a safer (physically and fiscally) suburban option without that resident's reassurance.

When things got spotty near closing (more on that in a minute) both Josh and our construction manager, Scott, showed true concern over our situation. Scott even arranged a couple of (small) freebies to make up for any inconvenience and show that StanPac was committed to doing right by their homeowners.

I never felt like StanPac was trying to hustle us, pass off a sub-par product, or do anything sketchy. One of the statements on the new homeowner survey was "I trust Standard Pacific to do the right thing," and I felt obligated to give them a perfect ten.

So far our house seems to be superior quality. The few issues we did find after closing, Scott has been adamant about getting them resolved quickly and on StanPac's dime. Very important, since after closing they have every right to say, "it wasn't like that when you bought it. Sorry."

The bad: Oh, Standard Pacific Mortgage, the stress you caused us should have warranted 0% financing.

While I have nothing but good things to say about the building process, I have almost exclusively bad things to say about their in-house mortgages. Even though Pat works for Bank of America, StanPac Mortgage offered several thousand dollars in closing costs and a very competitive interest rate so we decided to give StanPac a shot. Our loan officer was very helpful prior to applying for our loan to figure out which option would get us the best rates, and how to make sure we were approved all together.

Once we officially applied, the communication effectively ceased. We received no updates, no requests for further documentation, practically nothing. It's a good thing Pat is a mortgage industry insider because every time he insisted we send in some apparently meaningless document, we'd get a response to the tune of, "oh thanks, we did need that. Good catch." It took longer than anticipated to receive our initial approval (they were "backed up") and they went right up to the federal government's deadline for the maximum time to process a new purchase loan.

After we finally received our initial approval, we didn't hear much until we received our 60-day notice to lock in the interest rate. Which was a full percentage point higher than when we applied (admittedly not their fault). We knew interest rates could fluctuate, but we expected .25% or .5% tops. We didn't really want to go up that much, so we inquired about purchasing points (Pat says that's not the correct sentence usage. Oh well...) and our loan officer's responses only made us feel like we were bugging him.

You'd think that'd be enough, but no one even contacted us prior to closing through any medium to discuss money. We didn't know how much we were bringing to closing until we were driving to our pre-closing tour (about 2 hours before the papers are signed) and even getting our down payment amount involved me making about a half dozen phone calls (our loan officer never answered). We never received our HUD 1 and basically walked into closing blind.

Even with all the hassles, the substantial savings from using StanPac Mortgage versus an outside lender made it worth it for us. Maybe we're just cheap. I'd take a moment of reflection to see if you could tolerate the emotional roller coaster in order to save a dollar. If so, StanPac Mortgage could be for you. If not, run like hell.

The only other qualm I have with our StanPac experience is our closing date situation. Loyal readers (I think I now have four) will know that we didn't know our official closing date until 13 days prior when we were supposed to receive a 60-day notice. Big issue for renters who needed to vacate an apartment. I won't rehash all the details because we've been there, done that and I'm in a pretty good mood right now. If you want to know more, almost every post from August-September covers some detail of that extremely frustrating topic.

In all fairness, the delay wasn't caused by StanPac (it was cause by Duke Energy), but I do think StanPac could have done a better job handling it. On more than one occasion we asked for a tentative closing date and they couldn't give one because they had "been burned in the past." Up until mid-September, we had no idea if they were going to say, "you close in two weeks," or "this is your 60-day notice, you will close just in time for Thanksgiving." If they had said the latter, we would currently be homeless.

Remember, when we signed our contract in February we believed we would be in around late July. I do want to say that was in no way StanPac's fault, but a result of the rainiest summer in a millenia and Duke Energy's errant thoughtlessness. StanPac even told us upfront that while they can build a house in about five months, they had people who had taken almost a year due to "acts of God." If you're on a tight timeline, new construction (from any builder) probably isn't for you.

Overall: Sure we're only one month into this crazy thing we call home-ownership, but at this point we feel comfortable recommending StanPac given you are a patient person. I'm very happy with the quality of our home and the people we met along the way. The finished product was definitely worth waiting for.


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