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FINISHING TOUCHES

One in a series.

There are problems at John and Debbie Pitcairns' new house.

A wide crack runs most of the length of the garage floor.

The floor in one room isn't quite level.

Someone broke down a $500 French door and stole a brand-new $340 microwave before the family ever got a chance to use it.

The entertainment center doesn't fit right.

And the closing date when the Pitcairns can finally move into the house _ originally scheduled Monday _ has been pushed back to Oct. 31.

"The last few weeks have been real exciting," said Debbie Pitcairn, who stops in daily to watch construction progress at her four-bedroom, 3{-bath house. "But they've also been real nerve-racking."

Since March, the Times has been following the Pitcairns as they do what thousands do each year in the Tampa Bay area _ build a new house. The Pitcairns' $444,800 custom home is in the fast-growing Hunter's Green subdivision in north Tampa.

The problems at the Pitcairn house may seem massive.

But most are actually relatively small and easily fixable. And they are typical of the kinds of problems new home buyers face every day _ regardless of the size, location or price tag of their homes.

"We just work on a house little by little until we get that perfect home," said Tiffany Whitehead, the saleswoman for Hannah-Bartoletta Homes who sold the Pitcairns their house. Whitehead is largely responsible for making sure all the problems are solved before the couple takes possession of the home.

"But things like these, they're as common as rain in Florida," she said.

Rainy day problems

Rain, in fact, has been the source of many of the small problems at the Pitcairn house.

In the construction business, rain dictates everything.

At the Pitcairns', rain has kept the contractor from finishing the family's pool.

It has kept the landscape contractor from laying sod as scheduled.

It helped cause part of the home's floor to be off-level.

The concrete contractor poured part of the floor, or slab, of the house during a light rain, according to Brad Otto, Hannah-Bartoletta's construction supervisor for the Pitcairn house. The added water in the concrete mixture caused the floor to have some unlevel portions _ "whoop-de-doos" as Otto calls them.

Otto can't re-level the floor. But he can make it look better by putting molding strips along the baseboard in the one room where the "whoop-de-doos" are.

The crack in the concrete garage floor is a different matter. That occurred partly because that section of the slab is so large, and partly because of the inherent nature of concrete to expand and contract.

"I've told (the Pitcairns) I can't make it go away," Otto said. "The crack will always be there. But I can cosmetically hide it so they'll hardly know it's there."

Other problems that pop up during the construction of a new home stem from simple communications breakdowns between homeowner and builder, salesperson and site supervisor.

That was the case with the entertainment center in the Pitcairns' living room.

Bookshelf-like entertainment centers are standard in the Hannah-Bartoletta model that the Pitcairn bought, as they are in many builders' models these days.

But the Pitcairns made some minor changes to the design of theirs: Some shelves were a bit smaller, others were spaced farther from others.

After a subcontractor built and installed the Pitcairns' entertainment center, the couple noticed it wasn't what they had asked for. According to Otto, the plan changes never reached him.

"The homeowners did what they were supposed to do," he said. "They went to the office and asked for the changes, but the office didn't get the changes to the people in the field."

To compound that problem, the carpenter who built the center now is in Spain on vacation. Otto had to hire another subcontractor to do the job right, and Hannah-Bartoletta had to pay for the center to be built twice.

Other construction site delays occur when home buyers change their minds about parts of a house.

The Pitcairns, for example, recently decided to change the shape of the steps leading into their pool so they are easier to clean and safer for the couple's three children. They couldn't foresee the need for the minor change when they were planning the house, but it was obvious to them after they saw the completed steps. Making the change takes time.

Still other construction site problems can't be averted by the builder or the homeowner.

Take, for example, the break-in at the Pitcairns' half-finished house earlier this month.

Someone smashed in a back patio door and stole the microwave, just days after it had been installed. Hannah-Bartoletta and its insurance company had to pay to replace the door and the microwave.

"I guess I shouldn't have locked up the house so tightly," Otto said. "It cost more to replace the damn door than it did to replace the microwave they stole."

A snowball effect

Problems sometimes cause other problems.

Because of all the minor problems at the Pitcairn house, the couple can't move in when they had planned.

"We really wanted to be in by Halloween, for the kids," Debbie Pitcairn said. "But that doesn't look like it's going to happen."

Since their closing is delayed a week, Debbie Pitcairn had to reschedule the moving company hauling their furniture from their former home in New York. The couple also had to pay another month's rent in the apartment where they have been living until their house is done.

Still, there is plenty for the Pitcairns to do before they can move in anyway.

The couple had to meet with the Hunter's Green homeowners' association to get the playground they're planning to build approved. They had to get a fence installed for their dog. And they had to start buying all the odds and ends that every new house needs.

And still, despite the delays, the family gets excited watching their dream home come together piece by piece, however long it takes.

"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," an excited Daniel Pitcairn, age 3, implored one recent day while visiting the job site with his parents.

"This is going to be our house . . . isn't it?"

The Times is following the construction of John and Debbie Pitcairn's home in Tampa. The family expects the house to be finished later this month.

THE ANATOMY OF A HOUSE

May 8

One house, one thousand decisions

The Pitcairns must decide on

everything from a roof tile color to

what kinds of trees they want.

July 10

Watching the weather _ and everything else

As construction starts,

responsibility for everything from

planning for rain to placing electrical

outlets lies primarily with one

person: the construction supervisor.

Aug. 14

The work of many hands

A new home means jobs for

hundreds of people. And they don't

all swing hammers or use paint

brushes.

Today

Fixing the details

Is that tile floor unlevel? Are all the

walls painted correctly? As the

house nears completion, the little

problems must be fixed.

Still to come

Breaking down the costs

With the Pitcairns' house

completed, a breakdown of who was

involved in the project, where the

money went and what it paid for.

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