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Builders seek to construct trust

In the home building trade, overcoming public distrust can be a daunting task.

That's especially true in a county such as Pasco, which has attracted its share of unscrupulous builders leaving trails of complaints about shoddy work or unfinished homes.

So the Pasco Building Association has come up with a possible solution: a Builder Professional Standards Program.

The program is a code of conduct for builders and remodelers, outlining building standards that are above and beyond county codes. It also establishes a system for arbitrating disputes between home builders and homeowners before they end up in court.

"The main reason that I feel, and most of our members feel, that we need to do this is as a means of policing our own industry, along with the additional protection it gives to the consumer," said Cindy Meyer, executive officer of the Pasco Building Association. "The public needs to be aware that there are programs out there to protect them."

The Florida Home Builders Association has been urging builder groups statewide to adopt such a program to bring more professionalism to the industry, said Meyer, who is active in the Florida trade group.

The initiative also reflects the PBA's efforts to assume a more active, visible role in the community and to provide more programs for its members.

The association, whose membership has fallen from 500 to nearly 300 during the past two years, recently started an electrical apprenticeship program to meet a need for more skilled workers.

"We want to be more pro-active," said PBA vice president Jack Fess, who is vice president of marketing for Scarborough Corp. of Wesley Chapel. "It strengthens the association because builders realize that in order to be perceived as a quality builder, they better become members of the association."

The program is in its infancy and won't take effect until later this year.

Here's how it would work:

Members of the association would sign a statement agreeing to follow specific construction guidelines outlined in a manual.

These are the kind of "punch list" items that don't necessarily fall under county codes, but nevertheless are important to home buyers.

Some examples include: prohibiting gaps greater than one-quarter of an inch between cabinets and walls; requiring the removal of tree stumps on property that has been disturbed; and requiring that exterior walls do not have cracks wider than one-eighth of an inch.

The program also would establish standardized home-buying contracts and create an arbitration panel for handling complaints, primarily those that are not severe enough to be handled by county or state licensing boards.

The idea would be to resolve complaints before they end up in court, said Meyer, chairwoman of the Florida association's professional standards committee.

The process: Someone calls the PBA with a complaint about a builder. The PBA notifies the builder and schedules an on-site meeting to resolve the matter.

If that fails, an arbitration panel convenes. Similar to a court hearing, PBA members are appointed to represent each side of the dispute. The panel hears the evidence and makes a decision.

Builders found guilty of violating the standards can be fined or have their membership suspended or terminated.

In adopting professional standards, builders merely are doing what Florida real estate agents did years ago, said Meyer, a builder and a licensed real estate broker.

Meyer said most PBA members already are building to the higher standards.

"This just gives the public an added amount of confidence in the quality of their home," she said.