Sunday, December 21, 2014

2.5 Inches is Serious Business

I've held off on writing anything on here until the issue was completely resolved so this post will be long (and at times repetitive) but a word to the wise in dealing with Ryan Homes, 2.5 inches is very serious business. The too long; didn't read version of this that part of our fence ended up being over the property line and we're not only disgusted with how they handled it but also the way the way the issue was handled by the contractor we hired to build the fence. (Russell Fence Company of Petersburg, Virginia.)

As I mentioned in this post from mid-October we had a fence built around our backyard. We were the third house in the neighborhood to have one built and from talking to the neighbors the only one to follow the proper process to get it approved by the Homeowners Association. We submitted to them a proposal listing the fence type, placement, etc and then researched and hired what we thought was a reputable contractor to do the work. All was well for a few weeks following completion of the job with Jenny and I being very happy with how quickly the work was completed and the quality of the fence.

On the afternoon of Election Day I received a call from our project manager. The house next door to us was scheduled to close the following week and it was discovered during the property survey that a portion of our fence was over the property line by 2.5 inches. The PM told me he would leave a copy of the survey at our house and that I would need to contact the fence company to get the problem fixed before closing the following Thursday, some nine days away. I immediately started making calls and arranged for the fence company to come out later in the week to take a look. When their guy finally came out at the end of that week (Day 4 of 8 of this saga and a day later than I was originally told) he said everything appeared fine and within our property line. I called the PM back that afternoon and he disputed the contractor's finding. He said he would get the surveyor back out the following week to double check the line and mark with stakes exactly where the fence was over the line.

The following Tuesday (Day 8 of 10 of this saga and two days before the house next door was scheduled to close) the surveyor came back out, re-shot the lines, and used stakes and flags placed every ten feet or so to mark exactly where the property line was. In the case of where the fence was over the line he nailed pieces of ribbon to the panels. Around the middle of the day the PM called me to let me know his findings we got into a heated discussion (My stress level was building and patience was dwindling by this point) and he told me point blank that if the offending panels were not removed off the line he would send out a crew out to remove them. This in particular got me riled up because I did not feel like he had the right to do so. I told him/demanded that someone higher within Ryan Homes at that point needed to call us because I was through dealing with him.

By that point in the week I had reached out to the real estate attorney, and real estate agent (both of whom told us you'd be hard pressed to find a neighborhood in America that didn't have fences violating property lines) that had handled the sale of of old house and buying this one as well as the NVR mortgage officer we had dealt with. Both of them advised me that given we were only talking about mere inches that this wouldn't be an issue and wouldn't impede the closing.

Around 4pm that afternoon I finally got a call from the local vice president of Ryan Homes. I let him know how disgusted and angry my wife and I were over how this issue had been handled so far. While he agreed that it could have been handled better and that the PM had not conducted himself well he also, less than 48 hours before the closing on the house next door, dropped a major bomb shell on us. If the fence was not removed from the property line by the next day at 3pm, (to give them time to get the property re-surveyed) we would face legal action from not only them but also potentially from the buyers for delaying the closing. This was the first time this had been mentioned and immediately sent my stress level from sky high to stratospheric. (He also mentioned that the NVR mortgage officer had told us had no standing in the matter.)

I got off the phone with him and immediately called the fence company. Regardless of my feelings or theirs on how piddly the issue was the fact remained that the fence was over the line and they were going to need to fix it. I told them that Jenny and I couldn't run the risk of legal action against us and as my wife said at point, "the white flag needed to be raised." The fence company insisted that the property line was my responsibility and that it would cost us $300 for them to come out and move it. (This is a separate issue and something I will get to later in this.) They claimed they could get out the next day and move the fence in time to meet Ryan Homes' 3pm deadline. I called the RH VP back, let him know what I had found out, and in a nicer way than how the PM had told me earlier in the day proposed Plan B. In case the fence company could not get out in time they would at their expense send a crew out to remove the offending fence panels and in such a way that they would be reused. (He conceded that this was how the PM should have put it to us earlier in the day.) I emailed him a statement agreeing to this and stewed over the events of the day the rest of the night.

The following day (Wednesday/Day 9 of 10 of this saga) the fence company called me to let me know they would not in fact be able to send a crew out to fence the problem. I immediately called the RH VP to let him know that his crew would be needed so he could put that plan into motion. Later in the day through Twitter I reached out to Ryan Homes and asked that someone from their corporate office needed to call me. When they did so I spent nearly an hour on the phone with a representative laying out the whole issue and exactly why Jenny and I were so angry with how it had been handled on that end. I also ended up putting this in writing via email which I sent to him, the text of which appears below with names involved redacted.

Mr. [Ryan Homes Representative],
Thank you for reaching out to me Wednesday afternoon. While we covered everything in detail on the phone, my wife and I also feel it is important to communicate to you, Vice President of Ryan Homes (VP), and Project Manager (PM) in writing exactly why we are upset about the way this whole issue over the past week was handled. While we understand it is ultimately our responsibility as homeowners to resolve the issue, and we appreciate your willingness to remove the offending fence panels at Ryan Homes' expense, we do feel that this issue could have been dealt with in a far better manner than it was.

The main point I want to make here is that, other than the property survey given to us by [PM] on Tuesday, November 4, nothing was communicated to us in writing about the seriousness of the issue. Everything over this issue from Ryan Homes has been communicated verbally to us over the phone, which can easily lead to confusion. [VP] implied on the phone on the evening of Tuesday, November 11, that had this issue not been resolved by Wednesday, November 12 at 3pm, we could be subject to legal action. If that is truly the case, then something should have been put into writing conveying the exact nature of the problem, what needed to be done to resolve it, and when. I could very easily claim that [PM] told us something totally different than what he did, and there is no documentation to back up either my story or his to prove it one way or another.

Furthermore, [VP] mentioned to me during that same phone call that [NVR Mortgage Officer] was not authorized to make the call that a letter from the fence company stating the issue would be fixed would be sufficient to resolve the issue. How were we supposed to know this? She said she had spoken with other people in her office and that was the answer she had received. All the times in the past when we received information from her, she was correct, so why would we have had a reason to doubt her this time?

[VP] also stated on that call that a layman does not deal with these issues and might not know how to proceed. Since this issue arose on Tuesday the 4th, we reached out to not only Ryan Homes, but our real estate agent as well as a real estate attorney. Both of them told us this was common and was not the big deal you all were making it out to be. Again, how were we to know differently?

We finally heard from [VP]'s office at 4pm Tuesday afternoon, November 11, less than 24 hours before the deadline (again, communicated to us up to that point verbally, not in writing) about the consequences of not getting this corrected. By then it was too late to get our fence company to come out and make the correction. We feel like if [VP] (not [PM], but [VP] or someone of an equal or higher authority so there could be no dispute) had reached out to us last week, then this issue could have been avoided all together.

From the time [PM] first called me Tuesday November 4 to alert me to this issue we worked to get it corrected. We felt like we needed more information; thus, we reached out to so many people because we could not seem to get any sort of consistent information. We feel like all of you think we were trying to get out of fixing it when nothing could be further from the truth. We simply wanted to make sure that we absolutely needed to take down and move part of our brand new fence. (And make sure that no more than absolutely necessary was done.) Despite what [VP] has insisted to us, the survey provided to us last week was NOT clear to the average person as to exactly where the fence was over the line. We feel like the surveyors should have marked exactly on the fence itself where it was over (such as they did when they finally come out Tuesday morning, November 13, a day before the deadline so there was absolutely no dispute as to where the problem was.

While we appreciate [VP] willingness to work with us to get this resolved, we are absolutely disgusted and angry over all about how this issue was handled by your company. It is not the type of thing we expect from a company that stresses superior customer service as much as it does. We were put through a great deal of stress and time spent over the course of eight days trying to resolve the problem. We feel like much of it could have been avoided had all of you been more professional in communicating with us. While we expect an apology from [PM] over this incident due to his attitude (not just with us but with the fence company who has used words to describe him that should not be printed), we don't feel like it would be genuine. He may be one of your best project managers but the trust we had with him has been broken and that is unfortunate for all involved.


It's worth noting at this point that the above email is the last communication I've had with Ryan Homes on this particular matter.

I got home that afternoon to find the fence panels stacked neatly in our yard on cinderblocks. I again spoke with the fence company and they assured me they would be out the following day to put them back up. I pressed the issue briefly with them on the charge to do so but got no where and let it go for the moment. I also asked that the owner of the company call me to discuss it (the second time I had done so that week over this issue) but he never returned my call.

The following day as I was leaving for work the surveyor was back out doing the final survey to verify the property line was clear. By the time I got home that afternoon the offending fence panels had been put back up and my new neighbors were beginning to move their stuff into their new house.

Now we arrive in this story for the bit about our dispute with the fencing contractor, Russell Fence Company of Petersburg, Virginia.  In discussions I had had with them over this issue they had insisted that the property line was our responsibility and pointed to the line on the work order contract we had signed that stated so. My wife and I clearly disputed this, feeling that we had provided them everything they needed in order to properly place the fence within our property line. (Along with their crew finding the pins marking the boundaries.) The day before Thanksgiving we received the bill in the mail for the work involved in fixing the issue. In response to that I wrote the following email to them putting in writing exactly why we felt they were right and we were right and again asking the owner to contact us about the matter. On thehe Monday after Thanksgiving I sent it to them.

Mr. Russell,
My wife and I are writing to dispute the bill to move our fence at [our address]. We have two issues: the fact that we were billed at all, but also the amount of the bill, which we feel is excessive since the work you did to move the fence was less than what we originally expected.

Over the summer, your estimator came out to our home to provide a quote for the fencing of our backyard. At that time, I showed him a copy of our property survey, and he walked the yard and took measurements. He later sent me the quote, which we signed about a month and a half later, and we submitted that to your company.

On October 9th, your crew arrived to sink the fenceposts. My wife was already home and called me, saying they needed to know where the fence was supposed to go. I emailed her a copy of the aforementioned survey, which she printed off and provided to them. I then left work early and hurried home so I could observe the work being done.

Besides having the survey in hand, your crew was able to find the property pins marking the boundaries...or so I thought. If there was any dispute about where the front pin was, then your crew should have stopped and said they could not proceed until it was found. I could have made a simple phone call to Ryan Homes so the project manager could let me know where it was located. Your crew also visibly sighted on the rear pin behind the existing fence (put there by the neighborhood developer) and proceeded to run the string to place the fence in a straight line.

The fence dividing my property from the property next door is approximately fifty feet in length, twenty-five feet of which was over the property line per surveys done by Ryan Homes prior to the sale of that house. Where the fence line begins was 3.5 inches within my yard and ran outward from there. With as much experience as your company has building fences, should they not be able to run a straight line? We understand the mistake was just mere inches, but the fence went over the property line because of your crew's error. And had this mistake not been corrected, the closing of the property next door would have been delayed, and we would have faced legal action from Ryan Homes. We also understand the work contract states that the homeowner is responsible for the property lines, but we feel we provided your crew with everything they needed to do the job properly. Your crew should have known to sight better on the property pins or stop work if there was a dispute and until it could be clarified.

As for the other issue: the amount of the bill. The original quote your estimator provided to us to move the fence assumed the entire line (approximately fifty feet) separating our yard from the neighbor's would need to be moved. Because you were unable to meet the deadline set by the builder, Ryan Homes sent a crew to remove the twenty-five feet of panels that were over the line. Your crew simply had to dig new post holes for three to four posts and put the panels back up. Your original quote was for $300, but by our estimate, the work was around half of what that quote was for.

Please know that Jenny and I are very happy with the completed fence your company constructed for us, and our neighbors have noticed. Only two other houses (out of approximately 55 total when the neighborhood is finished) have put up fences so far, and the opportunity for you to pick up work is high. Several folks have already asked us about who did the work and we would like nothing more than to be able to recommend you without any sort of reservation.

We will pay this bill if you absolutely insist we owe it. Know, however, that as much as we hate to do it, we will file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau over these issues and will not hesitate to mention it any time anyone asks about the fence. We also will mention it on social media and our house blog. We selected your company not only because of a personal recommendation, but also because of your spotless (not even a resolved complaint) record on the BBB website. We feel without a doubt that the fence being over the property line was the result of your crew's error and was through no fault of our own. We look forward to reaching an amicable solution with you. Please give us a call at your earliest convenience. My cell number is [cell number]. I asked several times in previous weeks of both the estimator and someone else in your office to have you call me. I'm not sure if the message was never passed on or what but I would greatly appreciate a call to resolve this matter.


By Thursday afternoon of that week I still had not heard from them and eager to get it resolved I went on the local Better Business Bureau website and filed a complaint. (Basically the same as the email above.) By then I had already called and left messages for the owner prior to sending the email (and knew they read mail coming to the address because I had sent back the original work contract that way) so I assumed (correctly) that he wouldn't be calling me.

The BBB says the business has fourteen days to respond to the complaint. After seven I grew impatient with waiting and called them. The receptionist I spoke with denied seeing the BBB complaint but gave me the line about the customer being responsible for the property lines and insisted that the owner would call me back. Feeling annoyed and only further irritated I called them back a few minutes later and got ready to tell them I would be contacting the local news station's consumer advocate but before I could say anything to that effect I was put through to the owner.

In a nutshell he ended up being one of the rudest people I had ever had the displeasure of dealing with in a customer service situation. When I asked him he said he had seen both my email and the BBB complaint but insisted in a raised and angry tone of voice that we as the customer were responsible for the property lines. It took all the effort I could muster to be polite with him but every time I tried to say anything regarding Jenny and I's position on the matter he yelled at me, "I'm not going to discuss it any further." He went on to tell me that we would be receiving an invoice in the mail showing we owed nothing further to them to which I stated, "Thank you, that's all we wanted from you." He ended the call by angrily wishing me a Merry Christmas. The next day I received said invoice in the mail thus ending this saga after over a month.

The lessons that can be learned from this.

So what lessons can be learned from this whole ordeal?

-If you're building a fence make absolutely sure that you know exactly where the property lines are especially if the lot next to you is still owned by Ryan Homes. We've since learned that they are very, very, particular about this and it has something to do with being able to resell the mortgage loans on the secondary market. We've since been advised that had the house next to use closed prior to us erecting the fence or had it been a resale situation this problem almost certainly would never have arisen or certainly not have escalated to the level it did.

-Make sure that the fence you build is at least a foot within your property to avoid any disputes later even if this means you lose a bit of your yard in the process.

-When dealing with the fence contractor make sure they are confident about the placement with your property. If there's any dispute whatsoever about the boundaries don't let them proceed until it's been resolved.

It's almost comical that 25 feet worth of fence that was 2.5 inches over the property line could cause such a huge amount of stress and time invested to the issue resolved. I never would have thought when I initially started calling around to get quotes over the summer that this is ultimately what we would go through before it was all over. But we did. And hopefully because of it others can learn from it and avoid going through it themselves.

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