Money is always there but the pockets change; it is not in the
On February 6, in the midst of all these negotiations, Tom came over to the house and stayed about two hours. He came just to talk, to hash over the case. At one point he asked us: "Suppose another couple come to me with house problems as bad as yours. What should I tell them?" Larry and I had often discussed the same question ourselves. Given the awful truth of defective construction which the builder refuses to fix, what should the immediate legal strategy be? Larry was ready with an answer for Tom: "File a lawsuit immediately. Don't discuss settlement, don't have meetings, just file the lawsuit. That way they know you mean business and the owners won't lose as much in real estate appreciation if the case is tried quickly." We thought this was a good answer but Tom didn't agree. "No," he said. "That's not what I would recommend. I would tell them to fix the house and forget about it. It doesn't pay to sue, to go to trial."
Before we could express our astonishment he added: "Your case was unique. You couldn't fix the house without moving out. But if the owners could fix their house, that's what I'd tell them to do. Fix it and forget about it." That, dear reader, is one experienced litigator's assessment of your chances in court if you ever buy a defective home.
Fortunately we were able to find a suitable home by the deadline. In late February we purchased a 20-year-old split level in an adjacent suburb, for $340,000. Although a nice house, in size and amenities it doesn't compare with what we built in 1985-86. Besides being older it is smaller, with no first floor master bedroom, a smaller garage, an unfinished basement, no deck and an almost treeless lot. In 1985, when we decided to build our dream home for $350,000, this split level would have sold in the mid-$200,000 range. Still, we are thankful to have found it; this house was one of the less expensive homes on the market in early 1989 and is in a very nice neighborhood. Too bad we had to spend $160,000 `extra' to get here. Cooper obeyed the court order and didn't try any last minute tricks. Title to the defective house transferred March 15, 1989, and Cooper received $2700 per month until we moved out on June 22.
Throughout the spring we continued to feel oppressed by the legal outcome of our lawsuit. Paying an exorbitant rent to Cooper was one reason. Another was the fact that Murdock continued to advertise widely about "quality construction." There seemed to be nothing anyone could or would do about his (and Nelson's) demonstrated incompetence. In April an article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about another builder who had constructed some defective homes in a different Cleveland suburb. That community had actually taken away his building permit! Still, according to the article, this builder refused to fix any of the houses and blamed the defects on others (a familiar story). He was being sued by a couple who owned one of the defective homes. The article quoted the builder's lawyer, who turned out to be none other than Murdock's original attorney, the one who wrote our contract lawyer back in March 1987 that we were "very verbose." After reading the lawyer's comments in the news article I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor, which was printed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer April 24, 1989 (below; the headline was added by the newspaper). My letter turned out to be the first in a series of articles and public statements about our house, which have culminated in this book. My first letter met with much favorable comment, from friends as well as casual acquaintances. There was no written response from anyone. I do not know what happened to the case.