‘I’m tired of crying’: Local woman battles new-home builder over 30% price increase

·4 min read

An Orange County woman claims a builder raised the price of her new home by over 30% a year after signing the contract, and she’s been trying to get her home built for nearly two years.

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“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. It’s been a nightmare. I’m tired of crying,” Avia Bowen said as she held her head.

It’s been a difficult couple of years for Bowen. Her husband, James Cullen, passed away suddenly several months ago.

“It’s heart-wrenching and I think the added stress is why it impacted my husband so greatly,” Bowen said.

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The couple was battling a local builder over the construction of their forever home. A battle she’s now fighting alone that began more than a year after signing the contract, when Leading Edge Builders in Clermont told them they would have to pay $270,000 more than the initial cost of $856,000.00.

The new price tag was a whopping $1.1 million.

A change order attributes the price increase to construction delays, revised plans and increased allowance amounts. With a price hike that steep, Bowen hasn’t agreed to move forward.

“We’ve worked so hard over the past 15 years trying to make this a reality for us,” Bowen said.

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Nearly two years later, the lot where Bowen expected her dream home would be built remains empty. Bowen and her husband owned the plot of land in east Orlando before they signed with Leading Edge. Bowen said she’s paid more than $100,000 to the builder.

A company billboard is the only construction that’s been done. Even though her contract refers to the original amount as a “fixed price”, it does have clauses that allow for price increases if the owner delays it by more than 60 days and if the contractor’s cost of materials goes up by more than 110%.

“You can buy another house for the amount of money that they increased this,” said real-estate attorney Karen Wonsetler.

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Action 9 showed Wonsetler the contract Bowen signed. She says that amount is unreasonable because it doesn’t seem the builder has been specific about what the homeowner did wrong to cause the delay. She also said that an increase of more than 30% could keep many consumers, especially those relying on a loan, from even being able to afford it. Wonsetler told us new-home buyers need to be aware that custom homes have custom contracts where prices can become a moving target, like Bowen’s.

“If you do not completely take out of the contract any possibility for a price adjustment, you don’t really have a fixed price. You’re going to end up having arguments.”

Jeff Deal went to Leading Edge Builders in Clermont to ask about the price increase.

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“We got a complaint from a customer and wanted to see if we could talk to you about it,” Deal said to an employee as she moved behind a door. “No thank you,” the employee replied. She stayed in the back and apparently didn’t want to talk.

Deal followed up with a phone call to the business. The man who answered the phone took down his number and said he would ask the bosses if they wanted to call back. That was more than a week ago. So far, Action 9 has not received a response from the company.

Meanwhile, Bowen said she hasn’t given up on getting her dream home just yet.

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“I’m so angry, I pray about it, and I ask god to give me peace because they’re not getting away with it.”

New-home contracts can be difficult to understand, so make sure you have an attorney look over all documents carefully to avoid big price surprises. If you have issues with a builder, you can contact Florida’s Division of Business and Professional Regulation, the agency that regulates contractors.

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