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Lots not to like



In announcing the start of construction this month on South Village, the newest phase of Disney's Celebration, the developers crowed. "Celebration residents' strong sense of passion about the town and its spirit of community have made it a success," Perry Reader, vice president and general manager of the Celebration Co., said in a news release. "These are the qualities we are committed to maintaining as we move forward."

But they overlooked another passion shared by homeowners -- one that presents the overnight town in something less than the honey-colored hues shown in promotional videos.

"Many people have said, 'Buying a home in Celebration was the worst experience of my life,'" Don Jones, a Celebration homeowner and retired minister, was quoted as saying last month in the Washington Post.

Drawing upon interviews with 35 homeowners, reporter Katherine Salant wrote of frustrated residents who are proud of their town, wary of those out to "dis Disney," and fearful that reports of problems with their homes will drag down their property values. But she also wrote: "Most of the 35 interviewed described repairs done incorrectly three or more times, with repair crews frequently creating new problems as they worked."

Blame the rush to finish quickly, inexperienced workers during a labor shortage, and out-of-state builders who struggled with reliable suppliers. Problems were most persistent at Celebration's first 74 town houses, where complaints of leaky roofs, walls and windows finally caused the Celebration Co. to commission an independent inspection of the construction work done by Town & Country Homes of Chicago. It concluded that all 74 roofs should be replaced to bring the homes up to "minimum acceptable industry standards."

"We had tremendous problems with one of the home builders," Marilyn Waters, Celebration's manager for public relations, acknowledged to Salant. "We don't sell them `building` lots anymore."

Andy LaRosa, who bought a house built by David Weekley Homes of Houston, had the roof replaced four months after he moved in because of leaks. David York, who posted signs in his windows that said "David Weekley Lemon House" and "23 Months Since Closing -- Fix My House!," had a bathroom ceiling collapse because it was saturated from a roof leak. "I don't have a neighbor who didn't have a problem," Bruce McMillen, whose plumbing pipes had to be replaced, told Salant.

Whether the problems are behind remains to be seen as South Village moves forward with its first 68 home sites. But the work force may still be an issue. Hank Goldberg, a private home inspector, told the Post that with the current housing boom and labor shortage, "If you own a pickup truck and know the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer, you will get a job as a carpenter."

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