‘A total nightmare’: The pitfalls of new-home contracts

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando woman claims a builder refuses to return a $33,000 deposit for a new home she can’t buy.

“It’s just a total nightmare,” Tina said.

She signed a contract last August with Ashton Woods Homes for a new townhouse in Lake Nona.

“I fell in love with it, the location,” she said.

The cost of the home was $430,000, and she paid a $33,000 deposit. One month before closing, Tina lost her job and could not qualify for a mortgage.

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“I’ve never experienced an issue with a builder and closing like this. I would like my full deposit returned,” Tina said.

According to Tina, Ashton Woods refused to cancel the contract and refund her deposit. She said the only option she was given was a future credit to buy another home within a year and she had to make a decision that same day.

“They told me I would have to sign a release form or else I wouldn’t even have the credit and I had to sign by close of business,” Tina said.

She claims Ashton Woods is now selling the home she had under contract for at least $100,000 above her contract price.

Tina says there’s no way she can use the builder credit in this inflated market without a job.

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“I just don’t understand how they could do this with a good conscience. It shouldn’t be allowed,” Tina said.

In the past five years, Action 9 heard from more than 20 new-home buyers involving various builders, claiming they lost the home and big deposits because they could not get a mortgage.

“You close when they say they’re ready and If you don’t, the money is gone,” real estate attorney Karen Wonsetler said.

Wonsetler reviewed Tina’s contract for us. She found that like any new home contract, it’s written to protect the builder, and there’s no deposit refund for mortgage denials, which is standard for existing home sales.

“If you’re closing on an existing home, you know the house is ready to go. You have your financing lined up pretty much before you put the house under contract. Close quickly. That is a good thing for homebuyers to keep in mind,” Wonsetler said.

Some builders will offer refunds, and Action 9 has helped two buyers recover thousands of dollars since the beginning of COVID-19.

Todd Ulrich contacted Ashton Woods and the builder told him it was a contract dispute, the company complied with the terms, and they’ve offered to help her find another home.

Tina said she will send complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the state attorney general.

“Once that contract is signed consumers are at their mercy,” Tina said.

New home buyers can consider adding a contingency clause that includes deposit refunds if financing is denied. That might help them avoid the financing trap door found in new home contracts

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.