A REVAMPED TEXAS RESIDENTIAL Construction Commission Web site allows consumers to conduct background checks on builders and remodelers with whom they are considering doing business. Visitors to www.texasrcc.com can search the state's online database for the scoop on a builder's registration status, history of construction defects, state inspection reports, and any administrative actions taken against the company. The site also indicates whether a builder has achieved “Texas Star Builder” status, having met certain criteria in education, training, financial stability, insurance, customer service, and adherence to stringent building standards.

Texas home builders and remodelers are required by law to register each new construction job with the commission. Companies that fail to register a project or to remediate defects found during a state inspection (inspections are conducted only in cases where defects are alleged) face fines. But the threat of bad publicity has also proven a motivating factor for good behavior.

“We've had instances where a builder seems recalcitrant in dealings with a homeowner, but when the owner ultimately calls in a third-party state inspector, the builder knows that's a public record that will be there forever,” says Patrick Fortner, a spokesman for the commission. “That record can potentially show two things: that the builder built something defective and that they didn't stand behind their work when it was revealed to be defective. Long term, I think the pressure to keep their records clean will be incentive for builders to do the right thing before these cases ever come to us.”

Since the program's inception in 2004, the commission has registered 26,367 home builders and has conducted nearly 700 third-party inspections for purposes of dispute resolution. The commission Web site drew an average of 39,000 unique visitors per quarter in 2006. Only two other states—Arizona and Oregon—have similar state inspection systems in place.