Pulte Homes plans to buy back homes in a San Antonio subdivision where some houses became uninhabitable after a Jan. 24 geological event that that caused the ground underneath these homes to shift and also resulted in the collapse of parts of a 20-foot high, 1,000-foot long retaining wall on the property.
This “slope failure” forced 91 homeowners at The Hills of Rivermist to evacuate their homes earlier this year. While most were allowed to return to their houses, the city suspended the certificates of occupancy on 27 homes, some of whose foundations had to be stabilized by piers.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that, as of Thursday, two owners had sold their homes to the builder, 11 had verbally agreed to sell or have signed paperwork to do so, and five were in negotiations. Eight owners remained undecided at press time.
The houses and retaining wall in this subdivision were built by Centex, which Pulte acquired in 2008. The slope failure and subsequent evacuations attracted national attention to the country’s largest builder and led the city of San Antonio to reassert its building codes for retaining walls, which many local builders seemed to have either ignored or misunderstood. While admitting that Centex didn’t pull permits for Rivermist’s retaining wall, Pulte still contends the wall was in compliance with the city code because it was built under the supervision of a structural engineer.
Be that as it may, Pulte has agreed to rebuild the wall within the next six months, at an estimated cost of $5 million. The builder will also inspect retaining walls at its 20 subdivisions in San Antonio.
Pulte has been offering to buy back the houses for around $200,000, which is roughly their average selling price. The Wall Street Journal quotes Valerie Dolenga, a spokesperson for the builder, who noted that since the slope failure, owners have sold homes in this subdivision at prices close to the going rate before the event.
Pulte has agreed to cover the owners’ moving costs, costs of home improvement, and “reasonable” legal fees. For the 64 homes that were temporarily evacuated, the builder has offered to pay for voluntary home inspections by an independent, third-party engineer to provide homeowners with the assurance that their homes were not affected by the slope soil movement.
Pulte and Terracon Consultants, a structural engineering firm it hired after the event, are still looking what caused the ground to give way at this subdivision. Terracon’s findings, says the builder, “support the initial assessments that the slope failure and damage to the retaining wall was the result of deep soil movement on the slope above and below the wall.”
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.