Promises, Promises

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

Today’s blog features the story of a major developer, Centex, allegedly not delivering on amenities as promised to early buyers in the master planned community,

Sullivan Ranch in Mount Dora, Florida, was supposed to include a private equestrian center, according to Sara MacKenzie, a homeowner since 2007. She says she still has the brochures that describe the plans for owners to ride their horses on lush, rolling hills, and the developer did install a fence suitable for the purpose of keeping horses. But the two-story equestrian center, as described, has never been built. MacKenzie claims recent buyers received an addendum disclosing approval for multifamily apartments in place of the promised amenity. So MacKenzie has filed suit against the developer, with a hearing scheduled for April 21, 2015.

In typical HOA style, as soon as MacKenzie began to talk to her neighbors, she was hit with a “non-solicitation” violation. Free speech in an HOA? Only if you are willing to sue to protect your rights.

Do these owners have a solid legal case? Maybe not.

A quick Google search of Centex and Sullivan Ranch is revealing. The current promotional video fails to mention a single word about horses or an equestrian center. Clicking on the site plan thumbnail opens a web page without a site plan, but with this fine print disclaimer:

“The site plan shown is conceptual in nature and for illustrative purposes only to show general features and the layout of the community, and should not be relied upon in making a decision to purchase a homesite. Any improvements shown may not have been constructed and Centex makes no representation or warranty that the improvements will be constructed. The past, present, future or proposed roads, easements, land uses, plat maps, lot sizes or layouts, zoning, utilities, drainage, land conditions, or development of any type whatsoever, whether reflected on the site plan or map, or whether outside the boundaries of the site plan or map, may not be shown or may be incomplete or inaccurate.

“See the recorded plat, utility plans and construction plans on file in the sales office for lot dimensions, restrictions, easements and other important information regarding these lots and this community. Any landscaping that may be shown is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the current landscaping within the community or plans for future landscaping. Seller reserves the right to change and modify development plans without notice. This site plan is not drawn to scale.”

In fact, I hate to break it to these homeowners, but these boilerplate disclaimers appear on virtually every developer website and brochure these days. This isn’t the first time Centex has not delivered on all of its promised community features and amenities, and plenty of other developers, large and small, have also broken their promises to finish golf courses, club houses, pools, boat slips, bike trails — you name it. If the economy changes, the builder can alter plans for the community to better maximize profit. Homeowners can sue, but there’s no guarantee the developer will ever finish what was started, or that owners will be compensated for broken promises.

Next time you look at a developer’s website or glossy brochure, be sure to read the fine print. For a true representation of what the developer is obligated to build, check the plats on file with your local county clerk, or ask your real estate attorney to check it out for you before you finalize a sale agreement. Visit other communities that were constructed in previous decades, and check out what was completed, and its current condition in relation to age of the community. Then decide for yourself if it’s worth paying extra for amenities that may or may not be completed someday in the future.”

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About

Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

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