Buying a new house is probably the biggest purchase you will ever make. It’s supposed to come with peace of mind, both financially and structurally. But some Canadians who bought new homes during the housing boom are just now finding out that new doesn’t always mean trouble-free. And that could be a lot of people. Even with the economic slowdown, more than 83,600 new homes will be built in Canada this year.

Joe and Joanne West of Hamilton have been in their new home for just three years. But within two weeks of moving in, part of their basement floor caved in. Within the next few months, they compiled a list of more than 100 problems including serious leaks, an unsteady roof and shaky floors. So in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on their new home, they had to spend thousands more to start fixing their house.

How does a new home become a fixer-upper? As with most things, you have to do a lot of work to make sure that what you are getting is a quality product.

For the Wests, the problems started before they took possession. The City of Hamilton didn’t issue a building permit, which is required by law, until five months after construction began. That means the builder started work on the house without the building plans reviewed by the city.

If the Wests were buying a new toaster, they could just take it back. But it’s not as easy to do that with a new house. Instead, the family began a fight with their builder, the City of Hamilton, and Tarion (Ontario’s New Home Warranty Program). In the end, they received a settlement from Tarion, but their fight still isn’t settled with the builder or the city.

If you’re worried about getting sunk with a money pit of a brand new home, there are things you can do:

Get references from your builder. Before buying, make sure your real estate lawyer checks for any liens against the house and that an occupancy permit has been issued. Check that all building permits are issued. Get an independent inspector to check your home before you take possession.

– Wendy Mesley is co-host of CBC TV’s Marketplace. To learn more about new home buying pitfalls, check out this season’s premiere episode, New Home Nightmares, Friday, Jan. 9 at 8:30 p.m. or go to

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