Our View | The Landslide and a Very Unusual Buyback

By The Signal Editorial Board

In the midst of an unusually wet rainy season, when back yards in an American Beauty neighborhood began to show signs of cracking and slippage, some of the tract’s residents understandably feared the worst for their property.

And so did their neighbors down the hill, in the newer Trestles development. 

Those fears, it turned out, were not without merit, as additional rains came and the landslide grew progressively worse. Several homes have been yellow-tagged, rendered unsafe for full-time occupancy, and homeowners both on top of the hill and at the bottom were left scrambling, looking for places to stay while worrying about the long-term outcome for their homes.

The slide has slowed, but the damage is substantial. The slope that separated the American Beauty homes from the Trestles homes has slid downward, breaking fences and block walls and endangering the structures of several homes.

The respective homeowners associations have brought in experts to study the landslide, conduct soil tests and try to confirm the exact cause of the slide, and ascertain whether anything reasonably could or should have been done differently in the homes’ development to prevent such a slide from occurring.

Meanwhile, the residents are left with a waiting game.

But, the developer of the Trestles community has taken a noteworthy step, offering an unusually elevated level of customer service to take some of the sting out of their wait:

Lance Williams, president and CEO of Williams Homes, says the company has agreed to buy back some of the homes afflicted by the landslide.

Williams, who has not sought publicity for the gesture, only confirmed it when The Signal heard that it was happening, and called him to find out if it was true. In response, he released a prepared statement last week that read, in part:

“Our team is further coordinating with a skilled team of soils engineers and geologists working on the site to identify the cause of the failure, develop a work plan to repair the slope, and ultimately complete repairs in a timely fashion so that the affected homes are returned to normal occupancy, and the affected families can safely return to their homes. We have reached out to the homeowners who have limited access to their homes to provide assistance. We are listening and responding. Some affected homeowners have asked us to purchase their homes, which we have agreed to do. We intend to continue our efforts to listen, learn and to provide assistance to the affected families where and when possible.”

In a situation where it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see various parties pointing the fingers of blame at one another — and that may yet happen — it’s refreshing to see a developer like Lance Williams respond the way he has. Agreeing to buy back homes is not something Williams Homes is obligated to do, at least not in the here and now. It’s something Williams has agreed to do voluntarily and quietly, a gesture that demonstrates Williams has genuine concern for the people affected by the landslide.

And this isn’t like that time you bought a hammer at the home improvement store and decided to return it, and got a full refund with no questions asked. These are homes — typically, the biggest life investment for the buyer. You don’t just show up at the customer service counter and expect a refund, even when something does go wrong.

Whatever its cause, the American Beauty/Trestles landslide situation has been an awful crisis for the homeowners and families affected by it. But in the case of Williams Homes, we’ve seen a refreshing and meritorious approach to addressing the situation: Regardless of the cause, the developer is working toward an end goal of restoring the homes to habitable status, and relieving some of its customers of the burden of waiting for that to play out.

That, folks, is excellent customer service.  

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