The Boston Globe continued the media's recent scrutiny of the home building industry Sunday by starting a four-part series criticizing luxury home builder Toll Bros. for ignoring customers' complaints, using questionable sales practices and performing shoddy construction. Toll Bros. CEO Robert I. Toll said in a written statement the next day that the reports were "false, incomplete and riddled with distortions."
The Globe series, reported in conjunction with WBZ-TV, was the result of a five-month investigation into home builders across the country. Although other builders such as KB Home and K. Hovnanian Enterprises were mentioned in the stories, most of the criticism fell on Toll Bros., which has built about 1,200 homes in Massachusetts.
The newspaper reported that three homes built by Toll Bros. failed minimum building codes, and several building inspectors described Toll Bros.' work as "sloppy" and "shabby construction." In addition, the Globe said the company misled buyers about various features of their new homes, including the use of EIFS when the company promised genuine stucco and making room sizes considerably smaller than advertised. The Globe also reported a need for greater scrutiny of home builders by state and federal regulatory authorities.
In addition to four feature articles, the Globe ran 14 other stories in print and online about the investigation.
"The news organizations have sensationalized isolated and nonrepresentative examples, in some instances over a decade old, taken information out of context and omitted important information supplied by us," Robert Toll said.
Although Toll said testimonials by satisfied customers were omitted by the Globe and WBZ-TV reports, both news sources mentioned such testimonials in their reports.
WBZ-TV showed several satisfied Toll Bros. customers in its report, and the Globe interviewed homeowners who gave testimonials on the Toll Bros. Web site. A spokesman for Toll Bros. admitted the testimonials on the Web site were used without permission, the newspaper reported. In a follow-up report, several of the customers listed on the Web site said they were still happy with the company, and one had complaints.
Kira McCarron, vice president of marketing at Toll Bros., questioned the validity of the investigation and said an independent inspector hired by the Globe was actually working for a group of homeowners suing Toll Bros. This inspector found that three Toll Bros. homes did not meet state building codes. McCarron said WBZ-TV mentioned the inspector's association with the homeowners, but the Globe did not.
HousingZone requested documentation on how many homeowners have requested warranty repairs, but McCarron said the information was unavailable. Toll Bros. reported that 90% of its customers said they would recommend the company to a friend.
"We have had many satisfied homeowners calling us to say, 'Why [is the Globe] doing this? They are hurting our home's value,'" McCarron said.
Toll Bros. ranked above average in the Washington, D.C., market in a 2000 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power and Associates. J.D. Power is an independent firm that conducts quality and satisfaction measurements based on responses from consumers.
Toll Bros. has received many awards since it began business in 1967. Professional Builder magazine named the company Builder of the Year in 1988. In 1995 Toll Bros. won the National Housing Quality Award from the NAHB and Professional Builder, and a year later Robert Toll was named America's Best Builder by the NAHB and Builder magazine.
The Boston Globe's Coverage
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