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Living the American nightmare 

371,851 single-family homes were built in the metro area in the '90s. Independent home inspectors say they find at least 30 flaws in most new houses. In a booming industry with few safeguards, this is the story of a family that saw its dream destroyed

The American Dream for Steve Kirkpatrick is the same as it is for most folks. You work hard, save money, start a family, and build a dream house. Kirkpatrick was almost there in 1997.

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His job selling photographic and imaging equipment was a good one; his nest egg was big enough to build the home he and his wife Deborah always wanted.

The three-bedroom house they bought 15 years ago outside Stone Mountain was too small for them and their four kids. A family of six needs a lot of space.

"We definitely had to get something bigger," he says. "We figured if we're going to spend $200,000 to $300,000 for a house, let's build one how we want it."

And by God the house was going to be built the way they wanted. They asked their architect to revise his plans at least 12 times. Nothing wrong with that. After all, it was going to be their house.

"We had it down to: If we put the couch here, then you'd walk into the room here, and the door would have to swing this way," he says. "I can't impress upon you how much thought went into it. We wanted to get rid of all the surprises and frustrations that come with a house." They made sure doors didn't swing open to block light switches and that light switches were right next to entrance doors, not on the other side of the room.

Now, that home belongs to somebody else. And the Kirkpatricks are out $100,000 for having faith in a busted homebuilding company and a system that lets builders get away with cutting corners on American dreams.

Construction drives Atlanta's economy. Census officials say 360 people moved to the metro region every day during the 1990s. And Atlanta's mind-boggling growth created an explosion of new homes. During the last decade, a staggering 371,851 single-family houses were built in the metro area.

Those houses usually sprouted within sprawling subdivisions and golf course communities, where two- and three-story homes with stamp-sized front yards sell for anywhere between $100,000 and $5 million.

For two reasons, the Kirkpatricks fell in love with Stonegate in south Forsyth County: It was close to both sets of grandparents and, unlike most subdivisions, the company developing Stonegate allowed future residents to build from their own plans.

The developers even installed an office trailer for future homeowners to meet homebuilders. There, the Kirkpatricks showed their blueprints to three or four builders before they decided to hire Anosh Ishak, the project manager for Ovel Development Co.

Kirkpatrick recalls favoring Ishak because he was so accommodating: "For just about everything, he said, 'Oh that won't be a problem,' 'We can take care of that.' Obviously, though, we picked the wrong one."

On May 10, 1997, the Kirkpatricks signed a contract and paid Ishak $32,500 to have the home completed by Oct. 24, 1997. The contract was amended on Oct. 22, and the completion date was extended to March 15, 1998.

After some minor complications, crews finally broke ground in November. In December, Kirkpatrick made the 40-minute drive from Stone Mountain to see the first physical proof that his dream home was taking shape: the molding for the foundation of the house.

He walked through the area where the front door was to be, looked over his family's future living room, saw where the couches would sit, where the TV would go, where the fireplace would ... he stopped. Where's the space for the fireplace? It's not where it's supposed to be.

So there were more delays. To fix the problem, crews had to return and rebuild the area where the slab for the fireplace would go.

A couple of weeks later Kirkpatrick noticed there wasn't enough gravel on the ground where the basement's concrete floor was about to be poured. He says that could have led to water leaks and flooding had it gone uncorrected.

Kirkpatrick says Ishak wasn't as eager to fix the basement floor as he'd been to correct the foundation mistakes. It took a letter-writing skirmish for Kirkpatrick to convince Ishak and Ovel vice president Ron Leventhal to add more gravel.

Kirkpatrick says he noticed more problems shortly after contractors added the gravel and poured the basement floor: The home's framing was off; window frames were the wrong size; doorways were misshapen. He says he spotted code violations, including the absence of foundation for a load-bearing wall in the basement that would support the two stories above it. He says he pointed out every problem he saw to Ishak.

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