When the owners discover a problem with a leaky window, the Morgans are more than willing to fix it.
Much to their surprise, chagrin and dismay, a lawyer named Steve Sanderson – enemy No. 1 for honest home builders – sinks his claws into the homeowners, convincing them that fixing the problem is not the goal – taking the builder and its insurance companies for everything it can, is far more lucrative . The insurance companies are no better than Sanderson, and the Morgans fear they may throw them under the bus at anytime by the companies, if they think it will contain costs and reduce their risk of treble damages under RICO statutes.
While the story may seem all too real to builders who have faced losing everything over a minor construction problem, this is the plot that frames a first-time novel by long-time Boulder home builder Michael Ruddy.
Conflicts with Interest, a fast read despite its 333 pages, also includes subplots that touch on art, sailing, drug dealing, illegal aliens, and (PG-rated) sex. The book was published by Boulder-based Rodeo Publishing.
Builder constructs novel
Ruddy, who has built more than 400 homes in Douglas, Jefferson and Boulder counties during the past 40 years – priced from about $300,000 to more than $1 million – answered a wide-range of questions from InsideRealEstateNews.com.
Michael Ruddy Snapshot
Hometown: Aurora, Illinois.
Education: Degree in engineering administration from the University of Denver.
Family: Five children and wife, Mary––dog and horses.
Last Book Read: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Last Movie Seen: The Hangover. Where did they get the chicken in Vegas?
Last Stock Purchased: None
First Job: Surveyor for a pipeline company.
Worst Job: Building sewage treatment plants in the Chicago area.
Favorite Quote: “You can’t meet every train” ––Unknown
Questions and Answers:
InsideRealEstateNews: Michael, what prompted you to write this book?
Ruddy: To satisfy an industry need: To tell a story that informs builders and consumers about what is transpiring in the homebuilding field and legal system: To address the reality of Defect Litigation and associated costs affecting the purchase of a home.
IRN: How long did it take you to write it?
Ruddy: I wrote Conflicts with Interest in the evenings, usually between seven and eleven (no pun intended), over a time span of three years.
IRN: Your book illustrates the plight of a father-and-son home-building team, who are willing to fix a leaky window in a house they built. Instead, when an unscrupulous lawyer gets involved, it evolves – or devolves – into a nightmarish situation that could involve more than a half of a million settlement and threaten the very existence of the home builder. It seems very realistic in the book. Is this a real fear for builders?
Ruddy: Thanks, John, for the compliment. My goal was to make the fiction read as real as the defect litigation threat is. All too many builders have faced the situation––some deservedly––some not. But it is definitely a topic that needs to be addressed on every front, from construction to insurance and litigation. Consumers also need to understand why their homes cost so much and how the inefficiencies of the system and the collision of conflicted interests impact their affordability.
IRN: Because the slightest building error can have such catastrophic results, why would anyone want to build homes?
Ruddy: Great question in today’s environment––surely not for profit. Most builders suffer from a defective gene of reason, known as builder’s disease (as long as someone will lend money, they will build, regardless). Others love the challenge of construction and marketing and would argue that if the home is constructed properly they are meeting a need in the marketplace, while at the same time reducing risk. Many builders are asking the same tough question today, John. But, the builder, by nature, is optimistic––sure that this situation is temporary. How long is temporary?
IRN: Are homeowner’s seduced by the chance of winning the “lawsuit lottery” to go forward with groundless lawsuits, rather than have the builder fix problems?
Ruddy: I would hope that the situation imagined in the book is a rare case. Unfortunately, there are going to be situations that are driven by greed. And, may even start out genuine, then deteriorate once the numbers start flying. CWI exposes those potentialities.
IRN: Do we need legal, legislative and or insurance reforms to curtail this kind of activity? If so, what can be done?
Ruddy: Yes, I would like to say, and no, I would answer. There is, as the book points out, a constant wrangling among the interested parties––in the interest of consumer protection, no less. However, these battles seem to be more like a chess game of maneuvers for the interested parties: further enhancing strategic positions. No, we don’t need more of the same. We need meaningful steps in the direction of tort reform and award caps. And, we need improvement in the construction process as well––better built homes.
IRN: If we made losers in legal battles pay the other side’s legal bills, would that have a chilling effect on plaintiffs bringing forward justified lawsuits?
Ruddy: I believe, this would be a great start for the country in all respects––loser pays. I don’t see a way around the special interests. At the least it would eliminate the “Because you can,” adding justifiable risk to the complaining party. There would still be complications, though, that would need refinement in the court system. Again, summoning forth, the interested parties.
IRN: What does it take, both in money and time, to make a house “lawsuit proof?” And are most consumers, especially in these tough economic times, willing to pay extra to make sure their homes don’t have leaks, mold or other problems?
Ruddy: It takes, most notably, extraordinary design, better products and on-site supervision assuring the proper execution. I think that some consumers at the higher end, who have owned a home previously, would pay for the difference. However, I doubt the consumer would be able to pay the premium at the affordable end of the spectrum. That’s the big problem going forward. The low-cost-producer will claim that buyer. So, the consumer needs to understand the risk.
IRN: In Conflicts with Interest, the builders are the ones wearing the white hats. But there are cases in real life in which the builder can be the villain. What can a homeowner who has dealt with a shady builder take away from your book?
Ruddy: Besides a clear understanding of relationships and the process, as Hal Victor (a character in the book) would say, “Sue the bastard.”
IRN: Often, I have found that builders, especially those with engineering backgrounds, such as yourself, tend to be ‘left-brain” people who are very mathematical and logical. Yet, you can quote Papa Hemingway in everyday conversation, and T.R. Morgan, the hero-builder of your book, is a big fan of art, such as Monet. Do you consider yourself the logical builder, or more of the creative type?
Ruddy: In the building process, you need your entire brain––whatever you’ve got––left, center or right. For me, it changes from day-to-day. Logic and common sense is paramount. The creative juices can be purchased from your favorite architect.
IRN: As far as your fiction, do you have any other plans for future books? Would you like to do for builders what John Grisham did for lawyers?
Ruddy: Yes, I am working on one now. As far as your second question, simply, I would like to promote improvement in the building process, regardless of what “The Great One” did for lawyers.
To order Conflicts with Interest, please go to this link.
Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com or 303-945-6865.