Ray Koenig expected a thank you, at the very least. As a favor, he'd inspected a neighbor's attic, and he was shocked to find that a series of trusses was loose.
Without those trusses, Koenig -- who has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Villanova University, and who spent 40 years working as an engineer -- feared his neighbor's roof might just blow off.
So Koenig did what he thought was right: he went to the builder, Pulte Homes, to tell them about the problem in Sun City Hilton Head, the retiment community in Bluffton, S.C., where Koenig lives.
What happened next is at the root of what's driven Koenig for the last three years. He says it also will be at the heart of the matter for residents of the Hills of Rivermist neighborhood in northwest San Antonio, where a ruptured retaining wall caused a slope failure that imperiled many hillside homes and launched several lawsuits alleging that Pulte is responsible.
Pulte didn't build the Hills of Rivermist homes -- they were built by Centex Homes, which was purchased by Pulte in August 2008 -- but Koenig says the residents can learn from the company's response in Sun City Hilton Head.
When Koenig went to inform Pulte of the faulty trusses in his neighbor's home, he says Pulte refused to listen. Their strategy, he said: deny, deny, deny.
It wasn't until the local newspaper, the Island Packet, published an investigative report that officials took interest, Koenig says.
The county reinspected more than 2,700 homes that were built by Pulte between 2004 and 2007, according to a report in the Island Packet. 668 of those homes needed repairs.
But Koenig says the issues with Pulte did not stop.
In 2007, when he said problems continued, he started a blog -- peretired.blogspot.com -- to document issues in his community.
He's become part muckracker, part activist, posting documentation and photos on the "PE Retired" blog and on a spinoff blog, "Citizens Revolt Against Pulte," whose initials form a pointed, intentional shot at the company.
"I feel a very strong obligation to warn people about this dishonest, reckless and arrogant company," Koenig says.
As evidence, he notes that two years after the county inspected his neighborhood's homes, inspectors found that many of Pulte's homes were still being built with faulty structures.
Koenig is not the only one using the Web to document complaints against Pulte. "Poorly Built by Pulte Homes" is a website run by Building Justice, a Washington, D.C.,-based group hoping to unionize Pulte's workforce.
Caryn Klebba, a spokesperson for Pulte and Centex, says the company is aware of such sites.
"Everyone is entitled to state their opinion," she said. "We try to reach out to them and help them. But you can't fix everyone's issues. I think our reputation speaks for itself."
Pulte, too, has created a website, pultefacts.com, to offer its perspective on these issues.
The San Antonio Response
With the slope failure that occurred in San Antonio, Koenig's complaint is not with construction of the wall -- a wall built by Centex Homes long before Pulte acquired Centex and the Hills of Rivermist neighborhood -- but with the response to the incident.
Pulte Homes is a member in good standing with the San Antonio Builder's Association, and a spokesman for the group says they have not received previous complaints about Pulte's construction projects in San Antonio.
But Koenig says that may not be the best way to measure a company's track record. He says that in Sun City Hilton Head, Pulte officials repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, including after a retaining wall failure in March 2008.
In November 2008, the Island Packet reported that Pulte had begun repairs on homes without first obtaining building permits.
'Every Situation Is Unique'
Klebba says that though such complaints do occur nationwide, there is no textbook plan for responding to localized issues like the ones in Sun City Hilton Head or Hills of Rivermist. But, she says, Pulte always immediately reaches out to homeowners, tries to accommodate them in the short-term and works with them to fix the long-term issues.
"Every situation is unique to the homeowners affected," she said. "We look at the individual homeowners and go from there."
Klebba says she fully understands the frustration from displaced homeowners and emphasizes that Pulte's history of working with homeowners will show in the end.
"Their reaction is normal based on what they've been through," she said. "But we're deeply concerned with what's going on with them."
Pulte has paid for hotel rooms for displaced residents of the Hills of Rivermist neighborhood. Pulte has also paid for meals and incidental expenses.
For Koenig, that simply isn't enough. He says that as long as Pulte customers are being treated unfairly, he'll continue to take to the Web to share what he has seen.
"I had no idea that three years later, I'd still be posting to that blog," he said. "But the outrages continue, so I've continued to post."