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Team 10: Homebuyer feels misled over new solar panel law

The couple was looking at a new Fallbrook home
Posted: 4:56 PM, Jun 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-08 09:58:08-04
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FALLBROOK (KGTV) -- A couple looking to buy a home in the North County wants to share an experience they're describing as negative as the new solar energy law goes into effect in 2020.

The law requires that homes built in California starting in 2020 must have solar panels. It has caused confusion among potential homebuyers, like Brian and Carmen McKay. They recently left Las Vegas, looking to move back to San Diego County.

“I used to work at Fallbrook skilled nursing many years ago,” said Carmen McKay.

The couple found a home they liked in the Horse Creek Ridge development, a new housing project in Fallbrook.

“When we realized it was a corner lot… oh my gosh, we loved it,” Carmen said.

They were told the cost was roughly $535,000—which sounded like a reasonable price for San Diego, according to the McKays. That is when they say they got a surprise from the sales representative.

“Then she says, by the way, once we were sold on the house and the price… there’s solar panels on the house. You have the option to lease it or buy it. And we’re like, why?” Carmen said.

They said during the home tour, solar panels were not mentioned at all.

Carmen said the sales representative only mentioned it when they were back in the office, ready to sign documents to buy the home. As the McKays were questioning solar, they were told “it’s required by the state.”

That is only partially true. A spokesperson for the California Energy Commission told Team 10 that “the law only applies to homes that have been permitted after Jan. 1, 2020.”

“If that’s not the case with the home in question that you mentioned, then the mandate does not apply,” wrote energy commission spokesperson Edward Ortiz.

The McKays were told it would be about $20,000 extra to buy the solar panels.

“I think that it was misleading because we were buying a house that we were told it was $535, but it’s actually $555 or we’re paying a higher monthly out of pocket,” said Brian McKay.

The seller knew they were on a time crunch.

“We sold our property [in Nevada]. We’re at an AirBnB… we need to buy,” Carmen added.

Nobody at the sales offices at Horse Creek Ridge would comment. Team 10 was directed to public relations. Through email, the spokesperson said:

“Two separate state energy requirements guide D.R. Horton in its decisions regarding home design options in the state of California – the current State Energy Code requirements (commonly known as Title 24) and the State‐Mandated Solar requirements, which take effect in 2020. In most communities, we have found that solar is the best, most cost‐effective option for both D.R. Horton and our homebuyers to meet the current Title 24 Energy Code requirements. Thus, Horse Creek Ridge was designed using solar to meet the current Title 24 requirements, and as a result, we are required by the state to have solar on each home in the community.”

When asked why that was not told to the potential homebuyers from the beginning, during the tour of the home, D.R. Horton spokesperson added that “solar requirements are communicated to customers via numerous marketing materials… and as an addendum to the home purchase agreement.” She pointed to an 8-page brochure, where solar is mentioned once on page 7. She also sent Team 10 an image of solar displayed on a model home—something the McKays said they never saw.

There is no mention of solar or photos of any homes with solar on Horse Creek Ridge’s website.

“I feel like I was deceived,” Carmen said. “We fell in love with the place. I felt like I was pushed in the corner.”

Dan Zimberoff is an attorney not involved in this case, but he has seen solar disputes in the past.

“A buyer needs to be aware,” Zimberoff said. “If you’re purchasing a new home and you see what that price is, ask the details. Is that really going to be the final price?”

“We’re starting to remember why we left California,” Carmen said.

The McKays ultimately decided not to buy the home. They hope their experience teaches others about the right questions to ask.

“We were willing to pay the higher cost to live here, but I don't like being misled by builders,” Brian said.

For more information, see the California Energy Commission' s FAQ website.