Southwest Florida builder fails to get homes off ground

Author: Peter Fleischer Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Time, money, energy; the process of building a dream home is exhausting, even when it goes well. But what happens when there are problems during the process? It can turn a dream into a nightmare quickly.

Giles Gary and his family moved to Southwest Florida in 2020. He and his wife have two young children, and a year after moving they were ready to build a home.

“It was very exciting! Even when we were shopping for the land, it was being snatched up,” Gary explained. “So it was a rat race.”

Gary’s family signed up for a house with First Choice Builders. “We loved the model home that they have,” Gary said. “We did some research on it. At that time, it seemed like First Choice was a reputable, dependable builder.”

Documents show the Garys signed for their build in June 2021, with an estimated timeline of 12 to 16 months. But, 21 months after signing the paperwork to build, there’s almost no sign of progress. They say they barely got any updates, despite several major delays.

“Trying to get ahold of anybody in any position to give me a straight answer is impossible,” Gary laments.

More than a year after signing their contract, with no structure in place, Gary says First Choice finally called them back, asking for more than $30,000 in overages. It was a leap of faith they weren’t willing to take after having almost no communication in the months prior.

“We pretty much hit a brick wall now,” Gary says remorsefully, noting that his children used to love visiting their lot where the home was supposed to be built. “We were building it up in our minds of how good the house was going to be… It’s just so sad every time we come. They don’t even get excited. They don’t want to come anymore.”

The Garys are not alone in their nightmare experience. WINK News spoke with about 10 families who have felt wronged by First Choice Builders. And we got access to a private social media group with dozens more families who have had bad experiences with the company.

Once they paid for new home builds, it was nearly impossible to get a First Choice Builders rep on the phone.

But when I brought their complaints to the owner of First Choice Builders, Jeff Burch, he called me back in half an hour.

“We did a terrible job. We didn’t communicate at all,” Burch told WINK. “We were just overwhelmed.”
Burch outlines the timeline. When southwest Florida’s population started to boom after the pandemic, First Choice’s business exploded.

“We were two years ago, maybe a $15 million business,” Burch says. “And today we’re about a $100 million business… We weren’t ready for that. We thought we were, but we weren’t.”

According to Burch, First Choice took on too much work. When complications with permitting, work force and inventory hit, the company simply wasn’t equipped. Customers paid the price, dealing with major delays and poor communication.

“I carry that load, and it’s extremely heavy,” Burch admits. “It’s heartbreaking because I know what these people are going through.”

Burch claims First Choice has made major changes in the last three months. The company hired its first-ever customer service rep and installed a new customer portal, where clients can check their home’s progress daily.

“The choice we had was, we have to do better. We have to do better, period,” Burch says.

It all sounds good now, but words don’t help the Garys or the countless other families who First Choice’s struggles have impacted.

“I would just tell them that I’m sorry,” Burch says. “If there was anything I could do to change what has happened, I would do it.”

The decision might not be up to Burch. Court records show two open cases against Burch and First Choice Builders in Charlotte County, and another one in Sarasota County.

The Garys eventually got their money back, but they’re unsure if they’ll be able to build after all their issues.

Burch’s words won’t get them a home.

“It’s done. There’s no way,” Gary claims. “He could tell me he’ll build the house for free, and I wouldn’t want to do business with that man.”

Burch told me that First Choice is not accepting new business until they address the backlog they have right now.

Charlotte County records confirm that First Choice has not applied for any new builds this year.

DBPR file a complaint

Charlotte County licenses, permits and open cases

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