Investors and buyers alike could be victims of Valley Investments
VERNAL, Utah — Investors who plowed money into Valley Investments are hearing a deafening silence from the Grand Junction firm, which has been closed by a Denver court.
The silence for those on the other side of the investments, 100 or more families who purchased homes in the Sunburst Terrace neighborhood outside Vernal, has been resounding for much longer.
Investors and homebuyers alike are wondering what happened to their money.
Valley Investments had used funds from its investors to buy the land and develop the Sunburst Terrace subdivision.
Residents say the investment firm provided home warranties that have been only minimally honored, or ignored.
The homeowners say the firm has collected fees for a home-
owners association that was to provide amentities such as two playgrounds, which residents say are in shambles, and basketball and tennis courts that have not been built.
Though several lots remain unsold, the Sunburst Terraces office is locked tight and hasn’t been open for a couple weeks, resident Claude Corthran said.
That’s about the same time that the doors of Valley Investments in Grand Junction closed. Its doors were reopened Thursday by the court-appointed receiver.
Sunburst Terrace sits on a bench overlooking Vernal in Uintah County, in what is still recognizable as high-desert ranch country. The only trees are the saplings planted by the residents, but the Uinta Mountains tower in the west. On Wednesday, the deep-blue mountains were cloaked in gray, threatening clouds, and Sunburst Terrace residents, if they had a mind to, could sit on the front porch and safely watch lightning bolts play among the peaks.
Most of the residents, though, are young families with children with other things on their minds.
Wendy Anthon could take her daughters across the pothole-punched street in front of her house to the park, where play equipment has been assembled in a patch of small, sharp-edged rocks. One of Anthon’s daughters tumbled while playing there and cut her face on the rock. When Anthon complained to Valley Investments, the company laid some weed fabric over the rock, then covered it with bark.
Anthon no longer allows her daughters to play there because the play area is hazardous, she said.
Anthon stepped over flaps of the fabric waving in the breeze, noting other problems with the play area, such as unfinished fencing and a weed-filled tetherball pit without the sand that was supposed to fill it.
At best, “I feel it’s a work in progress still,” Anthon said.
Corthran calls it the “teaser park,” because it has grass and play equipment.
Sunburst Terrace was supposed to sport three small parks. A second area, where tennis and basketball courts were to be built, is a weed patch. The third is similar to the play area across from Anthon’s house, and similarly unkempt.
These are amenities for which residents had been paying a homeowners association, which was being administered by Valley Investments. The residents’ money, like that of the investors, is likely gone, Corthran said.
Residents began putting together a new association last week as they learned what happened to the developer of their neighborhood.
Individual homeowners, though, still have long lists of promises they’d like Valley Investments to keep.
Valley Investments’ receivers, attorneys Kirk Rider and Lloyd Quesenberry, said they are just becoming familiar with all of Valley’s obligations, both to investors and to buyers such as the people in Sunburst Terrace.
At the root of the problem with Melissa Bishop’s house is bad plumbing, which allows water to leak through insulation and form puddles in her crawl space.
Her father, George Brock, worries that mold could be growing underneath the home, endangering his granddaughters.
“It should never have gotten a certificate of occupancy,” Brock said.
It’s the first home for Bishop and her husband, Kyle. The home is buckling as the ground shifts and settles because of the water from the leaks. The exterior fascia is separating, and the walls are pulling away from Melissa Bishop’s kitchen cabinets. The doors hang crookedly, and there’s a hump in her living-room floor. Outside, the yard slopes into the house, collecting water around the foundation, not diverting it away from the house.
When the Bishops bought their home, they got with it a 15-month warranty, and Bishop said she immediately began telling Valley Investments representatives about problems that cropped up.
“They did nothing until the warranty was up,” she said, and when work was done, “They kind of half-assed it.”
It will cost the Bishops more than $30,000 to fix all the problems that an inspector found with the home they bought for $149,000, Melissa Bishop said.
Corthran, who closed on his house in March, also got a one-year guarantee on his home, but there is no one to complain to. The Sunburst Terrace sales office closed two weeks ago and never reopened, Corthran said. Mail fills the mailbox, but no one collects it.
Corthran’s yard is a weed-filled expanse, even though his $193,000 purchase price included front-yard landscaping. Had he known the landscaping never would be done, he’d have taken out a smaller loan and done the yard work himself, he said.
Others who also expected to have their lawns put in as part of their purchase have trenches running through their yards and piles of dirt on their sidewalks, but no one has ever come to finish the jobs.
Few if any of the houses have rain gutters, and at least one resident was unable to open his door for a time last winter because of an ice dam that formed on his front porch, Corthran said.
Despite their dissatisfaction with much of the work, residents of Sunburst Terraces said they still like the neighborhood and hope things can be improved.
“So many things were promised to us, and none of the things have been followed up on,” said Laura Linschoten, who was elected to head the new homeowners association.
Bishop, who decorated the interior of her house with a designer’s flair, said the reality of dealing with Valley Investments has fallen far short of her dreams.
“It’s kind of a nightmare,” Bishop said.