Need help assessing structural risks of new home construction

I am looking for some insight regarding a potential purchase of a new construction single-family residence.

Some background … I am a first-time homebuyer and not in the construction industry - thus I have relatively little understanding of typical residential home design and construction practices. Learning as I go!

I have identified a small sub-division (currently under construction) for which I have an interest in. I really like the size/layout of the homes and the lots. But I’m trying to look the next level beyond those and make sure that the construction itself would be high quality.

The builder is Richmond American Homes, a large national builder. The specific project is located near Seattle (seismic risks). I noticed that the builder has a number of complaints posted from angry buyers online (BBB and dept of consumer affairs websites) about construction quality issues, including some that would be considered “major.” For example, cracking foundation resulting in basement floods, major visible cracking of interior walls, leaky roofs, etc. However, given that it is a large national builder, I don’t have a good feel for what % of their home sales that these complaints represent.

So I am trying to learn about the design and construction of these homes. Techniques used, and whether they are considered “sound” or “iffy.” I just visited the site and the City inspector was there doing routine inspection, so I picked his brain and here is what I learned:

He said the construction meets code requirements. He didn’t express any concern over the quality of the sub-contractors work, but did express some doubt about the quality of the design that they were building to.

Two-story stick-built house. 2,000 sqft.

Foundation: Crawl-space design using footings with foundation walls. Foundation walls are 4” thick and have 2 runs of horizontal re-bar. The vertical re-bar is spaced 4 feet apart (which he said was pretty far, in his experience)

Foundation interior uses walls, rather than posts with support footers.

Framing on both floors is 24" center on stud.

Single top plate. (he had never seen this before)

Main floor has joist supports. Second Floor has truss supports.

The inspector said that although it meets code, he feels that the combination of “light framing”, “sparse rebar”, and use of a single top plate all point to a fairly “cheap design.” He didn’t seem confident that it could withhold a 6.8-earthquake.

I am trying to get an understanding of the risk involved, and ultimately whether I should “walk away” from this particular home/sub-division. Given these features, and the fact that this is a larger national “production” builder (profit over quality), and the seismic risks, does this sound like trouble in the making? What sort of risks would be incurred/exacerbated by use of the design features described above? And just how much risk - enough to worry about?

I’m struggling with the fact that the design meets local code, and I would think/hope that code has a decent “margin of safety” built into it to ensure that the structural integrity is not compromised. I always thought that codes were being bettered (at least to reflect seismic risks), but it seems their design is going the opposite direction. Some of the practices seem to be fairly uncommon even in parts of country with little-to-no seismic risk.

Some perspective is appreciated. What would you all do? Are there any other questions on design I should ask the inspector to help arrive at an answer?
I would greatly appreciate thoughts, opinions, facts, and perspectives that you all are willing to share!


Meeting code is the bare minimum. Anything else would be illegal.

As far as design in an earthquake prone area, I am not familiar with that being from MI.

I would think metal strapping and connectors would have a lot to do with the structural integrity of any home in your area. Was that addressed with the inspector?

Sometimes, single top plate and 2 foot on center studs are used in energy conserving homes to create less heat transfer but, again, you may do well to consult with an inspector or design professional in that area.