Huntley homeowners blame Billings developer for poor craftsmanship, water spat

Huntley Homes
Posted at 6:24 PM, Oct 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-20 12:01:49-04

HUNTLEY- On any given day in Huntley, when the wind is really whipping, resident Allison Bechtold says the flooring in her 18-month-old manufactured home ripples like water.

Rippling Floor

It’s a sight you’d have to see to believe, which is why she posted it to her Facebook page back in August of yet another flaw she’s found in what was supposed to be her Montana dream home.

Berchtold’s story of moving to Montana is full of heartache and stress after she lost her husband and her mother in a tight timeframe, all while trying to deal with a home she says was supposed to be move-in ready.

But she says it never was.

She’s one of several Huntley residents expressing the same disappointment to MTN News about their home-buying experience with Billings business J&J Homes.

Bev and Dan Freeman

Berchtold’s story, along with Bev and Dan Freeman's, begins off Yellowstone Trail in Huntley, where they say the area was supposed to be a dream development.

Dan Freeman says he was ready to get away from the noise and lights of Billings and live out his days in a more quiet and peaceful setting.

“It’s beautiful out here,” said Bev Freeman.

“This is our retirement plan,” said Dan.

“This was an investment for us,” said Bev.

The Freemans bought their home in 2022 on the grounds the water would only be $70 a year, according to an existing agreement from the seller’s Realtor.

“Every one of these homes has it in writing,” said Dan.

But they say that changed when the agreement they were presented with, from the developer, was actually $195 a month, with homeowners given the chance to opt out.

The Freemans say they have their own suspicions about why the amount was changed.

“The irrigation system is not set up to irrigate this many homes. It’s just not. It doesn’t have the capacity,” said Dan.

This area of Yellowstone County is known for having no groundwater. Each home uses a cistern, which must be filled from an outside source.

“I think he did that because he can’t provide water,” said Bev.

But frustrations over the summer months grew when the Freemans said the pump house stopped working one time.

It’s a moment Bev remembers well, because her interaction with the developer, Jason Wilcox, who also served as the seller of their manufactured home. The interaction turned ugly.

“He will make you feel crazy... and we went back and forth and back and forth, and I remember I hung up and I had a stroke,” she said.

Doctors told Bev what caused the stroke was a sudden increase in blood pressure.

Lynette Lane

Back at Allison Berchtold’s house across the way on Lynette Lane, she’s dealing with the same water issues, but there’s more problems.

“I bought a house that was supposed to be finished and completely move-in ready,” said Berchtold.

She says that’s not at all what she got. She’s been keeping records of it all: the siding is falling, cracks in her walls, broken trim, that rippling floor and the walls are starting to buckle.

She says she’s repeatedly asked for the home to be repaired under its warranty, but repairs haven’t happened after she moved in 18 months ago.

Amy Fox

Roughly less than 10 miles away from Lynette Lane in Huntley is Amy Fox’s new manufactured house, which she also purchased from J&J Homes.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “I have a fan in my master bedroom that when I turn on, may or may not come down and cut me off. I don’t even know, I can’t even turn the fan on in my bedroom because it wobbles so much.”

Fox says her home is also riddled with poor craftsmanship and missing items that she says she paid extra to get, things like an expanded master closet, shelving in her pantry and a pasta faucet above her stove in her kitchen.

Amy's Home

“I have paint above my pantry, I have cracks on all my windows. All my doors show light in them, so they aren’t squared up,” she said. “I expect to be reimbursed for all these extra things that we had to pay extra money for.”

Fox says she paid extra money for a home she thought was custom-built, only to learn it wasn’t.

J and J Homes

The allegations regarding J&J Homes and its owner, Wilcox, might seem intense, but he maintains his business and product has a successful track record.

“I have sold $66 million by myself in manufactured homes,” said Wilcox. “And for the media to bring up four or five disgruntled customers, that’s a pretty good record.”

Jason Wilcox

Wilcox has been in business for decades and prides himself on offering a more affordable option for homes and families at a time when home prices continue to rise.

He even started a new manufactured home development on the Billings West End he’s dubbed an option for residents to find affordable housing all while living the dream of home ownership.

“That’s a lot of homes. Again, each one of those customers you are speaking of, we have documentation from the manufacturer as well as from us asking for the items we need to fix,” Wilcox said in an interview with MTN News.

Wilcox says in each home sale, the bank asks for an inspection of each home before the closing of escrow, which the seller must sign off on.

Wilcox operates J&J Homes as a retailer for Adventure Homes, which manufactures the houses out of state. Then he says, the structures travel as much as 1,500 miles to Montana, something Wilcox says is impressive considering the minimal damage when they arrive.

Still, he admits things can happen.

“Typically, there’s a punch list that we go through and we fix the warranty items that need to be fixed,” he said.

And as for the water agreement, Wilcox acknowledges he set water rates at $195 for residents living in his Lynette Lane development.

“Is the cost higher than what some might like? Sure. But it’s competitive with any other water source in the area,” he said.

And when it comes to repairs, Wilcox says he’s working on it. He even sent a crew out to repair the siding on Fox’s house after she showed MTN News her stapled-on siding.

And as for that rippling floor in Berchtold’s home, Wilcox admits is horrendous, saying it’s a factory defect and it’s on the list of warranty items to be repaired as soon as he can get scheduled to get into the house and get it repaired.

Wilcox has been taken to court before when it comes to the quality of his manufactured homes.

In 2013 and 2015, two separate families filed suit in Yellowstone County, alleging breach of contract and fraud against Wilcox and his former business, Elite Homes.

One family alleged that their home arrived with neither a furnace nor a hot water heater.

Another said they paid a premium for a custom home they believe was already built.

Wilcox declined to comment on those cases, citing a non-disclosure agreement, but he did say that each was settled.

In addition, the Montana Office of Consumer Protection says it received four complaints regarding Wilcox and J&J homes. The most recent was submitted in June of 2023.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Wilcox.

He says as a long-time business, he doesn’t want to see any unhappy customers.

“But we do have some of them, but we have hundreds of happy customers,” he said. “And again we want to give people affordable and quality in a market that’s expensive, that’s really our goal and this stuff is really secondary to me.”