Thieves Prey on Home Construction Sites (DSL-View Video) (Dialup-View Video)

Builders Say Thefts Are Rising on Construction Sites, and Homeowners Are the Ones Who Pay

Feb. 3, 2005  As builders put the finishing touches on her dream home, Marilyn G******* got the feeling someone was watching the construction.

"For some reason, I was having bad vibes that maybe somebody's gonna break in and steal our stuff," she said.

 

Sure enough, before the G****** moved into their new house, they discovered burglars had beaten them to it. "They stole the dishwasher, our oven, our microwave oven and our range top," said Steven G*****.

 

On construction sites across the country, builders are putting up houses by day, but by night, burglars come in and take whatever is not nailed down.

Homeowners End Up Paying

Many home builders say the phenomenon is becoming more common. "I've talked to builders all over the country and it's becoming an epidemic," said builder Les T*******.

It's an epidemic that costs the industry $5 billion a year, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But who really ends up paying?

"Well, the consumer ends up paying because we have to add that to the price of the house eventually," said T*******.

This "crime tax" jacks up the price of the average new home by $3,700.

Private Detectives on the Case

Private detective Mark Stephens helps builders guard against theft, and he says there's no shortage of work.

"We get out and hide in the bushes. We hide in the houses, and we catch the bad guys," said Stephens.

Stephens often catches the thefts on tape, and he has seen everything from lumber to air conditioners to lawn sod get swiped.

Stephens rolled tape as a new air conditioning system was being delivered to an unsuspecting homeowner. Stephens said it didn't come from a warehouse, but from someone's new house. Stephens later videotaped that same installer and a helper carrying off two air conditioning units from a building site in the middle of the night.

"They install air conditioners during the day. At night they come back, they steal the air conditioners, then they resell them on the weekends," said Stephens.

Stephens has seen it all from the bizarre to the simply amateurish.

He has watched thieves make off with an entire tree, dragging it down the highway, roots and all. "It was an oak tree that they dug out of the ground and put into their SUV," said Stephens.

Stephens also caught one couple loading someone else's sod into their Land Rover. He even went so far as to confront the duo.

 

"You probably live in a $200,000 home, at least. You're driving a Land Rover, but you're stealing grass. Why not just buy your own grass?" said Stephens on the tape.

"There's no excuse," the woman replied.

Builder Turns to Violence

Now a case near Houston is raising the stakes.

After repeated thefts, police say one local builder began standing guard at homes he was working on.

According to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, the burglars arrived, kicked in a back door and were in the process of stealing some construction materials, when the builder shot and killed one of the burglars.

While the G******* didn't resort to violence, they won't soon forget their unpleasant housewarming.

"All three kids slept in our bed for a couple of weeks because they were afraid," Marilyn G****** said.

Click here for "Takeway" tips from "GMA's" consumer correspondent Greg Hunter.

ABC News' Consumer correspondent Greg Hunter and producer Andrew Paparella produced this "Good Morning America" story.