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Learn from our Mistakes

This is by a “contributing editor”, Noelle D., my daughter.
In sharing her story and mistakes she wants to help others avoid the pitfalls. She has been remarkable through this and a testament of grace.

So You Want to Remodel….
(read this first)

I was awakened at 5:15 on a Friday morning by my son saying, “Mom, there is water coming in my room.” He was right, it was raining outside and water was coming in through the window but not only in his room, but every window in the rear of the house. Before long, water was pouring through the master bedroom ceiling fan. By then, I had a bucket and was dumping it every five minutes as the water continued to pour in. By the time the rain stopped outside, all but three rooms in the house had water seeping in them. Water even trickled down the basement walls.

A week earlier, my husband, Maury, and I had hired our next-door neighbor (whom I will call John and his wife Sue) to do repairs. They told us they had a licensed and insured construction company and could replace our roof and gutters. We took him at his word and did not verify his business license or insurance. His estimate for replacing our roof was less than the other estimates. He justified this by stating he was giving us a break since we were neighbors. His estimate was $7500 (keep this number in mind).

Our neighbor began replacing our roof on a Monday. By Thursday, John and his crew were still taking the shingles off, and the forecast now called for rain late Thursday night into Friday morning. He tarped the front roof of the house but failed to tarp the back roof of the house which was exposed – no shingles or tar paper, just roof decking. The rain came. Water poured in everywhere – attic, master bath and bedroom, boys room, upstairs hallway, HVAC ductwork, kitchen, downstairs bath, living room, study, sun porch, even trickling down to the basement’s back wall.

John came over first thing that Friday morning. He apologized profusely and stated he and his insurance company would take care of the damage and make our house better than it was before. At this point my husband and I were dumbfounded and overwhelmed. We had four kids, ages 9, 6, 4, and 2 at the time and homeschooling one of them. Also, our house was on the market – one reason we decided to re-roff in the first place. What were we going to do?

Later that morning as I was downstairs, there was a loud “BOOM!” I rushed upstairs and attempted to get into the master bedroom. As pushed the door open, I realized the master bedroom ceiling had fallen (the ceiling was made of plaster), thankfully missing my husband and our four-poster bed by 3 feet, but damaging other furniture.

In the afternoon, John’s insurance came to assess the damage. The agent informed me that the insurance would accept this claim and our living expenses would be covered. However, I was not informed of my options: Could we use another contractor to make repairs? How long would this take? Should I call my homeowners insurance? It was my understanding after meeting with the insurance agent that my only option for a contractor was John. Therefore, the contractor that was negligent and caused the original damage was now the same contractor repairing the house. (Fox guarding the henhouse comes to mind.)

John said Maury and I needed to pack up the house. The rear of the house needed to be gutted due to the water damage – the attic, master bedroom and bath, boys’ room, back wall of the first floor which included a bathroom, living room and kitchen.

He stated it would take two weeks to put the house back together as he was pulling crews from other jobs, making our house his priority. We made living arrangements accordingly.

The next eight weeks (not two) were nothing but manipulation and deception, which included the police being called on two separate occasions because of fierce arguments between John and his crew. Crews were not pulled from other job sites, as there were no other job sites. Each day there were different workers at the house, who were not allowed to talk to Maury or me.

Replacing our roof took three additional weeks. What was supposed to cost us $7500 cost another $3500 due to “damaged roof decking.”

John stated that he had spent $20K on replacing our kitchen cabinets. A disagreement between he and the cabinet company ensued with the cabinet company threatening to put a lien on our home. Maury talked to the cabinet company directly and found out that the cabinets were builder grade cabinets and that he only spent $9000 on them. When John found out that Maury was going directly to the cabinet company himself to deal with this dispute, his wife Sue texted the cabinet company and told them to not tell Maury how much they spent on the cabinets.

Maury and I questioned whether permits needed to be pulled for the construction. John stated that he was working with the insurance company to get permits. The insurance company stated John should have been pulling them all along!

John pitted the insurance agent against Maury and me, often telling the agent one story about us and bemoaning the actions of the agent to us.

The final straw was when John stated he needed the final payment from the insurance company. He claimed his brother was sick in Florida and that he was going to be traveling for a week. Maury and I had grave concerns and stated we would not sign any release forms until the house was finished. John got his final payment directly from the insurance company.

He did not go to Florida to see his “sick brother.”

Finishing our house became a low priority as two weeks had passed after receiving the final payment and the repairs on our house were still not completed.

Finally, we had enough and fired John.

At this point Maury and I contacted the insurance agent, he shut us down and quit communicating. We asked if we could have documentation of John’s license. The insurance company said we could walk next door and get documentation directly from John. We never got documentation of John’s license from him or the insurance company. John was not a licensed contractor!

The next six months became an arduous process of seeking legal counsel, going to the Better Business Bureau and State Insurance Commission, documenting all the damage and repairs that had yet to be done and then getting the repairs done correctly by another contractor. Almost everything John had repaired had to be re-done — permits had to be pulled, a structural engineer had to be called, hardwood floors had to be refinished, gutters had to be replaced, kitchen cabinets reset, electrical outlets that were once grounded were no longer, kitchen plumbing that had been to code was no longer and was leaking, and the list continued on and on. It was not until the beginning of January 2014 that we finished repairs on the house.

Where were we living during all of this? Since we were told repairing the house would take two weeks, we made temporary living arrangements. Since the process was prolonged, we ended up jumping from place to place. One week at my mother’s, two and a half weeks in North Carolina (while Maury stayed behind for work), ten days in a cabin at a campground, and then another three weeks at my mother’s house. This past fall we lived in the house while the repairs were going on.

There was a period of 10 days in which we did not have a working kitchen.

Then we had to move all our furniture in the rooms that did not have wood floors so we could refinish the ones that did. We were out of the house for another week. It was not until the beginning of January 2014, almost nine months from the original water damage that the repairs to the house were completed.

In this process, Maury and I tried to keep a sense of normalcy for the children.

They did not feel secure, were anxious, and had nightmares (which just recently stopped). It did not help that during all this upheaval that our cat died. She was an older cat and the stress of the construction process proved too much!

We had to seek professional counseling for one of our sons due to his anxiety.

Others losses we incurred: We lost the Spring season for the Real Estate market as the house had to be taken off. Maury lost work days in order to help deal with the mess. Homeschooling was interrupted. We had huge financial losses – thousands of dollars in legal fees not to mention getting the house to repaired correctly.

No doubt, we learned a lot from this whole experience, and that’s what we wanted to share with you. So, if you’re thinking about remodeling your home or having any sort of major repairs done, ask yourself several questions and follow some simple rules:

1) Get 2-3 quotes for the work to be done.
2) Get references on all the contractors who gave you quotes, but pay special attention to and check those that make the ‘final cut’ and will be doing the work.
3) Ensure that your contractor is pulling the appropriate permits for any work being done on your home.
4) Ask for the contractor’s license and insurance documentation and then check on the State’s DPOR website to ensure that the license is still in force.
5) In the state of Virginia, if a dispute arises between entities in a contract, each one is responsible for their own legal fees. Therefore when writing a contract, specify that if dispute should arise, the losing party pays for the legal costs of both parties.
6) If you have damages, especially those caused by a contractor working for you, be sure to immediately contact your own insurance company and report the incident.

I hope this helps…

0 replies
  1. Diana Gresham Stratton
    Diana Gresham Stratton says:

    It pays to have married a man who knows insurance. Been through those nightmares and it is awful. Sorry you all went through it. God bless you.

    Reply
    • ruthgraham
      ruthgraham says:

      That’s really only half of the story…
      He was arrested and has a hearing next month…but the legal system is weird!
      This was not the first time…
      Just “buyer beware”!

      Reply
      • Diana Gresham Stratton
        Diana Gresham Stratton says:

        My late husband and I were putting our place up here in NC ans we hired someone with great references to put the septic system, and water in, and many other things but he’d come to us and couldn’t make payroll so my husband gave it to him. Then it was constant when Dennis said enough. I would come up the whole time they were working and log when they got there, what they did, and when they left. That saved us because when we refused to give him anymore money he took us to court. Long story short we won because of that journal.

        Reply
  2. LB
    LB says:

    What a mess. What a test of patience and perseverance. The non-contractor neighbor should be posted so that he never does this to anyone again.

    Reply

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