The Rescue Builder

When a home project goes horribly, horribly wrong and the contractor disappears, Tom Phillips steps in to straighten things out.

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Looking back on a project that should have taken four months but instead took two years, the Duchs blame their naiveté. They trusted a contractor who was juggling too many projects and never pulled a permit for theirs. (He produced a fake permit.)

“I just thought you hired a contractor and he would take care of everything,” Ann Duch says. “We didn’t ask many questions, and we never asked how many jobs he was working on. A couple months into the project, his license was revoked, but we didn’t find out for a year—not until we discovered a permit had never been pulled.”

Their trust began to decline when the crew didn’t show up for days at a time, when they noticed laborers were constantly changing, and when excuses became a substitute for progress. “We had a newborn and a toddler at the time, and no kitchen for four months,” says Duch. “But the real red flag was when the cabinets were supposed to be delivered. He told us the wrong ones came in, but when we called the supplier we discovered they were never ordered.”

That was when the Duchs stopped making payments and started threatening legal action. The contractor appeased them with periodic work and false documents to verify county inspections. By the time real inspectors arrived, they had to cut through drywall. “We also had to pay a structural engineer to inspect the foundation, roof and framing,” says Duch. The result was three pages of code violations. When the available bond money was divvied up among the contractor’s seven other irate clients, the Duch’s share was only $3,000—which paid for the engineer, but not for the work that didn’t pass inspection.

Enter Phillips, who tore off the roof in three days and replaced it, doubling the number of ceiling joists and redoing the HVAC, which didn’t meet code. He even added footers and beams in the crawl space, finishing the job in less than three weeks.

The cost was about $35,000—for work the Duchs had already paid for once, work for which there was no bond money. With the help of an attorney, the Duchs mounted a successful lawsuit. “After the contractor was convicted and the judge awarded a sizable settlement, our lawyer went after his insurance company because he thought we’d never see the settlement money,” says Duch. “The insurance money was a godsend. It paid for Tom."

Page 4: Read Before Renovating