Protecting Homeowners Through Renovation Education

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Contractors From Hell was launched in January 2000 as a project for a web design class I was taking at a local college. It just so happened that my remodeling nightmare began around the time my class was presented with the task of putting together a web site, each of us coming up with a different theme. Well I didn’t have to think too hard about what my site would be about and it would also serve as documentation for what I feared would soon become a nightmare. But well before taking this class, (back in 1998-a long time, Internet speaking) I began researching the web for a site that would provide me with the realties and cautionary tales of taking on a remodeling project. Besides government sites, there really wasn’t anything out there that offered that perspective by a consumer and that’s what I wanted to create. Hence, ContractorsFromHell was born.

If you’ve read my horror story, you know I was in litigation for nearly three years, and that my house leaked like a sieve for more years than I care to think about. The mold, the construction defects, the expensive repairs, the “we take one step forward, three steps back” routine, more reconstruction, more leaks, more money and it just went on and on. Add to the mix a duplicitous, conniving contractor with an equally conniving attorney who insisted his client did no wrong. (Oh yes, we were the crazy ones!) Didn’t matter that this contractor had numerous complaints filed against him with the Contractors Board, which began to show up AFTER we checked his license. Put it all together and you have the makings for nothing short of a living hell.

And just to crank up the stress levels a wee bit more, there were hard lessons thrown in on all things government, poor consumer protection, a Building Industry with obscene influence over our Legislature, legalities, technicalities, realities, injustice, and knowing above all that it is not enough to be right. You have to prove it no matter the “obvious”. And that means a legal battle where you’d better be “prepared” to defend your right to having your home built safely, meeting industry standards. That’s the “obvious” part. Getting pummeled by your opponent with lies and denials is the getting “prepared” part. Ugly, nasty business that would make anyone swear on a stack of Bibles that they’ll never build again.

And I have to say that living through the nightmare was no less painful than having to prove it to the court. Reliving the details through hundreds of pictures, numerous letters to the contractor, documentation for the Contractors Board, Surety Bond and insurance companies, attorneys – everything takes you right back to those gut-wrenching moments, even to this day.

We ultimately settled our lawsuit though we never recovered dollar for dollar what we paid out to repair the damage. One never knows what lies behind the stucco and walls, (where many of their dirty deeds are done), once you tear out, down to the framing and then lo and behold, you find that the structural integrity is compromised. And you wonder how the hell did this guy get a license? And I’m not alone. That’s a sentiment many consumers have expressed about their own experiences with unscrupulous contractors.

We finally finished the reconstruction of the exterior in late 2003 and then took a break from any kind of construction until summer of 2004. And to this day we’re slowly completing the interior as both myself and my husband are doing most of the work ourselves, which was what we had planned to do in the first place. It’s just that we had a three and a half year “delay” with additional rooms in the house impacted that we hadn’t planned on and the weekends just aren’t long enough.

I’m happy to report the major stuff has been completed. But I’ve got to say that when you begin to renovate an existing home, are you ever really done? Honestly, when everything is completed, I’ll think I’ve died and gone to heaven! It’s been so long I can’t even imagine it. But hey, I do believe in miracles. I’ll be posting before and after pictures of the house in early 2011.

I was once asked if I regretted going after the contractor from hell and instead, accepting the ridiculously small amount he offered to settle initially. I said to them and I say to you, absolutely not! He was going to pay for what he did to our home and family, and nothing less than that would I accept. And pay he did. His license was revoked, his wife’s license who he had been hiding behind and working illegally, was revoked as was his father’s license (who was an architect and got a contractor’s license for his son to use) and that got revoked as well. Now he has gone underground working under a friends’ license, which is completely illegal in California as well as most other states. Typical of unethical, greedy contractors who take no pride in their work, ignore the laws and industry standards, are negligent and incompetent, care nothing about the people living in these homes, take the money and run, and bring down the industry as a whole. And the good contractors get lumped right in there beside them.

But there is one deep, heartfelt regret I have and that is that my mother -whose home this was – never got to come back to live out her remaining good years with us which was why we were adding the addition in the first place. She passed away just weeks before our trial was to begin and it broke my heart that “her wanting to come home now” was never realized. As our horrible situation unfolded with weeks, months and ultimately years going by, my mother couldn’t understand why it was all happening and how things could go so wrong. And every time she would ask me when the house would be finished, I would cringe and have to tell her what the problems were but I know she was confused. Who could blame her? How could adding a room addition quickly destroy all our hopes and good intentions of having our family together, of robbing my mother of her wanting to come home? “How could that horrible man do this to us?” she would ask. There were many tearful drives back home after visiting with her and I swore that the contractor from hell would pay for this and not just monetarily. Karma will take care of him. I promise.

As a result of all that has transpired these past few years I’ve been actively involved in advocacy for homeowners, supporting legislation and policy change that will provide stronger consumer protection. I’ve attended Contractors State Board meeting in the Southern California region where I’ve presented my concerns – including the concerns of those who email me – on various consumers issues and worked towards providing solutions in the form of policy changes and legislation. I’ve had the opportunity to testify before the State Senate on consumer protection bills and when needed, write letters in support of those bills. Through my website I strive to provide homeowners with information and reality checks that will help them to make informed decisions about hiring and contracting for remodeling projects, including what to do when problems arise. I’ve answered emails from people throughout the United States asking for help or direction, as there are common sense approaches when dealing with both honest and unscrupulous contractors that can be applied in any State.

With that said, I have also created the “Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Women and The Men Who Love Them” this year that goes beyond the public section and takes folks step by step through all the key critical areas they need to learn about and more importantly implement, to avoid a residential construction nightmare.

Finally, this site is dedicated to all homeowners who bravely-and hopefully not blindly – forge their way through the realities of building their vision of a beautifully remodeled home, or that new family room, the pool and spa that promises family fun, perhaps a new backyard deck where entertaining friends and family awaits you. But should you have that dreaded encounter with the contractor from hell, know that you are not alone in dealing with the fallout, and you will bear witness to what many of us have sadly realized. So hope for the best and prepare for the worst by doing your homework and all that I share on my site. Mitigating any unforeseen problems is your goal. Then you can celebrate.

I hope that you benefit from and enjoy the site, and I thank you for doing so!


Jody Costello

Americas’ Home Renovation Planning Expert

Home Improvement Expert

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