How to avoid home improvement headaches | Business
RENSSELAER - It's 'song and movement time' at the Ready, Set, Grow Daycare.
"Are we really happy? If you're happy and you know it clap your hands!" says Dominque Smith to the young children who are clapping to the rythm.
Smith and his wife run a home business that had plans to grow itself by adding a new room. But he and his wife said those dreams withered when their contractor stopped showing up.
"It's unfair when you give somebody money in good trust, and they start to do things and they disappear, and you feel heartbroken and you feel like you ultimately, got scammed," Smith said.
He showed NewsChannel what they have to show for the addition they hired the company Mr. B's Construction to build.
"Wood. Footings. Cement. Headache. Frustration," said Smith, pointing to the footings off his deck.
After a few days work, the Smith's said their contractor, Dy-wane Butler announced he was sick, offering to come back later or refund their money. The Smith's said they asked for a full refund, but a year later, they haven't seen a dime.
"It appears that they were abandoned. And in their situation, one of the reasons you get abandoned is you put too much money up front.
Consumer fraud attorney Sal Ferlazzo wrote the Smith's contractor Dy-wane Butler, a letter demanding the refund. He said the couple's big mistake was paying Butler $5000 at the outset, more than half the total contract cost.
"Incentive wise, you really have to hold that carrot out for the contractors and give them a big check at the end, that way they'll come back and finish the job," said Ferlazzo, a partner at Girvin & Ferlazzo in Albany.
He added that the one page contract the Smith's signed, lacked important protections, like the right to cancel, terms for making changes, proof of insurance, and how to resolve a dispute.
Schenectady-based Legere Restorations said homeowners should also make sure the contractor has a long and local track record. To avoid getting scammed, they said you should shop around for several bids and demand five to seven references before choosing a contractor.
"A good red flag is really a large down payment to get the project started. That typically tells you that the person might have a cash flow problem," said Tom Petricca, Legere's General Manager.
So what does the Smith's contractor have to say? We tried tracking him down through family members.
"M son is 40-ears-od. I got nothing to do with how that man walks, talks and breaths," said Nathan Butler.
And we left a message...
"Wereally want to hear your side of the story. Thank you. Give us a call," said reporter Beth Wurtmann.
When Butler did call back, he would only speak off camera, saying quote: "I could have been a shady contractor and taken all their money. But I didn't. They kept changing their minds and dragging my name through the mud."
Butler said they can't agree on the amount of the refund. But the Smiths said they deserve all their money back.
"This is terrible. How could you do this to a day care business with kids, and we're struggling," said Dominique Smith.
NewsChannel 13 has also learned that there are a number of court judgments against Dy-wane Butler for unpaid debts. Court records detail several foreclosures on his properties.
Ferlazzo offered another piece of advice on home improvement projects: consider presenting your own contract to a contractor that's loaded with protections for both sides. His firm prepared an eight-page example of a contractor, which can be found at this link.
Meantime, the Ready, Set, Grow Daycare in Rensselaer is trying to raise money to give its the kids something in place of the playroom that did not get built. You can check out their cookbook fundraiser at this link.