A Dream Gone From Bad To Good A dream home’s construction took nightmare turns. How can you prevent this happening to you? Story and photo by Linda Barrett
ichele Mitchell purchased a 2,600-square-foot rambler in Warrenton, Virginia, with dreams for a happy future there. It wasn’t long, however, before this idyllic dream turned into a 1 ½-year, hugely expensive nightmare. When purchasing the older home, Mitchell decided it needed renovation and a 1,000foot addition, so she turned to the trusted contractor who had previously worked for the family. He quoted the job based on her architect’s drawings within her budgeted amount of $400,000 and was hired. As the demolition and re-building process progressed, the contractor began front-loading his bills and charging for items not yet finished. Then he started asking for more money and jumped the estimate to $600,000. “That’s when I started to get suspicious and brought in a second contractor to give his opinion,” Mitchell said. This contractor concurred with Mitchell and agreed to take over the work. Failure of the Second Contractor The second contractor had similar non-performance issues to the first, and again Michele found herself on her own. In the meanwhile, the lease on her temporary quarters was ending, and although there were no toilets or running water in her new home yet, she had to move in. Frustrated, Mitchell tried to contract the work herself, hiring a plumber, electrician, roofer, etc., with the bills continuing to mount. Her biggest problem was the roof. Her plans took the standing seam metal roofline from a relatively flat design to one with many gables, however, there were many problems with the previous contractors’ work. Her attorney suggested she hire a private inspector to review the existing roof work to help determine where to go from there. Först Consulting Group Steps In Mitchell searched online for more than a month for a home inspector specializing in construction errors before finding Matthew Furlong of Först Consulting Group, a local construction expert and
homeowner advocate. Looking at the metal roof, Furlong immediately noticed scratches and incorrectly folded standing seams. After inspecting the roof, Furlong felt he had to point out other construction errors he spotted, telling Mitchell, “You’re in trouble here, but don’t know it.” The errors included a large foundation crack and delamination of the newly installed stone veneer. It was literally falling off of the house. Mitchell asked Furlong to return for an entire-house inspection. What he found “took my breath away,” she said. Furlong’s inspection resulted in a 102-page report of construction and code violations, including photographic documentation. In all, Först Consulting identified 45 deficiencies that did not conform to the design requirements of the approved plans and/or residential construction industry standards in five major categories: electrical, building, plumbing, mechanical and tile. Armed with this report, Mitchell could show her new contractors exactly what needed to be done, and with evidence that would serve as a key element in her legal defense, she filed a lawsuit against the second contractor. With Furlong serving as the expert witness, she reached a settlement amount.
“Before I found Först Consulting Group, I felt I had nobody to talk to and worried I would keep being charged more money—I was already way over budget,” Mitchell said. “I trusted nobody at this point. I learned I could ask Matthew for recommendations on contractors and that I should have engaged him as a construction project manager for the entire job. If I did it again, I would definitely bring him in from the onset.” “The best time to bring in a homeowner advocate is at the beginning of a construction project—even before the contract is signed,” Furlong explained. Once a defect is suspected, it’s up to the homeowner to prove an error has occurred. A contractor can argue that the work was performed correctly, which can lead to a legal dispute without evidence from a qualified third party. “There is an epidemic of construction defect problems out there, and there’s not always a remedy after the fact,” said construction law attorney John C. Cowherd of Oakton, Virginia. “If the contractor is broke, the property owner may never get their money back. If the contractor was never qualified to do the work, the owner may struggle to get the contractor to finish or correct deficient work. Therefore,
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