Hiring a contractor? Local family's home repair woes serve as lesson to all
The Rodriguez family is living in tight quarters.
“We don’t really have any friends here,” said Elliott Rodriguez.
Elliott and his brothers Luke, Cooper and Bennett are living in an apartment miles away from their neighborhood.
The family was forced out of their house when a water heater burst.
Insurance paid for a hotel room, then the apartment. The move was meant to be for a couple of months.
“We got home on June 28 around 9:45 at night. The lights were off, and we noticed we started walking in water. It was everywhere. I panicked,” said JoAllison Rodriguez, mother.
The family worked until 3 a.m., soaking up what they could.
Water damaged three bedrooms, the master bathroom, a hallway, living room and part of the upstairs bathroom.
A friend recommended a worker for Restoration King.
“They had on uniforms. Their website looked nice -- good reviews,” said Rodriguez.
JoAllison said the owner, Mike Erhardt, showed up on the initial visit.
Her insurance company covered the damage and sent her an initial check for half the amount: $8,000. Rodriguez handed the money over to Erhardt.
Soon the repairs began, but so did the problems.
“Right away, it was not good,” said Rodriguez.
Wall texture covered her blinds.
Construction debris was on the furniture.
The paint was splashed on the outlets.
“They painted my bedroom the wrong color,” said Rodriguez.
A dog was tied outside.
“One of the workers brought his dog,” said Rodriguez.
JoAllison caught the work crew grilling on her back porch and using a rug to catch the grease.
Perhaps the most troubling incident happened when JoAllison’s husband noticed an ankle monitor on one of the workers.
“This is an unnecessary stress that should have never happened,” said Joe Henry Rodrigez, husband.
The family called Erhardt.
“He said, 'run them all off.' I said, 'I don’t know how to run them off. What do you mean run them off?' He said, 'tell them that the job is done they need to go,'” said JoAllison.
The next subcontractor ended up abandoning the job and leaving walls and the stair banister damaged.
“It’s very stressful,” said JoAllison.
The KVUE Defenders caught up with Erhardt at his office to ask him what went wrong.
“I am certainly responsible for making sure that anything … any actions we took in the home are corrected and that the home is brought back to pre-loss condition,” said Erhardt.
The KVUE Defenders asked why he took half the cost of the job up front.
“I asked for a third and they handed me $8,000. I didn’t ask for $8,000,” said Erhardt.
He took the money anyway.
“I said you only owe me a third and they said well that’s another trip that we have to make,” said Erhardt.
Erhardt said he kicked the worker with the ankle monitor off of the job.
“We said you can’t be on the site,” said Erhardt. “In order to be part of our program, there have to be background checks, no felonies. They sign an affidavit that no one like that will be on the site.”
Erhardt said he learned lessons from this job, too.
“I was a bit embarrassed. They left a water hose in the backyard over the weekend. They had a barbeque and didn’t clean up after themselves. They left dishes in the kitchen. These are things I haven’t seen in 30 years in the business,” said Erhardt.
He’s no longer using subcontractors.
“This is something that hasn’t happened to me in my entire career … something I’ve done is eliminate subcontractors and have a full team that is in-house now. They have pride in who we are. I can coach them on our mission,” said Erhardt.
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) suggests you pay for work as it’s completed.
“The state of Texas doesn’t have a licensing requirement. It is important homeowners do their homework,” said David Davidson, NARI member and owner of Realty Restoration, LLC.
Davidson said it’s important to background all subcontractors as you would the general contractor.
“It’s important for everything to be in writing and what the expectations are. Subcontractors are an important part of the equation,” said Davidson. “It’s important to make sure the relationships are established.”
Tips for selecting a professional contractor:
The Austin Better Business Bureau agrees.
“When it’s paying upfront, the ideal situation is that you pay 100 percent when the job is 100 percent completed. In most cases, you need to be asking 10-25 percent,” said Erin Dufner, Chief Marketing Officer.
Erhardt promised to give a full refund back to the Rodriguez family.
“Did it take too long? Absolutely. Could I have done better? Absolutely. But all I can do is make it right from here,” said Erhardt.
The Rodriguez’s will move back into their unfinished home. The apartment that was paid for by their insurance company had a 60-day notice and the time is up.
“It will be different when we get back in the house,” said Elliott Rodriguez, one of JoAllison’s four boys. “We will have a different perspective of the house. We will probably appreciate it more.”
Contact the KVUE Defenders: KVUEDefenders@kvue.com
Joe Ellis contributed to this report.