Several homeowners are out $16,000 after paying for work that was never done to install new windows in their West Ashley town homes. After exhausting all their options, they called the News 2 I-Team for help.
The windows in Regency West Villas hadn't been replaced since the homes were built in the 1970’s.
“This is our home, and we were trying to make our homes nice,” Joellen Rogers, President of the Regency West Villas HOA, explained.
Rogers led the charge collecting bids and interviewing contractors two years ago.
“I drove by his store front. I researched his company. He has a website,” she said.
So she hired Russel Shiver to replace windows in the 12 homes. She signed a contract with him and paid him in January 2015.
“He did all the right moves,” she remembered. “He sent me an orchid. He was very diligent in the beginning.”
Then excuses started. It was months before she heard from him. She demanded her money back or for work to begin. Shiver eventually replaced windows in two units, and then he stopped responding.
She tried filing a police report; writing a complaint with the state licensing agency; and consulting a lawyer. Joellen was out of options and patience.
“It's been a dead-end at every avenue. It's frustrating,” Rogers explained. “Thank you for taking my story. It was a little helpless.”
The News 2 I-team took her concerns to Shiver's West Ashley showroom. No one was there. We called the three numbers posted on the front door. No one answered the first two. The third is disconnected.
Finally, we visited him at home.
He didn’t want to speak on camera, but told the I-Team through the door he planned on replacing the windows.
The Happy Ending
That was how the story ended until Window World of the Lowcountry stepped into help.
“Contractors can sometimes give the rest of us a bad name,’ Bradley Ala told News 2. “I think these people had been burned.”
The week before Christmas the company, owned by Bradley and Manda Ala, told the homeowners they would install brand new windows without charging them any additional fees.
"I guess I was brought up this way," Ala explained. "You take care of your family, and then you take care of your community. If that means we can help with windows then great we are Window World, and we would love to do that."
Finding Red Flags
Before you hire, Angie’s List recommends asking for the contractor's license number. You can look it up through the state licensing agency, the LLR. You can use the online database to research anyone with a professional license from accountants to veterinarians. You can also search by last name.
“Check out any information that you can about their historical track record, ” Ala advised.
He recommends following up by asking for references.
“Go and see the work they have done and speak to the clients they have serviced,” he explained
Ala says asking if the project was finished on time and on budget will give you an idea of what to expect. He also recommends asking how the contractor handled hiccups with the project.
Final you can look up them up to see if they've been involved in any legal battles through the online public index. Search by last name and county to see if they've had trouble with the law in the past.
And once you pick a contractor, consumer experts say be leery of big upfront costs
The HOA cut shiver a check for $16,000, half the total cost of the window replacement, but experts warn don't give your contractor any more than a third of the total cost up front.
“Tie payments to progress to help avoid a situation where a bad contractor takes your money and runs. This way, at least you’re not out the entire amount. But if you do your homework and search for a company with a strong local history of doing good work, you can avoid that situation altogether.” Cheryl Reed, Angie's List, explained.
Divide your payments into at least thirds and don’t pay until each third is done to your satisfaction. Hold back at least 10 percent for a final payment that you pay only when you are fully satisfied and the work is complete.
Shiver spoke with News 2 Investigator Rebecca Collett over the phone in August. He said he spent the money on other operations, but became sick and hasn’t earned any new business. His solution is for the HOA to pay more money to buy the windows. He also said he’s working with another lender to finance the project. He said he plans to finish the project, but he couldn't say exactly when work would begin.
“I am at this time pursuing needed assistance in operating the company and expect to be fully functional by mid-September,” he wrote in the statement from August.
As of December, his showroom in West Ashley has been cleared out. He didn’t respond to further questions.