CLEVELAND — Some customers are getting left high and dry by remodeling contractors who get paid upfront then don't show up to finish the job. 5 On Your Side Investigators tracked down yet another contractor and, this time, had a very candid conversation.
"I feel like he took advantage of a senior citizen,” said Karen Bates, 77, from Wadsworth. She and her husband Hershel hired Mike Smith from Mike's Extreme Painting company to stain their deck.
"He never completed half of what we asked him to do," said Karen.
He was supposed to create a man-cave in the basement. We saw the work. It's nowhere near done. "It's a nightmare because every time I go to the basement, I see that room," said Karen. Plus, Smith said he would put a toilet and sink in the basement. Never happened.
He did some work, but the Bates said Smith didn't offer a contract to sign and he demanded payment in-full first. "Nine. Thousand. Dollars. That's breaking my heart,” Karen told us.
Around the same time, Lisa Freeman hired Smith to do some bathroom work after a leak was found.
"He wanted everything up front?” we asked.
“Absolutely. Yes,” said Freeman.
She said Smith didn't finish the work even though she shelled out nearly $3,000. She then paid about $20,000 to hire another company to fix it.
"I would have ended up with a tub in my basement because the floor was bad that he put the tub over,” said Freeman.
"They started with the ceiling because it was so big,” said Vicki Guilliams as she showed us around her salon in Akron. She hired Smith and his wife to do a bunch of projects like painting, laying a floor, and more. However, Guilliams said when she paid off the balance in cash before the work was completed, Smith disappeared. "When you take someone's money, even if it's 20 bucks and it's all they got, shame on you,” said Guilliams.
All three women said they tried to resolve their situations but to no avail.
"He was a man of a million excuses,” said Freeman.
"’Oh, I'll be there tomorrow.’ And then something would come up,” said Guilliams.
"’I had to take my mother-in-law to the hospital,’ Freeman said quoting a recent conversation with Smith.
"Something (was wrong) with his truck,” added Guilliams.
"'My wife can't bring me. She's mad at me,’” Freeman said imitating Smith.
"’In the spring, you're the first on the list,’” said Guilliams quoting Smith.
"One day it was that he cut his finger,” said Freeman.
"’I'm going to get you going as soon as the weather breaks,’” was another quote Guilliams remembered.
They had enough of the excuses. It had been about 18 months, and Smith hadn't gotten back to them about their money or the work. They contacted us. We tracked down Smith. He agreed to an interview.
"There are many, many excuses that come up,” we told Smith as he sat on the front steps of a home he said he was working on.
“Always, always. It's because of my work,” said Smith. “I get tied up doing something else. I can't get to them and I tell them something I shouldn't tell them. I should just go. It's personally my fault…100%."
About Freeman's bathroom? “I did good work,” Smith insisted. “Another contractor comes in there. They're always going to say you did something wrong."
News 5 tracked him down. The candid conversation
To his credit, Smith didn't run from our questions.
"How do you feel right now?” we posed.
“I fell kind of down and dirty...wrong,” said Smith with his head bowed.
In addition to the unfinished work, Karen also revealed to us this about Smith. "He borrowed $700 from us to pay his rent so he wouldn't get evicted,” she told us.
"When are you going to pay back the $700?” we asked Smith.
“As soon as I start...as soon as I start Karen's (job again) in February,” he promised.
Guilliams told us her lawyer is drawing up a contract for Smith to sign saying he will finish the projects at her salon. "I promised Vicki and I meant it,” said Smith. “This time I'm going to get it done."
In the end, there seems to be a lot of money owed and a ton of work left.
"And now what are you going to do?” we asked him.
“Now I'm handling it,” said Smith.
“We have you on record,” we pointed out.
“You got me on record,” Smith assured us.
"I just don't want anyone else to get caught up in what I did,” said Guilliams.
"It was just one thing after another,” Freeman told us.
"I guess it's a tough lesson learned,” said Karen.
All three women said they never signed a contract and some paid in cash. Never hire a contractor without a contract, without researching the business first, and if you pay in cash, get a receipt.
Also, try to negotiate one-third of the overall costs up-front if a contractor asks for more than that at first.