In July 2009, just 3 months before Moby was born, we decided to fix the baby-sized hole in the floor and hired a contractor, Craftsmen's Guild. Little did we know what a nightmare awaited when we signed the contract. Our impressions after talking to Mike Amini, the architect, are in stark contrast to what we experienced in the remodel. We wouldn't wish Craftsmen's Guild on anyone with an older house, hopes for a green remodel, or who appreciates attention to detail -- all things we had desired.
Demolition began in August 2009, and we got more than we expected: Our year-old stucco was gouged along the driveway; the fence was damaged; vents were bashed in; our lime tree was replaced by a Bobcat shovel and the neighboring lemon tree was damaged; our currant bush had insulation thrown on top of it; and many of our nice wood windows were dented. When we called Matt Amini, the project manager, he was so confrontational that we decided that I not talk to him directly to spare me the stress during my pregnancy.
We had thought that the project manager (Matt Amini) would coordinate details; and the designer (Callie Gray) and architect (Mike Amini) we would provide substantial design help. We were disappointed and surprised how much we had to do ourselves. For example, Seth spent several hours pulling out nails from subfloor patched by Craftsmen's Guild and adding construction adhesive and screws -- we didn't want our floors to squeak, and nails can back out as they are doing where Craftsmen's Guild used nails instead of screws in the drywall. We have yet to fix the kitchen hood vent that leaks into the upstairs. Where Craftsmen's Guild ran pipe through a basement vent, they cut a hole large enough for rats to get into our basement; this also remains to be fixed. Craftsmen's Guild was unable to find a finish flooring installer to meet our needs, explaining that they "cannot guarantee availability of burgundy color" even though I had provided the name of a supplier. Ultimately this was a blessing since the independent contractor we found was meticulous, even leveling one of Craftsmen's Guild's subfloor patches. We had expected more attention to detail from Craftsmen's Guild. Craftsmen's Guild issued a change order (charged us extra) for that baby-sized hole we had joked about; charged us for a materials order that we never approved; set the bathroom cove base tile 3/8" too high for the curve to smoothly meet the the floor; chipped an artist-made tile in the bathroom; cut holes in our roof and opened our unfinished wood windows just before a rainstorm; left concrete splatters on our stucco; left an open permit; and on and on. We made our final payment to Matt Amini in May 2010, including a partial list of deductions for incomplete work, and hoped to never see the Amini brothers again.
Lead, breach of contract, and violation of federal law
But it didn't end; it got worse. I kept finding trash in the yard, and in July spent about 10 minutes collecting paint chips from just behind the porch where our baby played. The paint chips tested positive for lead. Craftsmen's Guild denied responsibility. Our contract states: "All of the construction debris shall be removed by Contractor at termination of Work and premises shall be left in a neat broom clean condition." In my opinion, there's breach of contract: All of the construction debris was not removed. We didn't know how to clean up hundreds of square feet of contaminated soil, so I spent half a day on the phone. City inspectors referred me to Bay Area Air Quality, which referred me to the EPA, which referred me to the California Dept of Public Health, which recommended that I hire a lead assessor. So I did, and LaCroix Davis recommended "Removal of construction debris and areas of contaminated soil" because the "lead-contaminated construction debris in the top layer of soil poses an ingestion hazard for small children" and agreed that the wording of our contract with Craftsmen's Guild should have "provided a level of cleanliness that would have eliminated the construction debris as a potential ingestion hazard." They also recommended "Professional cleaning of air ducts" due to lead dust within; the ducts were newly installed by Craftsmen's Guild. We breathed air circulated through these for months! Craftsmen's Guild claimed the dust came from "extensive demolitions" upstairs, which we believe are better described as "removing carpet" and "installing flooring", neither of which contain lead as far as we know. We think the dust originated from the 1930's plaster removed by Craftsmen's Guild and got in because the vents were not properly covered during the remodel. We learned that the Aminis violated federal law by not giving us an EPA booklet which states that 87% of pre-1940 houses contain lead and provides guidance such as sealing off heating vents. An independent consultant hired by Craftsmen's Guild's bond agency concluded that Craftsmen's Guild "failed to maintain the site to industry standards" and "Debris and hazardous debris were improperly handled and not adequately removed at completion of project." I still wake up at night worrying whether Craftsmen's Guild will expose other children to lead. After I approached the Mountain View City Council asking what could be done to protect others, a reporter approached me and wrote a story. The Aminis still have not paid any of the ~$11,000 we spent on lead clean-up.
And Then They Sued Us
As if that weren't bad enough, in Feb 2011, Craftsmen's Guild sued us for $70,000 for "Baseless defamation damaging our business and false accusation plus." As best as we can guess, they were angry at my Yelp review and wanted to shut me up. Seth poked around on the internet and found a posting in the 2003 archives of some obscure web page stating:
I was a homeowner trying to remodel my home in Cupertino, California. I want to caution those who is in this area (bay area; silicon valley) who are considering hiring the above firm for architecture and/or building home.
When I emailed, the man told me he was "really sorry" that he couldn't discuss his situation. It seems that intimidating dissatisfied customers into silence is a repeat business practice.
We have spent over $16,000 in legal fees. However, in Nov 2011 we settled since I was pregnant and felt I couldn't handle the stress of defending even a meritless lawsuit. The only silver lining: I know a lot more about the legal system and how to read a contract.
My Prince Saved Me
One positive thing has come of all this. When Tori Corbett helped us buy the house, she warned us that remodels can be very stressful on couples. She told us the story of one couple who was ready to divorce by the end of a remodel. In contrast, I watched Seth be a wonderful protector and provider for his family throughout the remodel. He visited the house every couple days to coordinate details and do quality control. He stayed up late drawing the wiring diagram for the kitchen lights. He researched water heaters, air furnaces, LED lights, and distributors of recycled insulation. He did so many of the things that we'd hoped a design-and-build firm would be capable of. While we had hoped that Seth could spend his evenings after work with his new son and exhausted wife, he diligently gave up some of that precious time to create the home we wished for. Sometimes, the most trying events are the ones that show you who's really there for you. And my husband is there for me and our son.
Last updated: 4 March 2012
© Anna Mitros
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