Home Heartaches

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Home Heartaches

Home is truly where the heart is. There is no place I would rather be, curled up with our darling dog and two precious cats, our babies, surrounded by all of our stuff collected from thirty-two years of marriage. But our home has presented us with some of our biggest heartaches and trauma as well.

In 1992 we were fortunate to buy a lot that we planned to build a house on. Folks kept saying, “Are you going to build your dream house?” My answer was always, “No, neither one of us ever DREAMED we would be able to afford to do so. This is beyond our dreams house.” We paid on the lot for three years before the project began.

But the path was not an easy one.

Staying on top of the contractor and making sure all the details were taken care of was a full time job. However, eight months later we were ecstatic moving into a home we designed and intimately knew inside out and upside down. Or at least we thought.

Three years later, mold rings appeared under the windows and, weirdly enough, my allergies grew so bad my allergist said that there was something seriously wrong with the house. He was right. The stucco was installed wrong, and we had to file a lawsuit to get it re-done correctly. That took three years and by the time we got to court, we had more damage than if we had repaired it right away, bad advice from our attorney. And yes, we won the lawsuit, but had to take a second mortgage on the house to get all the work done. I wish that were the worst of the story.

Once the stucco was repaired, we decided to pull out the carpet and put in hard wood floors. While I was in a big box store looking at hardwood a young man came up to me who said he was a contractor buying tile for a client of his. He said he could buy any product cheaper and install it cheaper than I could get anywhere and would love to work with me. As he gave me his card, I asked him to call me with three references. He did, and he checked out with flying colors. Of course at the time, I did not know that those references were probably family lying for him.

This guy was clean-cut, charming, lived in Litchfield, had a wife and two kids, and even told me where his kids went to school, which I also checked out! All appeared to be okay, but not a chance!

First he installed the wrong tile in our sunroom while I was at work, and then apologized profusely and promised to re-do it when the entire house was done. It was his effort to gain our trust.

Then the big con happened. He told us that the hardwood floor we ordered could not be delivered on time so he offered to go to Florida to pick it up. But instead of us just giving him the deposit he already received from us when we placed the order, he said he had to have the rest of the money to pick up the flooring from the Florida distributor – sounded reasonable. Wrong!

A week later he was not returning my calls. I knew then that we had been scammed.

I went into panic mode and called my brother-in law, an attorney in Columbia. He searched the name of the contractor and found several previous arrests in Florida and Georgia, yes under the exact name. I was shocked that he did not change his name having done so many cons. Then I contacted the police and solicitor’s office, but as bad as this crime was, they had tons worse crimes going on, and I knew I had to deal with this myself.

I was very lucky to know a private detective who went to work with me, and we found at least ten folks in this community who were also screwed by this guy, including some retailers who had let him take some supplies out of the store with the understanding that he would return them or come back and pay later. I also got a phone call from a business that wanted to know if I had any more of my sun room tile left because they said he had stolen it from a site at the Grand Dunes. When I read them the serial number off of the leftover box of tile in my garage it confirmed the theft. Someone recognized him, and alerted the builder that my con-man had been there snooping around.

So just like on TV, my friend the private detective set up a sting. We had a woman call him and say she needed her floor re-done, and would he kindly meet her to discuss it. Sure enough he showed up, and we had the cops there to bust him. I was in the parking lot watching as they took him out.

I am actually getting nauseated just writing about this. It brings back all the anxiety and angst we lived because of this creep. However, we did get him put in jail for a few years, but he got out on good behavior, probably up to the same tricks once again.

I finally went to Lowes to buy the flooring on my charge card. We walked on cement flooring for five months after the con-job as he had already torn out the carpet.

Months later we brought in painters, who were recommended by a reputable paint store in town to freshen up the house. They did not expect me to come home at noon, and when I did I smelled a scent that took me back to my college days. No, I never smoked pot, I was on the Florence County Drug Council, but I was certainly familiar with its pungent odor. Of course I threw the painters out and fired the contractor who sent them there and demanded my deposit back. We painted the rest of the house ourselves.

So how could a smart chick like me get caught up in crap like this especially when I checked out references, and did all due diligence possible? That’s why they call them “professional con men.” So beware my dear friends. I have written this to warn you of the bad-guys lurking nearby waiting to make your life miserable. It’s hard to trust anyone these days, I’m very sad to say. And that comes from an ever-optimistic, Mary Poppins, Snow White, Susie Sunshine type of a gal who use to trust every one of God’s children!

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3 Responses to “Home Heartaches”

  1. Erika Hoffman says:

    We built our dream house seventeen years ago– the only time we built a house. NEVER again. We didn’t have the woes you had but nonetheless, it is not for the faint of heart! Enjoyed your tale.

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    This is certainly a reader beware story. Unfortunately these con men are everywhere. It’s heart breaking what you had to go through. Good read.

  3. Dena Lambrakos says:

    So glad you took the time to enlighten us! This is a story every homeowner should read.

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