After hearing home renovation horror stories, CBS4 Problem Solvers turns to experts for tips

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Renovating your home should be an exciting and joyous time, but some homeowners have been contacting CBS4 Problem Solvers saying their excitement turned to dread as they sunk money into projects that looked nothing like what they expected.

Lori and Tony Weaver bought a house in Fountain Square early last year and hoped that flipping it could help them in their retirement. Instead, they say the project dragged on and on, costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

"That was pretty much my savings," Lori Weaver said.

The Weavers hired Socal Remodeling, owned by David Brown, and they were given a completion date of late May for the company to finish the $91,000 job. The job was never finished, and the Weavers ended up hiring an attorney. Earlier this month, Brown filed with the state of Indiana to dissolve the company, which faces two unrelated small claims lawsuits from other homeowners.

"He ... took all the money and I don’t know what he’s spending it on, but it wasn’t here," Weaver said.

An attorney for Brown sent CBS4 Problems Solvers a written statement, saying in part, "...Mr. Brown vehemently denies the wrongdoing asserted by the Weavers and other former customers...(he) anxiously awaits the opportunity to have his day in court and clear his name." You can read the full statement at the bottom of this article.

In November, CBS4 Problem Solvers highlighted the case of Global Restoration and owner Tom Brown in Carmel. Brown is unrelated to David Brown.

Homeowners in that case said Global Restoration never finished their jobs and they lost money when Brown filed bankruptcy and abruptly went out of business. His bankruptcy case is still pending in federal court.

"They have turned my life inside out and upside down," homeowner Carolyn Jolley said.

"He put all of us in a very horrible situation," homeowner Lisa Delp said.

Two Chicks and a Hammer weigh in on what you can do to avoid a home renovation nightmare

CBS4 Problem Solvers wanted to know how to keep other homeowners from running into issues like those in the Global Restoration and SoCal Remodeling cases. We turned to experts who know a lot about home renovations, the law, and the people doing the work.

Two Chicks and a Hammer, the mother-daughter duo of Karen Laine and Mina Starsiak Hawk behind the HGTV show "Good Bones," spoke to us in the middle of a busy renovation season. The pair say it's not at all what you see on television.

"We film for 10 months, 13 houses, and that is cut down to 42 minutes per episode, so in 42 minutes it looks pretty darn easy," Starsiak Hawk said.

The women said they, like the Weavers, once lost $100,000 when a contractor did a bad job and walked away.

Their advice? First, set aside extra money for unexpected setbacks. They also say you shouldn't let a company sell you on your dream without any details.

"You really need to know what you want done and you need to be specific and you need to write it down and you need to ask your potential contractor questions. 'Am I missing anything?' You need to make sure you understand what they’re saying to you," Laine said.

In the following video, Laine and Starsiak Hawk offer more tips before you renovate:

What to ask a contractor to give you before you sign on the dotted line

Before you sign up with a contractor, you should ask them for at least three things: a bond, which could help you if they walk away, a certificate of insurance, to cover injury or damage to a neighbor's property, and licenses or certifications for the people doing the work.

The Weavers got all three, but it hasn't helped them get their money back. They hired Ben Spandau, with firm Funk & Spandau, for help. Spandau said he's heard from other homeowners in similar situations, too.

"I've seen people's life savings drained," Spandau said.

Spandau suggested you consider hiring a lawyer on the front end, to look over a contract before you sign it. He also agreed with Laine and Starsiak Hawk, saying you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions and be skeptical.

"(Homeowners) will get that picture painted for them, right, how their home is going to look and ... they fall in love with that, and it covers over, glosses over all those questions that they knew that they wanted to ask beforehand," Spandau said.

As for the people who will be in your home doing the work, CBS4 Problem Solvers spoke to Joel Fenske, Director of Human Resources for Huston Electric. Recently, one of the company's electricians stepped in to re-wire a home for a former Global Restoration customer.

"You're the boss of the project, you oversee it. We work for you," Fenske said.

Fenske and other experts said talking to references and people who have used a contractor in the past is important. Don't just rely on reviews online: talk to people in person or by phone about specifics.

You should also make sure that anyone doing specialized work, like electrical or plumbing, has the correct certifications and pulls the right permits.

"Anybody that’s going to be going out into a home should have some type of documentation showing that they’re able to do the work," Fenske said.

How to do your own research

You should search for a company and contractor on two websites: mycase.in.gov and inbiz.in.gov, using the business search tool. While you may need to search a name several ways to see all entries, it could turn up important information.

In the Weavers' case, a search could have revealed that Brown opened SoCal Remodeling just one month before they hired him.

Experts also suggested that you ask for references and call those references, rather than simply relying on reviews online. Starsiak Hawk and Laine said they believe the best way to find a company is by seeking out personal references directly from friends and acquaintances.

"Throw it out on Facebook, throw it out on Nextdoor ... does someone have someone that they worked with and are happy?" Starsiak Hawk said.

Recapping the Top 5 tips from our experts

  1. Set aside extra money
  2. Hire a lawyer before you start
  3. Ask questions, be skeptical
  4. Talk to references
  5. Search online

What's next for Weaver case

The Weavers said they now face starting their project over again, and spending another $100,000 to fix previous work. They have not filed a formal lawsuit, but said they are not giving up in their efforts to get their money back.

"What do you do? Somebody takes that kind of money and walks away, surely to God there’s some kind of consequence for that," Lori Weaver said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers went to several addresses listed for SoCal Remodeling and didn't find David Brown. He was easy to find online, though, working as a pastor with Impact Church Indy and David Brown Ministries. One Facebook page showed that in July, as the Weavers were trying to get Brown to complete their project, he was advertising a business workshop, saying in one post "I'm going to give you the same strategy that I used to turning $750 into $150,000 in just 90 days."

An attorney for Brown, Troy Tyson, did send CBS4 the following written statement in response to our request:

"Thank you for reaching out to me regarding your upcoming report on my client, Mr. David
Brown. Mr. Brown recently retained me to assist him in several legal matters, including those under
investigation by your team. Given that there are currently a number of cases pending in litigation, it is
unfortunately not advisable or possible at this time for me to provide extensive details regarding the
matters you are reviewing. However, I want to make it clear that Mr. Brown vehemently denies the
wrongdoing asserted by the Weavers and other former customers referenced in your investigation. My
client hopes to resolve these matters through the legal process over the next several months, and
anxiously awaits the opportunity to have his day in court and clear his name. It is my hope that you will
undertake a follow-up assessment on these matters once the legal process has run its course.

Additionally, I want to point out that Mr. Brown has not only earned the trust and respect of
many satisfied customers, but he has also carved out a place as one of the leading young lights of the
local African-American community, selflessly giving of his time, money, and energy to help countless
individuals in the city of Indianapolis. In his role as pastor, youth leader, and volunteer, Mr. Brown has
worked incredibly hard to enrich the lives of people in our city, and support those most in need. My
client regularly undertakes this work with little or no publicity, and with no prospect of profit in mind. I
am hopeful that your thorough coverage will take the additional step of highlighting Mr. Brown’s many
contributions to the local community."

If you have a problem you'd like CBS4 Problem Solvers to consider, contact us at 317-677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.

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