I was given a lot of reading material detailing how to deal with grief after my husband died. They all have nearly the same content, but each with a little different spin. Most of it really is just common sense. One common thread in all of them is: don’t make any major decisions in the first year.
Major decisions can’t always be avoided. And life doesn’t stop for grief. Life often demands that you make a decision no matter what stage you are in your grief. For example, my oldest was starting his senior year of high school so that meant major decisions in colleges and finances regarding that decision.
The remodeling project was a major decision. I thought it best to put it off for a year. I made the decision to get the new steel roof put on. That was a directive from my husband before he died.
A little more than a year after my husband had passed away, we made the decision to stay in our home. This meant I would need to replace the foundation. It was a big decision, but it was okay. I was, after all, past The First Year.
I contacted Atlas Enterprises about excavating the foundation and lifting my house, but they were too busy at the time. There was another company similar to Atlas and they would probably be able to fit me in. I began a search for a concrete contractor who would be available at the perfect time to pour the basement once the house had been lifted. Not one would be available until the following spring and I didn’t want to wait that long.
I called a local construction company who only really does major commercial projects. Their website stated they did basement foundations so I took a chance and called them. The lady who answered the phone said they no longer did foundations. She told me they handed all of that work off to a local contractor. For the remainder of this post, the local contractor will be referred to as MBM Company. (MBM=My Big Mistake)
A friend of mine happened to call me shortly after that phone conversation. As we were chatting, I asked if her husband knew of anyone who could do a basement foundation for me. Her husband suggested that I call MBM Company. They had done work with him in the past with great results. I was told he could probably do the work one wall at a time by replacing the foundation with concrete block. We probably wouldn’t even have to move out of our house to get it done. I really hated the idea of moving out of our house for about two months.
Long ago, my husband suggested this would be an option since he really felt only the south side of the foundation was bad. I’ve known many houses with block foundations, including the homes my husband and I grew up in. At that time, I really didn’t care if the basement provided any extra living space. It had to be dry and critter-free.
Best of all it would be cheaper! It seemed as if everything was lining up the way it should.
I called MBM Company and he came out right away to take a look at my project. No problem, he said. He did this sort of work all the time. He proceeded to tell me the exact way they would complete the project and it all made perfect sense. It was the same way my husband suggested all those years ago. I respected my husband’s knowledge because there really wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. This guy was proposing the same method. In a strange way, it was another connection to my husband. I was good with it.
It was going to cost a fraction of what the excavation/jacking process was going to cost. Best of all, he confirmed that we could stay in our house while the job was completed. I was in!
I checked court records online to see if I could find anything with MBM Company and I couldn’t. And that’s where my research stopped. In my own mind, as long as I didn’t find anything legal that threw a red flag, it was all going to be good.
I should have asked for references from the jobs he completed. But quite honestly, I had two reputable businesses/people tell me he was good. I had heard his name twice in one day. That had to have been a sign, hadn’t it?
I should have paid attention to that gnawing feeling in my gut that this guy couldn’t be trusted. This isn’t a case of hindsight being 20/20. I honestly did feel that something wasn’t right. We all have gut instincts. The key is listening to the gut. I went ahead with the project and when he asked me for half the money up-front, I paid him.
Yes, you read that right. I paid him.
I paid him despite all of the stories I’d seen on the 10 o’clock news. You know, the ones about some sucker who paid a contractor money up front only to have never heard from the contractor again. They should know better, I would think to myself. We all know better than to do that. And yet, I did it anyway.
I quickly took three days off work and enlisted my sister-in-law’s help in cleaning out my basement and taking the railing and barn board trim off the front porch to salvage for another project. At my school, we only get three personal days per year. I blew them all in one week.
It all started out just fine. Within 10 days of paying him, I came home to a 7-foot deep trench dug around the east side of my house. It curled around the north and south corners of the house.
And that meant the project was going to start. We were in October. I was told it would take 4-6 weeks. This would give him plenty of time to get the job done before the snow started flying. I was excited, but I sure wasn’t feeling any peace over my decision.
The excitement was short-lived when I didn’t hear from him for another 10 days. I called. No answer. I texted him. I got a reply saying they would be there in a few days to start. They didn’t. Another month went by of calling with no answer. I texted him saying if you aren’t going to do my job, then that money just as well be sitting in my account instead of yours. Then I would get a phone call with another excuse.
He explained the weather had been so unusually warm that they were able to get a lot of their flatwork (concrete work) done. They could still do mine in the winter. They’d use tarps to keep the heat in. I was assured it would be fine. They do this sort of thing all the time.
By this time, we were into the Thanksgiving holiday and it was getting uncomfortable answering questions from people about how my house was coming. I was trying to convince them (and myself) that had I not gotten taken by this guy and he would do my work.
Finally, after months of not hearing from MBM Company, I got a phone call saying he wanted to meet with me about my house. This was shortly after the first of the new year. He asked if he could come over that night. I said I wasn’t home and that I would be available the next night. That worked for him, too.
That next night his pickup approached my driveway. But it wasn’t him that got out. Instead, it was his employee, who was showing up with an excuse and a proposed solution. He told me his boss had to have surgery and wouldn’t be able to do my foundation until spring. But, he also offered another solution. They could build a wood foundation. I asked him if he had ever done a wood foundation. He told me he hadn’t, but he “knew a guy” who knew how and he would help him.
IF done correctly, wood foundations are great. This kid couldn’t have been more than 25 years old and I was just supposed to trust him and “the guy” he knew? I showed him the door.
I called MBM Company the next day and said I no longer wanted him to do my job and I wanted my money back.
You can probably guess the answer.
If you guessed he didn’t have my money anymore, you would be correct. I told him I would give him a month to get it together. He said he was waiting for some jobs to pay him and he should be able to make a payment by then. Make a payment? It was MY money!! I agreed only because I had no other option.
A month came and went and there was no attempt to contact me. I contacted an attorney in June.
For 8 months, we lived with this mess. The porch roof wasn’t properly supported. This would cost more money to repair. Leaving the trench open for over a year was a problem, too. It could have collapsed and pushed in the basement wall. We were very fortunate that didn’t happen. It did make it the old farm house even more drafty than usual. So my energy costs were higher.
Look at how those mounds of dirt have become significantly smaller in the course of a year. All of that dirt washed back down into the trench. The heavy rains could have caused a mudslide sorts. That would have put lots of pressure on my exposed foundation wall and resulted in a collapse. Not only was it frustrating to lose the money, it was dangerous, too! Luckily, the porch overhang helped to prevent some of that.
I was stupid. So much for the due diligence I thought I had done. I probably did “almost” everything right just up until the point where I paid him in advance. The job was mostly labor and very little in materials. There was no reason to have half up front. And yet, I did it. There was this part of my brain that rationalized if he was paid up front, he would be more motivated to finish it to get the other half. That was a really naive way of thinking.
I refuse to beat myself up over the mistake I made. I’m not bitter and I don’t blame either of those folks who referred me to MBM Company. They didn’t know this would be the outcome. God gives us free will. I chose to hire him and pay him in advance. It’s my mistake and I have to live with it. How blessed we are to know that even when we totally mess up a situation, we can be assured God is right there to meet us!
In all honesty, the basement I will have is going to be so much better than the block foundation I was going to have. That in and of itself is a blessing!
The biggest blessing though is that I’m so lucky he didn’t start the project and then walk away from it. Can you imagine having an open basement wall all this time? I shudder to think about that possibility.
Since my original misstep, I’ve also been blessed with three fantastic contractors who have done their very best for me. I truly believe they were a gift from God. I’ve learned from my mistake and you can bet every contractor I hire from this point forward will be looked at a lot more closely.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
Until next time…
Salvaging A Farmhouse is a series of blog posts that chronicle my experience of renovating and reclaiming our 1900 farmhouse. This is a project that is over a decade in the making. We were working towards some pretty serious renovations on the house until my husband became sick with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and died 9 weeks after his diagnosis. My kids and I have been left with the task of completing what we started all those years ago. Every house and every family have a story and this is the story of ours.
To view the series from beginning to end please go to this page: Salvaging A Farmhouse.