If you're about to sink your money into a home remodeling project of any size, you'll want to pay attention to. What happened to this consumer is a big lesson for all of us and that is, watch out who you are doing business with before you pay.
Billy Ewing is showing us the new kitchen in his Napa Valley house and there's not much cooking going on.
Ewing is still waiting for the custom made wood cabinets he ordered more than a year ago, which is a big part of turning his fixer upper into a dream home.
"We really wanted to do the kitchen in a big way," he said. "The kitchen is the heart of the home and -- there's no kitchen."
No kitchen and Ewing is out a lot of money.
"He was paid a sum total of over $34,000 and so far what we got for it is absolutely nothing," said Ewing.
The man who got paid is Joe Loera of Kingwood Incorporated in Cotati. Ewing hired Loera back in July 2008 to build his cabinets.
Under terms of their contract, Ewing paid $20,000 up front and Loera promised delivery by January 2009. But right off the bat, the signs weren't good.
"We went to his shop a few times and the work that we saw was very minimal, and he kept asking for more details," said Ewing. "It came to be almost like roadblocks to getting the work done."
Months went by and the cabinets were nowhere near finished, but Loera asked for another $14,000.
Reluctantly Billy wrote him another big check.
"When he got the bulk of the money for the project, then suddenly phone calls were ignored, phone calls were not returned," said Ewing.
And Ewing got very worried.
"I'm calling the police, something I had never done," said Ewing.
A Cotati police detective did track down Loera, and Loera assured the officer he would deliver the cabinets. Now we know that didn't happen.
Finally Ewing contacted 7 On Your Side and we investigated. It turns out, Loera does not even have a state contractors' license, which is required because the contract included installation.
"This company absolutely would have to have a contractors' license it spells it out there it's going to include installation there's even an hourly charge and total estimated cost," said Rick Lopes from the Contractors' License Board.
7 On Your Side tried reaching Loera numerous times and all of our calls went unanswered. We visited his Cotati business and found it shut down and deserted.
Finally we paid a visit to Loera's home in a woodsy, upscale Novato neighborhood and no one was there either.
Again, we called Loera and this time he calls back to say he's upset we're showing his house on TV. However he refuses to talk to us about Ewing's cabinets.
"IF you hire someone who is not licensed and something goes wrong as in this case, many time you are going to be out on your own," said Lopes.
"He's taken our money which is awful but it's money," said Ewing. "He's also somehow taken the hope and the dream for this project and diminished it."
Ignoring 7 On Your Side could cause Loera big time. With our help, Ewing filed a complaint with the Contractors' State License Board and the state attorney general.
Both offices are looking into this case and 7 On Your Side will be following up too.
You can prevent this from happening to you primarily by limiting the amount of money you pay up front for any job, get lots of references, and of course it's safer to go with a licensed contractor.