Overland Park resident Tony Martin hasn’t had a real bath since mid-November. His remodeler left him with two gutted bathrooms and months of “bird baths” in a mudroom sink.
Pat Paulsen still can’t occupy his Leawood house despite paying out $116,000 to the remodeler he hired last summer.
In Lee’s Summit, Jennifer Turner and her husband took a hammer to their own kitchen. They’re saving money on a kitchen job after the $25,000 they paid their contractor last August had gotten them nothing.
The surprising common thread in these homeowners’ stories isn’t that they have problems with the same contractor. It’s that they had problems at all.
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These homeowners did their homework. Martin, Paulsen and Turner checked out Building Pro LLC in Lee’s Summit before signing a contract and before shelling out thousands of dollars.
Building Pro passed not only their tests but also screenings by experts — all the more reason the homeowners feel abused.
“I thought it was going to be fun. I’d saved up 20 years to afford this,” said Paulsen, standing in his drywall-dust filled Leawood house. “They didn’t complete the work and just kind of closed up shop in the middle of the night.”
Others have problems with Building Pro.
The Missouri attorney general’s office confirmed it is investigating 15 complaints against Building Pro. In Kansas, the Johnson County district attorney is investigating four consumer complaints.
One unhappy homeowner helped organize a list of 18 Building Pro customers who collectively claim to have paid more than $360,000 for their unstarted or unfinished projects.
Exactly what went wrong is unclear.
Records and interviews show Building Pro had borrowed $138,000 last July at steep terms, began to delay jobs last fall and was booted off HomeAdvisors in early December. Building Pro’s owner said in an email that things unraveled when an intended sale of the business fell through. That happened in January.
The Kansas City area’s tight housing market makes such dark tales especially cautionary. Homes for sale are in short supply, which means more area homeowners are tapping contractors to upgrade the homes they have rather than seek out new addresses.
Investigators from both sides of the state line may be able to resolve what happened. Building Pro’s customers got conflicting stories instead of finished projects.
Owner Michael Ross ran the company largely as a family affair, working closely with his sister-in-law Karin Ross.
Karin had married Mike’s brother and the couple pitched projects to homeowners, set up remodeling jobs and collected money. Customers say she did the design work on their projects.
The money included payments to Building Pro and typically separate payments of commissions directly to Karin Ross.
Homeowners say she was personable, likable and friendly.
“She hugged me every time she’d see me,” said Turner, who also met Karin’s children when they accompanied their parents on house visits or trips to pick out materials.
Karin Ross seemed trustworthy to Bob Belcher, who said he relies on his skills in sales and recruiting to take a measure of people.
“I vet people for a living,” said Belcher, an Overland Park resident who paid $12,000 in mid-December to reserve Building Pro for a project that was supposed to start in February.
Karin and he connected as they talked about their shared Polish heritage, Belcher said, adding that his gut told him he could trust her.
As part of a good selection process, a homeowner should listen to his gut feeling about a contractor, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Of course, it takes more effort to ensure a contractor measures up in other ways. And Building Pro did.
In 2016, Building Pro was accepted for membership in the remodeling industry group, said Jan Burchett, executive director of the Kansas City chapter of NARI. She said only a small percentage of contractors are members.
In March 2012, Building Pro passed scrutiny to become listed on HomeAdvisors as one of its “trusted professionals.” HomeAdvisors’ website currently says it checks applicants’ contracting licenses and state business records, and looks for civil judgments, criminal records and sex offender listings.
March 2012 also was when Building Pro got its first review on Angie’s List (which merged with HomeAdvisors last year) and the company had averaged a “B” grade from its 25 reviews since then.
Each of these online credentials figured in one or more homeowners’ evaluations before hiring Building Pro.
Paulsen checked off another highly recommended step: Ask friends, family, coworkers and others who have used a contractor. He said he contacted Building Pro after a friend who had used the company had been satisfied with its work.
Susan Wolfram of Overland Park got estimates from three contractors before choosing Building Pro in September for her master bath and bedroom project. Building Pro wasn’t the cheapest, but the company offered a good price.
Turner ran Building Pro though a series of tests.
She verified that the company had workers compensation coverage in case workers were injured on the job. She got a copy of the company’s certificate of insurance to make sure it had liability coverage. These points are common on checklists for consumers, such as one provided by the Kansas attorney general’s office.
Turner also looked for lawsuits against Building Pro.
She even checked to be sure Building Pro had gotten a contractor’s license in Johnson County — even though she lives in Missouri and Building Pro was based in Missouri.
Why Johnson County?
“It is the most strenuous county to go through in contractor licensing,” Turner said.
Again, Building Pro passed the test. Johnson County still lists its license as active.
Despite their advance work, homeowners began to have problems with Building Pro.
Martin had hired the company to convert his home’s bathrooms to accommodate his need to sometimes use a wheelchair. The job included installing a walk-in bathtub in one, and a shower with a bench in the other.
Building Pro never got that far, Martin said. After gutting both bathrooms, workers framed in doors only 28 inches wide — too narrow for his wheelchair.
Paulsen said he had concerns when Mike Ross asked for scheduled payments before certain work had been done and the payments were due. He even had his lawyer check the contract.
Wolfram said her project was delayed from its original Nov. 1 starting date to Nov. 5, then the Monday after Thanksgiving, and then Dec. 4. Each time the delay was for a different reason, and Wolfram was the one who reached out.
“They never contacted me,” Wolfram said. “I contacted them to find out why nobody showed up.”
Turner accepted Mike Ross’ word last fall that her custom cabinets were being delayed and let the project’s schedule shift toward the end of last year. When work still hadn’t started, she demanded to see the cabinets. She’d already paid $25,000 to have them made and installed.
The cabinets were in Building Pro’s shop, Turner said, and Mike Ross promised to be at her house Jan. 8 to start the work.
He failed to show, Turner said. She contacted her cabinet maker. American Woodmark confirmed Jan. 22 that Building Pro still had not paid for the cabinets.
In Peculiar, Steve Hirtzel got about three-fourths of his kitchen remodeling project done before Building Pro stopped showing up. And he figures he’s paid for about that much of the project.
Hirtzel has a different plan for the bathroom project on his list. He plans to be his own contractor, buying the materials and hiring the labor himself instead of being “hung up by a contractor.”
“I’m a little bit gun-shy after this,” Hirtzel said.
On Jan. 8, Karin Ross sent an email to Paulsen. Mike Ross had sold the company three days earlier, and she had been “forced to step down from my position at Building Pro.”
More recently, Karin Ross’ attorney sought to distance her from the problems at Building Pro.
She was just an employee, according to Matt O’Connor, who said he represents Karin Ross but not Mike Ross or Building Pro. He said she handled designs, not installation.
“Karin is not responsible for the failure to complete the work,” O’Connor said.
A week after Karin Ross sent out emails and text messages to clients, an attorney for Mike Ross emailed Turner to say his client had sold the company to another contractor, but that contractor was backing out. Mike Ross, in an email to The Star, also cited that contractor as the source of the company’s problems.
Neither the contractor nor his attorney responded to inquiries from The Star. No records of a business sale have surfaced and Mike Ross formally closed Building Pro in early February, according to his filings with the Missouri secretary of state.
For their part, the homeowners say the other contractor has been taking their calls but has said problems at Building Pro led him to back away from the company.
Others have done so, too.
HomeAdvisor kicked Building Pro off its approved list on Dec. 8 after looking into complaints and getting no response from the company, spokeswoman Steffanie Finkiewicz said. She said Angie’s List, which merged with HomeAdvisor last October, took Building Pro off its searchable list of remodelers in January, though reviews remain online.
Finkiewicz said consumers who relied on HomeAdvisors when evaluating a contractor can contact its customer solutions team online or at 877-800-3177.
NARI booted Building Pro from its approved ranks in January and rejected an application from Karin Ross’ business for membership. But now NARI’s hands are tied, Burchett said.
“There’s nothing we can do once that company closes its doors and cannot be contacted,” she said.
Tips for picking a remodeling contractor
▪ Ask friends, family, coworkers and others for contractors they have used.
▪ Read reviews of the contractors at online sites you trust. Contact the Missouri and Kansas attorney generals’ offices for consumer complaints.
▪ Check with local governments — city, county and state — for licensing requirements and whether the contractors meet them.
▪ Get written estimates from three contractors, being sure their prices cover the same amount of work.
▪ Ask contractors to provide insurance information, showing personal liability, property damage and workers compensation coverage.
▪ Ask for references to previous customers with similar jobs whom you can visit and see the contractor’s work.
▪ Work with contractors who agree to a written contract that schedules the work’s progress and ties payments to the completion of the schedule.
If things start to go wrong
▪ Raise concerns with the contractor in writing and seek a solution acceptable to both sides.
▪ Ask for help from groups the contractor has joined, such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or the Better Business Bureau, especially if the contractor is willing to take part.
▪ If the contractor is on HomeAdvisors, contact its customer solutions team.
▪ Contact the Missouri or Kansas attorney general’s consumer division for help with dispute resolution or to file a complaint.
▪ Dispute payment of any bills paid with your credit card.