Best and Worst Contractors of 2007
Throughout 2007, Angie's List members shared thousands of hair-raising stories about contractors. After combing through reports, e-mails and letters and making dozens of follow-up calls, Angie's List is proud to bring you our first-ever nationwide list of the best and worst contractors.
To be considered for the Angie's List Best Contractors of 2007, companies had to meet some tough criteria: at least 20 Angie's List reports in 2007, an unblemished overall grade of "A" on every report, a minimum of 10 member nominations and a winner of the 2006 Super Service Award Winner.
Too many consumers are disappointed in the services their home contractor provides, or worse, ripped off by the person they trusted to help improve their home.
All five of the Angie's List Worst Contractors of 2007 are convicted felons or facing criminal charges (or both), but we also considered the amount of damage — both physical and financial — they have inflicted on their customers.
Read on to learn why some of these contractors can be called true pros, while others are nothing more than consummate cons.
* Amherst Electrical Services
When the pump on Emily Perkins’ koi pond went out last summer, she called Jim Staples for advice and got the kind of above-and beyond service the contractor is known for.
It’s all in a day’s work for Staples, who owns the company with his father Carlton. “We take customer service very seriously,” Jim says.
“I didn’t know how long the fish would live,” Perkins says. “He had no qualms about coming out late to my house and didn’t charge me anything extra. I joked they should change their name to Amherst Electrical Services and Koi Rescue.”
* BJ Appliance Repair
When a handyman told Rodney Wollam he needed a new dryer at a cost of $400, Wollam instead called Bill Bjorkgren, who fixed the dryer in less than 40 minutes for $83.
Jennifer Lewis was so satisfied with Bjorkgren’s work on her refrigerator and ice machine (which he hooked up after several plumbers told her it couldn’t be done), the Angie’s List member wrote him a check for more than the stated bill.
“He called us back to tell us we overpaid him,” she says. “What an honest man!”
As owner and sole employee of BJ Appliance Repair, Bjorkgren’s cell phone rings nonstop. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
"One good customer brings me back four more,” he says.
* Brandon Jhun Painting and Drywall
North Las Vegas, Nev.
A typical customer of Brandon Jhun’s is Heidi Swank, who raves how the company spent three days prepping and repairing her home’s exterior before painting.
“They spackled much of the exterior of my 1956 house,” she says. “They even had someone painstakingly scrape paint off the glass in our old wood windows with a razor blade.”
That’s not all.
“They were not happy with the birdhouse on top of the garage,” Swank says. “So they asked if they could paint the perches blue. My 50-year-old house now looks almost new, and my neighbors keep asking who did the work. They are amazed at the low price I paid!”
A third-generation painter born and raised in Hawaii, Jhun moved to Nevada in 1999, working in construction before launching his business in 2006.
The secret to his quick success? “It’s about putting qualified people on the job,” Jhun says. “If I don’t know them, I don’t hire them.”
Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Call CCCM for a remodeling job, and you can plan on waiting a few months to get on their schedule. That’s because co-owners Terry and Jody DeBartolo take pride in their policy of accepting only one or two jobs at once so they can concentrate on each customer.
Echoing the comments of other Angie’s List members, Amanda Rummel of Schaumburg, Ill., says the service and craftsmanship are well worth the wait.
“It took about five months before they were able to start [my bedroom and bath job], but they were here every day for five weeks straight to finish on time,” says Rummel, who is delighted with the results.
Gretchen Harro, who hired CCCM to overhaul her 80-year-old bathroom, gushes: “I don’t know anybody else who can go from a gutted bathroom to a useable one in two weeks.”
* CGS Electric
Claudio Sanchez faced a rough start launching CGS Electric just days before the Sept. 11 attacks. In the years since, though, he has reaped customers’ gratitude for going the extra mile.
“Claudio responded on his day off to replace a smoking electrical outlet, and he checked the others to ensure they were in good working order,” says customer Jan Costa.
Customers also love Sanchez because he takes responsibility if things go wrong. When a CGS apprentice accidentally hit a water pipe and damaged drywall while drilling a hole for Dee Dee McGann-Gollwitzer, Sanchez paid for everything.
“People never admit mistakes, let alone pay for them,” McGann-Gollwitzer says.
For Sanchez, super service is easy. “Basically keep your word and treat a customer in a manner you would like to be treated,” he says.
* Cleveland Hardwood Flooring
Zoltan Onodi and John Varro immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1999 and two years later founded Cleveland Hardwood Flooring. Now they’re booked two months in advance — all year long.
“We like to work with wood,” Onodi says. “We like to see the end result.”
Customers like the end result, too. John and Cathy Fix, who hired the company to refinish the hardwood floors in several rooms, were thrilled when they made their 40-year-old floors glisten like new.
They also appreciated the way Onodi and Varro took their busy schedules into consideration, provided them with plenty of recent job references, updated them daily on the job’s progress, meticulously cleaned up and charged reasonable rates.
They were even mindful of their spaniel, Mr. Riley, making sure he was out of harm’s way and alerting them about possible dust in his food. “Even Mr. Riley gives them a paws up,” John Fix says.
* Moore’s Pool Service
When Jennifer Doering’s pool motor ominously began growling at her, she feared the entire thing might blow up. One quick call to Moore’s Pool Service saved the day. Owner Bill Moore calmed Doering — a first-time customer — and conquered her problem (a malfunctioning pool pump) over the phone, free of charge.
“Service is my bread-and-butter,” Moore says. “I spend a lot of time just giving advice and walking people through their problems. I’d rather lose money than my integrity.”
In Doering’s case, he won a customer for life. As she put it, “Moore’s saved my malfunctioning pool pump and probably helped my marriage, since pool care is supposed to be my husband’s job!”
* Rick Ricker Termite & Pest Control
When a pygmy rattlesnake slithered onto Cindy and Alfred Davis’ back porch, animal control told them to call a pest control company. “[Rick Ricker] doesn’t normally deal with snakes,” Cindy says. “But they walked us through how to properly remove it. This went way above and beyond the normal service contract we have with them!”
“Our mission is to treat customers like we’d like to be treated,” says Ricker, who started the company in 2002.
Cory Gosline was equally impressed when he hired the company to look at some termite damage: “I checked Angie’s List and it seemed like everyone who’d hired [Ricker] loved him.” He’s glad he did.
“I can’t rave enough about him,” he says. “They even did a free perimeter treatment.”
* Southern Home Services
Some of the best Angie’s List reviews owner Shawn Kalgren has received are for calls where he did nothing or very little — and his clients are grateful.
Betsy Walsh is one of those customers. Kalgren spent just half an hour repairing her leaky roof with silicone, when Walsh thought she might need an entirely new one. “Shawn refused to take any money,” she says. “I’ll certainly call him again, when I’m ready for a new roof.”
Kalgren believes his approach pays off in the long run. “If you do something unexpected for somebody, they’re going to remember that,” he says.
* Southwest Garage Door
M.V. Poffenberger faced a jammed garage door just as she was leaving on a road trip.
“It was an emergency, so I thought it would be really expensive,” she says. “But [owner Michael Morten] was very reasonable, and I was happy he could do the work immediately. Their website says, ‘We open doors for you,’ and they did!”
Robin Yates-Word raves about Morten’s business, too, but for a different reason.
“I usually try to fix things myself first, and [Morten] validated what I had tried to do, without condescension,” she says. “Plus, the job seemed like even more of a value with the education he gave me on door mechanics.”
“I treat my customers like family,” Morten says.
* 24/7 Home Repair
Besides shoddy work and running away with sizeable deposits, Angie’s List members who’ve dealt with owner Paul G. Gordon say he behaves erratically, has provided fake licensing documents and even threatened them.
“It doesn’t get any worse,” says Todd Vargas, who alleges Gordon harassed him at work by publicly accusing him of molesting Gordon’s daughter.
“I filed a complaint so no one else would have to go through this. I’m asking for jail time.”
Authorities say Gordon is an unlicensed contractor who operates under several business names, including 24/7 Home Repair, Omega Remodeling, A-Z Home Repair and R & G Home Repair and Remodeling.
He faces trial in two Florida counties on criminal charges ranging from organized fraud and unlicensed contracting to obstruction of an officer and grand theft. If convicted, he could serve up to 25 years.
* AAA All Brand Appliance Fast Service
* Checkmate Appliance Repair Service
According to authorities, AAA All-Brand Appliance Fast Service and Checkmate Appliance Repair Service are just two of at least a half-dozen unlicensed businesses owner Douglas Cass has been operating under on Long Island, N.Y.
With more than 1,000 complaints on file with the Suffolk County Consumer Affairs Office — from unneeded appliance repairs and overcharging to shoddy workmanship — it’s no surprise Director Charles Gardner calls Cass “the worst of the worst. In one year, he got more complaints than all the 200 licensed home appliance businesses in Suffolk County combined.”
Authorities arrested Cass in July as part of a sting operation when he allegedly tried to overcharge undercover officers for unneeded repairs. He faces four misdemeanor counts of operating a business without a license.
* Designs by Elaine
Angie’s List members Jennifer Davison and Carolyn Yost had no idea they were becoming embroiled in a scam when they purchased furniture from Elaine Netolicky, the wife of former Indiana Pacers player Bob Netolicky.
“She said she could get ‘big ticket’ items for us at a 40 percent designer’s discount,” Yost says. “She has a million-dollar house, so you assume she’s legitimate,” Davison adds. But the women say they never received more than $4,000 in promised goods.
Netolicky’s business came to an end in March when she was indicted on 14 counts of theft and one count of corrupt business influence. The charges were dropped after she agreed to pay $84,000 in fines and restitution.
However, Netolicky still faces 15 felony counts related to a private club she dubbed “The Investment Group,” in which she allegedly sold more than $660,000 in unregistered securities to customers she met through her design and sales businesses.
* Generon Construction
“Don’t walk away. Run.” That’s the message from Angie’s List members who’ve submitted reports about Generon Construction. Customers say they paid up front, but owner Alexander Kunitsyn often failed to complete the work properly — or at all.
“They showed up a mere four weeks after the promised start date and took 12 weeks to finish a four-week job,” says Joel Lotspeich. “They have since claimed to be out of business and will not return my calls.
Already convicted of several misdemeanors, Kunitsyn now faces three felonies for contractor theft and theft of more than $10,000 in a business setting. If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison.
* U.S. Builders
After accepting large deposits for remodeling jobs and leaving work unfinished, U.S. Builders owner Kenn Saunders pled guilty to two counts of grand larceny. He received five years probation and agreed to slowly pay back $54,000 of the $129,000 owed.
“Nobody’s happy except Kenn, who gets away with paying next to nothing,” says Mary Giorgianni of Wurtsboro, N.Y., who will only receive 20 percent of the $97,000 she lost to Saunders. For his part, Saunders says he just got in over his head and intends to pay all his debts eventually.
But a spokesperson for the New York Attorney General says he still owes nearly $130,000 in several judgments related to other botched remodeling jobs.
— We required that the "Best" local companies be highly rated on Angie's List and have received glowing nominations from Angie's List members. The "Worst" had to be poorly rated on Angie's List and in the Penalty Box.