San Diego Best & Worst Contractors of 2013

San Diego Best & Worst Contractors of 2013

The Angie's List Newsroom reveals the Best & Worst Contractors of 2013.

 

San Diego, Calif. Best Contractors

December 27, 2013 by Staci Giordullo


All Access Tree Care | El Cajon

Mike Raffo, owner of All Access Tree Care, works on the trees in the front of a home in El Cajon, Calif. (Photo by Crissy Pascual)
  • Charity work or cummunity awards
  • 2013 Super Service Award eligible
  • Nominated for Pages of Happiness
  • Licensed or licensing not required

After 20 years in the tree care industry, owner Mike Raffo knows that word of mouth is everything and tells his customers he won't accept payment until they're happy. "I explain it to my crew every day," he says. "The only way we grow is to make our customers 100 percent satisfied. And us spending an extra 10 minutes to make sure we do the job right won't kill anybody."

Raffo started his company in 2012, and quickly made an impact on Angie's List members, earning 15 Page of Happiness nominations in the past year. He is properly licensed in tree service with the state, and says he's done some charity work for local churches.

Member Maurice Vose of San Diego says he appreciated Raffo's precision in removing two trees adjacent to a fence and his neighbor's yard. "The trees were removed without damaging any property," he says. "He even trimmed off the top of a stump for my neighbor as a favor for allowing them access to his yard to complete my job." Member Kasi McGuire of El Cajon says she would surely hire All Access again after Raffo's crew removed an overgrown tree that encroached on her neighbor's property. "They came in and did the job, all while maintaining a happy, courteous and grateful manner. I would rate them an A-plus."

Central Heating & Air | El Cajon

Owner Charlie Collins finishes work on a residential HVAC unit. (Photo courtesy of Central Heating & Air)
  • Charity work or cummunity awards
  • 2013 Super Service Award eligible
  • Nominated for Pages of Happiness
  • Green products or work practices

Charlie Collins says the secret to keeping his customers happy is simply being honest. "That's it," says the owner and lone employee. "I'm out there doing it myself and I get my joy out of how much money I can save them. There are countless times I've gone out on jobs and the contractor ahead of me told the homeowner they need a new furnace, and I tell them they don't — I can fix it. I guess that's not a good way for me to get rich!"

Santee member Michael Gier says he hired Collins to take a look at his parents' A/C unit, which sat unused for three years after they were told it couldn't be repaired. "We didn't have money for a new one and Charlie said if he couldn't repair it, there would be no charge for the service call," says Jeri Gier, Michael's mother. "He put some kind of lubricant in it, waited an hour, and it's been working beautifully ever since. He's not just out for the money, he's out to help people." Collins maintains his state license in warm-air heating, ventilation and A/C, as well as general building and sheet metal. His company racked up 15 Page of Happiness nominations in the past year and it also was named a Best Contractor in 2012.

Member Bruce Rogow says Collins set a new standard for customer service after installing central A/C in his La Mesa house. "He took care to protect our floors and property and even made sure the dogs didn't get out!" San Diego member Mark Massen says he was amazed that Collins kept on working after a swarm of bees living near his A/C unit attacked the contractor. "He just shook it off and kept adding coolant to the A/C," Massen says. "That was above and beyond."

Collins says he recycles old equipment he removes and is compliant with Environmental Protection Agency's mandate to use environmentally friendly refrigerants. He also donates his time as a Patriot Guard Rider, honoring fallen military members when they return to the United States.

True Grain Woodworks | Oceanside

Owner Steve Medeiros installs custom cabinets. (Photo courtesy of True Grain Woodworks)
  • 2013 Super Service Award eligible
  • Nominated for Pages of Happiness
  • Licensed or licensing not required

Member Jascha Bennington of Encinitas says working with owner/operator Steve Medeiros was the best experience she's ever had with a contractor. "He did everything possible to make you happy, even when it was out of his control," she says, referring to when Medeiros hired a plumber — at no cost to her — after his nail gun hit a poorly installed water line while he was installing crown molding.

Medeiros says he's worked with wood since he was 18 years old, and has loved every minute. "The best part for me is the gratification of my customers when the product is installed and they say it was better than they imagined," he says. Medeiros is properly licensed with the state in cabinet, millwork and finish carpentry work, has earned 11 Page of Happiness nominations in the past year, and was named a Best Contractor in 2012.

Member Stan Rossman says Medeiros designed and installed custom kitchen cabinets in his Del Mar home, and is a perfectionist who cares about quality. "The value of his work is worth at least double what I paid," he says.

Kristina and Jared's Cleaning and Handyman Service | San Diego

Kristina Carlstedt and Jared Taylor started their business in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Kristina and Jared's Cleaning and Handyman Service)
  • Praised for pet friendliness
  • 2013 Super Service Award eligible
  • Praised for child friendliness
  • Nominated for Pages of Happiness
  • Green products or work practices
  • Licensed or licensing not required

Engaged co-owners Jared Taylor and Kristina Carlstedt make quite an impact on homeowners, their children and pets, according to Angie's List member reviews. Chula Vista member Rose Musico says they restored a heavily stained stove to "sparkling new."

Member Mike Caruthers of La Jolla says Taylor cleaned shelves on his living room wall that had never been cleaned. "That went above and beyond what I expected," he says.

Taylor says 90 percent of their cleaning products are environmentally friendly and he only tackles handyman work if the job doesn't exceed $500, so licensing isn't required. "We basically do whatever it takes to make the customer happy," he says.

More Best Contractors

Here are some more Best Contractors who made this year's cut based on their awesome track record for local service. Read their reviews on angieslist.com to learn why members think they're so special.

2013 Best & Worst Contractors

The Angie's List Newsroom reveals the Best & Worst Contractors of 2013. Did your contractor make the list? Select a market to the best and worst in your area.

San Diego, Calif. Worst Contractors

December 27, 2013 by Staci Giordullo

Avi Gozlan | Tarzana

Avi Gozlan (Photo courtesy of Ventura County Sheriff's Office)
  • Accused of shoddy work
  • Faces/faced criminal charges
  • Faces/faced civil lawsuits or penalties
  • Landed in the Penalty Box
  • Allegedly took the money and ran
  • Notice added to provider's profile
  • Illegally unlicensed

At press time, remodeling contractor Avi Gozlan faced a late 2013 trial date in Ventura County Superior Court after a grand jury indicted him on 32 felony charges, including money laundering, theft from an elder or dependent adult, grand theft and conspiracy to commit a crime, according to court records. Filed in 2013 by the Ventura County district attorney, the charges are the result of an 18-month investigation by the Contractors State License Board, which found that Gozlan oversaw a fraudulent remodeling scheme that operated in Southern California, including San Diego, under the names AMCO, Liberty Construction, Universal Remodeling, VIP Home Design and Vista Home Improvements, CSLB records show.

According to the CSLB, Gozlan tried to skirt state licensing laws by "renting" legitimate licenses from other contractors for a monthly fee of about $1,000. Yet licensed contractors weren't overseeing or participating in the work, as required by California law, the CSLB says. The state agency says it issued several contractor licenses to Gozlan in the 1990s, but revoked them all by 2000 for various violations..

According to member reviews and the CSLB, Gozlan used a network of telemarketers who solicited consumers using different home improvement company names. The calls led to work that, in some cases, they never provided, performed substandard or only partially completed. Gozlan is accused of renting the license numbers from four service providers with reviews on Angie's List: Liberty Construction, Universal Remodeling, Vista Home Improvements and VIP Home Design — the first three of which are in the Penalty Box, and all with poor grades. Court documents indicate all four company owners have since had their contractor's licenses either suspended or revoked, and each faces various criminal charges.

Member Jim Bassler of San Clemente hired Vista to apply stucco and river rock to his home's exterior, but says they failed to complete the work and improperly spaced the rock. "I have to have it ripped out and redone completely," Bassler says, adding that he was pressured by Gozlan's subcontractors to sign completion certificates after paying them $25,000, but they failed to complete the work. Gozlan could not be reached for comment.

Better Living Construction | Riverside

  • Accused of shoddy work
  • Faces/faced criminal charges
  • Faces/faced civil lawsuits or penalties
  • Allegedly took the money and ran
  • Notice added to provider's profile
  • Illegally unlicensed

Company owner Noe Garcia faces a felony burglary charge in Orange County, according to Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic, after a Huntington Beach homeowner says he broke into her house shortly after she fired him. The homeowner, who wishes not to be identified because she says Garcia has threatened physical harm to her and her family, says she hired him from Craigslist for a remodeling project but fired him in a week's time after he repeatedly failed to show. "It just got worse and worse," she says.

Angie's List Magazine spoke with several homeowners who say they hired Better Living Construction, but they also declined to be identified due to fear of retribution from Garcia. Homeowner Chris Lambrinos of Murrieta says she understands their concerns after hiring Garcia for a granite job and other work. "He has issues," she says. "I had to fire him because he wouldn't show up to work or he'd show up drunk. He stole our cement mixer and supplies. I got ripped off."

Garcia — who has done work throughout Southern California, including San Diego — accepts payments without finishing the work and vandalizes property, member reviews say. Three Orange County homeowners, including Lambrinos, won judgments totaling $10,800 against Garcia for failing to complete work. Lambrinos says she has yet to receive her $3,300.

In addition to suspending Garcia's contractor's license for failure to comply with a bond payout, the CSLB says consumer complaints led it to investigate him for abandoning projects, fraud, failure to obtain workers' compensation insurance, overcharging, and departure from trade standards. Better Living Construction is also suspended indefinitely from keyword and category searches on Angie's List for submitting fraudulent reports.

Garcia says the homeowners who've complained are upset because he filed liens on their property when they failed to pay him for jobs. "We've never abandoned a project," he says. "They're all bitter customers who didn't get what they wanted. They fabricated the reports. I believe it has something to do with the economy."

William Laurence Bennett | San Diego County

William Laurence Bennett (Photo courtesy of CSLB)
  • Accused of shoddy work
  • Faces/faced criminal charges
  • Allegedly took the money and ran
  • Notice added to provider's profile
  • Illegally unlicensed

In November, the California Contractors State License Board named William Laurence Bennett, who the agency says is known to have operated in the Chula Vista and El Cajon areas, as one of its "Most Wanted." The San Diego County Sheriff's Office issued a warrant for his arrest in August on six felony charges, including grand theft, burglary, contracting without a license, fraudulent use of a license number, advertising as a licensed contractor and failure to secure workers' compensation insurance, the CSLB says.

According to the CSLB, Bennett tried to pass himself off as a licensed contractor, using business cards with the name "Triton, Inc.," along with his name and the number of a legitimately licensed contractor. Bennett has two previous convictions for contracting without a license in 1985 and in 2003.

Terrance Watts of Chula Vista says he hired Bennett after witnessing him working on a neighbor's house and verifying his licensing status — unaware that the information belonged to another contractor. Watts says he paid him $12,550 to install new landscaping, pour a concrete patio and build an outdoor kitchen. But he says Bennett abandoned the project after nearly a year of delays and shoddy work. "My fence is damaged, part of the concrete is a brown color, and the kitchen was never done," Watts says. "It was the worst experience." Working with the CSLB, Watts says investigators discovered Bennett never obtained the necessary building permits and he improperly placed the gas lines under the concrete. "Basically, if I want a gas line outside, I'm going to have to rip up all the concrete and start again," he says. "We estimate the cost to fix everything will be more than $25,000."

CSLB spokesman Rick Lopes says Bennett also took a $13,200 deposit from another homeowner who hired him to build a sunroom, but he abandoned that project after only taking a few measurements.

Lopes says homeowners always need to verify that contractors are who they say they are, and their licenses are valid, before hiring. "Never be pressured into signing a contract, and don't agree to waive your three-day right to cancel the contract," he says. Watts recommends checking a contractor's photo ID against his contractor's license as a start. "Take that license and verify it is in good standing," he says.

Bennett could not be reached for comment as his cellphone has been disconnected.

Penalty Box Hall of Shame

The Penalty Box is our way of alerting other members about a provider who has failed to meet a member's expectations. See San Diego Penalty Box Hall of Shame.

2013 Best & Worst Contractors

The Angie's List Newsroom reveals the Best & Worst Contractors of 2013. Did your contractor make the list? Select a market to the best and worst in your area.


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