Complaint Review: G. J. Gardner Homes
- G. J. Gardner Homes
660 Auburn Folsom Road, Ste 102
- Phone: 530 888-7490
- Category: Consumer Services
G. J. Gardner Homes dba Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, and Mr. Chris Hewell, Owner/Builder, individually. Alleged Contractor Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Auburn California
*REBUTTAL Owner of company: Bonding Co. response
*REBUTTAL Owner of company: Simple facts
*REBUTTAL Owner of company: Contractors Beware
Beware Future Custom Home Builders!
A copy of the following complaint has been filed with the California State License Board and is currently under administrative review. Complaint Number NA 2013 6009.
To: California State License Board
Date: October 10, 2013
RE: Complaint of alleged unlawful, deceptive and unethical trade practices
Contractor: Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, dba G. J. Gardner Homes
and Mr. Chris Hewell, Owner/Builder, individually.
CA License: #574***
Address: 660 Auburn Folsom Road, Ste 102 Auburn, CA 95603
On February 18, 2013, my wife and I consulted with Mr. Hewell, the owner/builder of Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, dba G. J. Gardner Homes. The purpose of our consultation was to determine the cost feasibility to build a residence on a particular undeveloped lot we were considering to purchase.
Mr. Hewell stated he had been a builder for 30 years and graciously spent more than an hour with us reviewing the basics to build a residence. However, in order to calculate a definite number he needed 45 days to develop a “build cost analysis”. Mr. Hewell then provided us with a conditional written phrase to add to an offer to purchase said undeveloped lot.
On February 24, 2013, we signed a conditional Vacant Land Purchase Agreement, for a lot in Auburn, California, “subject to a build cost analysis and final approval by the selected builder and purchaser within 45 days of offer acceptance”.
On March 1, 2013, we paid Mr. Hewell the requested sum of $2,500 as a non-refundable deposit to complete a site plan, floor plan, front elevation and build cost analysis in order for us to make an informed decision whether to purchase said lot and enter into a construction contract to build a residence.
On April 29, 2013, in reliance upon Mr. Hewell’s build cost analysis and his repeated assurances he could build our proposed residence within our disclosed budget, we confidently purchased the lot.
On May 24, 2013, we agreed to pay Mr. Hewell the requested sum of $22,500 as an initial construction deposit. We were promised an engineered set of plans including a site plan, completed floor plan, four elevations, foundation, roof and electrical drawings, truss calculation, engineering stamp and title 24 documents within 30 days. We specifically asked Mr. Hewell if there was any mark-up or profit incorporated in said initial construction deposits. He assured us the deposits were strictly a non-negotiable “fixed cost” and he had no financial stake whatsoever in his design team or engineer’s fee. He further assured us his proposed construction contract price (formerly the build cost analysis) was the absolute lowest price he could calculate. Therefore, in reliance on Mr. Hewell’s representations, we signed a Home Construction Agreement. We then sought and obtained a construction loan from Umpqua Bank.
On June 17, 2013, Mr. Hewell produced a draft of our house plans for our review. Despite working diligently with Mr. Hewell’s design team for three months, the plans were deeply flawed, incomplete and unprofessionally drafted. Mr. Hewell acknowledged the work product was inferior and assured us he would promptly rectify the situation.
On June 25, 2013, we met with Mr. Hewell to discuss and make required corrections to our house plans. During said meeting Mr. Hewell suddenly informed us in order to properly develop our site he needed to construct a six ft. high retaining wall by at least one hundred ft. along the west boundary of our lot. To date, this was the first indication a retaining wall was required.
On July 12, 2013, Mr. Hewell informed us he needed to recalculate our site development plan. He now proposed a cost increase of $30,000 for a retaining wall and $21,000 for additional grading. We were stunned by Mr. Hewell’s proposed cost increase because our original contract price (which we thought was fixed) listed $20,000 for grading and $5,000 as a contingency grading cost.
On July 14, 2013, we sent Mr. Hewell an email objecting to his proposed cost increase of $51,000. Prior to providing us with his build cost analysis, Mr. Hewell told us he walked our lot two times and consulted with a landscape engineer. As a builder with 30 years of experience, we relied on his expert opinion the cost of grading would be no more than $25,000. Clearly, Mr. Hewell’s proposed cost increase was not based on any unforeseen issues such as encountering lava cap or granite rock beneath the soil during grading or some other unforeseen contingency. Instead his proposed cost increase was based solely on factors readily identifiable to him in calculating his original build cost analysis, including but not limited to the approximate size of our proposed house footprint before we purchased our lot. Because Mr. Hewell’s proposed contract price was reasonably close to our stated budget, we agreed to purchase the lot and confidently signed a construction contract. If we had been advised otherwise we would not have purchased the lot or entered into a construction contract to build a residence we can not afford.
On July 19, 2013, Mr. Hewell responded to our objections by stating he had recalculated our site development plan again. His new proposal suggested an increase to our original contract price of $29,000 for additional grading. Oddly, a retaining wall was no longer necessary.
On July 30, 2013, in order to salvage the construction of our residence, we reluctantly cashed a medical savings plan and paid an additional sum into escrow to cover the proposed increased cost.
On August 9, 2013, we went to Mr. Hewell’s office and requested a consultation with him and the landscape engineer to clarify several critical issues before grading of our lot commenced. Furthermore, we requested a copy of the new grading bid for our review and verification of the proposed cost increase. Despite repeated assurances, Mr. Hewell failed and/or neglected to produce a copy.
On August 10, 2013, we discovered our house plan corrections had been subcontracted to someone in the state of Nevada. We tried to contact said individual but he refused to speak directly with us stating “you are not my clients”. We complained to Mr. Hewell and he assured us he would promptly rectify the situation.
On August 12, 2013, we sent Mr. Hewell an email advising him under no circumstances is a grader or anyone else to set foot on our lot until we met with the landscape engineer to resolve certain issues and confirm site elevations.
On August 13, 2013, Mr. Hewell responded by email stating “it's to late for that we are starting to grade today”.
On August 13, 2013 and August 14, 2013, I tried to contact Mr. Hewell by telephone but he was unavailable.
On August 15, 2013, I contacted the city of Auburn to inquire if a grading permit had been issued. I was advised Mr. Hewell had attempted to obtain a grading permit a few days earlier but his request was denied because we had not yet submitted a Tree Mitigation Plan and/or posted a Tree Bond with the city. Later that morning I went to our lot and confirmed Mr. Hewell had not commenced grading.
On or about August 16, 2013, Mr. Hewell directed the clearing of trees from our lot without our knowledge, permission and most importantly without a permit from the city of Auburn. In addition, despite specific knowledge of our Home Owners Association’s CC&R’s Mr. Hewell failed to obtain their authorization to remove trees from our lot and failed to submit our house plans to the Architectural Review Committee before commencement of site development.
On August 18, 2013, we received a written demand from the Home Owners Association to cease construction activity on our lot until all required authorizations have been obtained.
On August 19, 2013, I visited our lot. Even though we discussed the possibility certain trees may need to be cleared to develop the site, I was shocked to discover Mr. Hewell had cleared the entire acre of land, including several trees I believe did not need to be removed. Later, I discovered the severed trees were allegedly resold as firewood in Tahoe, Nevada for an estimated price of $2,500. Despite repeated demands we have not received any compensation for our trees.
On August 23, 2013, I met with Mr. Hewell to seek an explanation why he cleared our trees without a permit from the city of Auburn and authorization from the Home Owners Association. Mr. Hewell tried to mitigate the severity of the situation alleging it was just a “simple misunderstanding”.
On August 24, 2013, my wife and I contacted the city of Auburn and our Home Owners Association to express our apologies site work had begun without proper legal authorization.
On August 26, 2013, Mr. Hewell finally produced an engineered set of plans. Nonetheless, the plans were still deeply flawed and inaccurate. (many of the original corrections were never addressed) Mr. Hewell assured us there was no need for his design team to redo the plans again. Instead he promised to “red line” the plans into compliance during the construction process.
On August 31, 2013, I began micromanaging the construction of our residence to insure compliance with the law. Specifically, I started working directly with the city of Auburn and our Home Owners Association to secure the necessary legal authorizations to develop our lot.
During the first two weeks of September, I continued to press Mr. Hewell for written details concerning his proposed cost increase and other construction costs set forth in our contract. He has steadfastly refused to provide any details.
One particular area of contention was the fee charged by Mr. Hewell’s design team. I suggested their fee should be renegotiated due to their negligent work product. Mr. Hewell agreed the design team’s work was unprofessional and admitted he was going to pay them only 80% of their fee. I requested Mr. Hewell refund the unpaid portion of the fee to me. However, he refused and justified his retention of the unpaid portion because the design team had cost him too much time and money.
In a rare candid moment, Mr. Hewell confessed the actual cost to design our residence, including the engineered plans and landscape engineer was only $10,000. I immediately reminded Mr. Hewell he previously alleged he had no financial stake or profit incorporated in his design team or the engineer’s fee of $25,000. If I had known said construction deposits were not “fixed costs” as he alleged, I would have negotiated a lower contract price (including Mr. Hewell’s line item profit of $75,000). I requested Mr. Hewell give me a refund or credit of $15,000, but he refused. He claimed he was entitled to keep the surplus money because he had to spend a lot of extra time chasing his people around to do their jobs.
On September 10, 2013, the city of Auburn issued a letter to Mr. Hewell assessing a civil penalty in the sum of $7,376.25 for clearing trees from our lot without a permit. The city of Auburn’s Tree Preservation Code, §161.09(c), also states violations of the code shall be punishable as a misdemeanor. Mr. Hewell assured me he would promptly pay the civil penalty.
On September 17, 2013, we terminated the services of Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, dba G. J. Gardner Homes and Mr. Chris Hewell, Owner/Builder, individually.
Since the termination of Mr. Hewell’s services, we obtained a copy of his recalculated bid from the grader and discovered the actual bid was approximately $8,650 less than he represented to us.
To date, Mr. Hewell has refused or neglected to pay the civil penalty to the city of Auburn.
Our total damages incurred due to the conduct of Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, dba G. J. Gardner Homes and Mr. Chris Hewell, Owner/Builder, individually is estimated at $25,086.25.
Since the filing of our complaint with the Contractors State License Board we have learned there are at least two other homeowners in 2013 with similar complainants against Sherlock Home Custom Builders, Inc, dba G. J. Gardner Homes and Mr. Chris Hewell, Owner/Builder, individually.
In addition, we have since discovered our fixed contract price was grossly understated in every category and it would be impossible to build our home without at least an additional 20% in hard costs and additional profit to the contractor.
For example our fixed contract price listed only one HVAC unit for a two story 3,200 sq ft. floor plan. Whereas we have confirmed two units are required to properly service both levels of the house. Clearly a builder of 30 years experience should know better.
Another example our fixed contract price listed $4,000 for rough electrical work. The true cost is closer to $18,500. Clearly a builder of 30 years experience should know better.
We could go on and on with more examples but hopefully future custom homeowners will take notice herein. Do your homework and remember a fixed contract price means nothing to some contractors. It is simply a starting point for them to get a claw in your pocket and to start digging.
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