Post Your Problems/Lawrence Walsh: Do homework before hiring a contractor

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Leifur Ulbrich and his mother Uta Schwan Ulbrich bought a house last year in Wilkins that needed a new roof.

Based on the recommendation of a service contractor they knew, they hired Brien P. Murphy of EZ Home Exteriors in North Versailles.

According to the contract Mr. Ulbrich, 53, and his 91-year-old mother signed on Sept, 25, 2011, they agreed to pay $9,570 for a new roof and $920 for two skylights. Mr. Murphy sent a crew to do the work Dec. 19, 2011.

Although the contract called for a ridge vent to ventilate the roof, the Ulbrichs said the workers installed an attic fan that wasn't connected to an electrical outlet. They said the flashing over the awning of their garage and around the chimney wasn't installed properly and only one skylight was installed.

When the wind blew eight ridge cap shingles into their bushes, driveway and a neighbor's yard on Jan 2, less than two weeks after the roof was installed, they called Mr. Murphy. They said he replaced the shingles but aren't sure the work was done properly.

Although they told Mr. Murphy that they were "deeply disappointed" with the work, the Ulbrichs sent him a check for $6,760, expecting that he would correct the "discrepancies" in the work. By doing so, however, they lost a considerable amount of leverage.

The Ulbrichs filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection. The BBB has had seven complaints against EZ since 2009 for "problems with product/service," including two in 2012. It said they all have been resolved and that the company meets the BBB's accreditation standards.

In correspondence with the BBB last May, Mr. Murphy said "customer satisfaction is #1. I will kindly close the chapter on the Ulbrich file and forgive the substantial balance ($3,270) owed to EZ. I wish Leif and his mother Mrs. Ulbrich all the best."

He repeated that promise in a July letter to the consumer protection bureau. He said the Ulbrichs were "completely unreasonable and irrational. There are times when you have a customer that you cannot see eye to eye with."

The Ulbrichs are concerned that the roof is so "substandard" that they'll soon have to replace it.

But was it substandard?

I called Dan Howard, a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors, to recommend someone to inspect the Ulbrichs' roof. His company, Home Inspections by Dan Howard and Envirospect of Western Pennsylvania, is based in Freeport.

Mr. Howard has taught members of each of the three largest home inspection associations. He also has conducted classes on home inspections throughout the U.S. and Canada.

He inspected the Ulbrich's roof and found numerous defects that he documented with photographs and video. He determined that "there is no remedy short of complete roof removal and replacement" to correct them.

Although Mr. Howard's inspection confirms the Ulbrichs belief that the work was poorly done, they're not sure what steps to take to get a new roof. They are considering legal action against Mr. Murphy to cover the cost.

Mr. Murphy didn't return my calls.

Mr. Ulbrich, an unemployed draftsman, said he wished that he and his mother had "done their homework" by doing a background check on EZ, asking for referrals and getting at least two more bids for the roof work.

Information: www.attorneygeneral.gov; www.pittsburgh.bbb.org; www.homeinspectionsbydanhoward.com.

yourbiz - larrywalsh

Lawrence Walsh can be contacted at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your name and day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.


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