Contractor doesn't finish Knoxville couple's kitchen remodel

Contractor doesn't finish Knoxville couple's kitchen remodel

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The cupboard doors in Gloria Schwarze's kitchen are gone. They were removed by her contractor in February to be painted and were scheduled to be re-installed in early April. The cupboard doors in Gloria Schwarze's kitchen are gone. They were removed by her contractor in February to be painted and were scheduled to be re-installed in early April.
"He put some primer on. He just started with the basic primer and we went this far. Then he quit," Gloria Schwarze said. "He put some primer on. He just started with the basic primer and we went this far. Then he quit," Gloria Schwarze said.
That was nearly two months ago. James Epperson is the contractor. He's posted several pictures on himself on his Facebook page. That was nearly two months ago. James Epperson is the contractor. He's posted several pictures on himself on his Facebook page.
6 On Your Side contacted James Epperson last week. He promised to return the cupboard doors, which he did.  Mrs. Schwarze is pleased the doors were returned, but she says the workmanship is awful. 6 On Your Side contacted James Epperson last week. He promised to return the cupboard doors, which he did. Mrs. Schwarze is pleased the doors were returned, but she says the workmanship is awful.
By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Most contractors are hard working business men and women who get the work done, pleasing their customers. When choosing a contractor to head up a remodel, you have to remember to ask for references and look at credentials.

Knoxville couple Gloria and Wayne Schwarze followed those rules in February when they hired a home improvement contractor, but it's been nothing but sleepless nights ever since.

The cupboard doors in Gloria Schwarze's kitchen are gone. They were removed by her contractor in February to be painted and were scheduled to be re-installed in early April.

"He put some primer on. He just started with the basic primer and we went this far. Then he quit," she said.

That was nearly two months ago. James Epperson is the contractor. He's posted several pictures on himself on his Facebook page.

Gloria and Wayne Schwarze wanted Epperson to reposition their kitchen island and change the lighting above it. He was going to lay new flooring in their kitchen, put in a new kitchen counter, and of course, redo the kitchen cabinets, all for $10,000.

"Underneath here we were going to have all new tile put in," Wayne showed us.

When the job stalled, Wayne started preparing the wall, not Epperson.

"Because he wanted to get the job done by the 28th of last month because he said he had another big job to do. He was working so slow, so I thought I would save him some time," he explained.

Mrs. Schwarze realizes now paying Epperson 45 percent down was too much, but she was impressed by his resume and glowing references.

"We definitely trusted him. He and my husband hit it off with the hunting and fishing thing, so we decided he needed some work. We felt in our hearts that was good to give some local people some work," Gloria said.

On her phone, text messages to Epperson date back two months.

"The last text he said, 'Hey, I'm sorry for the pain I caused. The doors will there on Tuesday. I'm trying to do some jobs so I can pay. I'm so sorry, I don't know what to say to you guys, I never planned this.'"

A few years ago, the couple's only recourse was to sue their contractor in civil court, but a consumer protection bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature in 2010 makes it a possible felony if a contractor starts a job then quits and fails to complete the work 90 days after starting it.

What you have to do is send a certified letter to the contractor requesting a refund, then contact the state's Consumer Protection Agency, a division of the state attorney generals office.

6 On Your Side contacted James Epperson last week. He promised to return the cupboard doors, which he did.

Mrs. Schwarze is pleased the doors were returned, but she says the workmanship is awful.

"The paint on the doors, they're all peeling. They were never sanded down whatsoever," she said.

She says Epperson left no note and returned no portion of the $4,500 down payment.

"This leaves us with a decision to make. Here we have the cupboards, trying to figure out what do we do, who do we trust. We got to stop this from happening, so that's my biggest concern," she said.

Will any money be returned? Gloria says it's unlikely.

"My concern is I don't want him to continue to do this to other people."

A contractor's request for a down payment is not a red flag signaling problems ahead. Often cash secures a spot on the contractor's schedule, and while Tennessee does not have regulations in place, there is wiggle room for both the contractor and the homeowner to negotiate a fair down payment.

The general rule of thumb is incremental payments, typically a third due at the start, a third halfway through, and the final third due upon completion.

You don't want to put down a large down payment, like 45 percent, as Gloria and Wayne did.
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