Fleeced by a Fox

Yes, we were fleeced by a fox, but not by the one who lives in our neighborhood!  This story, "Fleeced by a Fox" has a humorous twist, peppered with insanity, and lightly salted with a little humility and grace.  I hope my story will compel you to hire your next contractor wisely!  Btw, I'm leaving out the name of this company to avoid retaliation.  When you read this article, you will understand. 

Before we began building our courtyard, it was understood between me and my husband that I would be the general contractor because that's what I do for a living; I love to dream, design and build.  I had more time on my hands and I told him not to worry about a thing, I would take care of everything and I would hire the work out so we wouldn't have to do any of the labor.

The first thing I needed to do was find a company that could pour footers for the courtyard walls, steps, and fireplace.  I found a company that specialized in stamped concrete and they also said they could pour the footers too.  I asked for references and the contractor gave me a number of a lady they did work for.  She sang their praises, so I was confident that all would be well.  

The owner  (I'll call him Mr. Fox) of the company came out and verbally agreed to do the job at a great price.  Then when he came back later to drop off his handwritten contract, he started complaining about how much hard work this was all going to be.  Shaking his head, he said, "I can't believe you talked me into doing this so cheap!"   I'm thinking, Seriously, I talked you into it?

Then, I recalled that when Mr. Fox first came out and verbally bid the job for $5,500.00, he later retracted and said, "Oh, I didn't mean the steps too.  I'll do it all for $5,800!"  I held my ground because I was 99.9% sure he said the steps were included.  He agreed and said, "Okay, I'll do it for $5,500.00, let's shake on it."

At this point, I was about ready to find someone else but had my heart set to get it done then and said, "Okay, It's a deal!" as I shook his hand.

The next day, Mr. Fox brought over a contract for me to sign which was hard to read and very vague.  I started thinking about all the contractor nightmare stories I had heard from other homeowners and a few I had experienced myself.  So, in light of this and the resentful attitude he displayed the day before, I asked him if it would be okay if I wrote up a more detailed contract as to what he verbally agreed to do; he seemed fine with that. 

This bid was for digging and pouring footers, inserting re-bar, and grade for the concrete slab; then he would later coming back to pour and stamp the concrete after my block layer laid the block high enough to make a form; then form and build the steps.

When the excavating began before Mr. Fox even signed the contract, I thought to myself, What?  Who does that?  But after he signed it, I was relieved and gave him a check for half the amount of the bid; then he kindly nodded and put his cigarette out on the side of our white patio table; I quickly glanced down to see the burn mark...Did that really just happen? 

Okay, enough with all the planning, paperwork, and red flags flying high let the digging begin!  I thought it would be a blast to watch these guys; certainly, they know what they're doing; they do this every day.  Maybe I could learn some new tricks of the trade too.  I remembered how fascinating it was to watch men cut down trees for us, and now I was privileged to direct and watch my very own episode of "How to Build a Good Foundation for a Courtyard."

As I walked over, I noticed the excavator guy digging way too far over for the footer.  Not wanting to interfere, I hesitantly asked if they could dig about a foot over to the left because as it was, the wall would be sitting on the edge of the footer and not the middle.  He argued about my inquiry and seemed hesitant, but then complied.

Satisfied, I went in to eat breakfast and while I sat at the table, I looked out the window and pondered how awesome it was going to be when I would soon be looking out into our beautiful courtyard!  Then, all of a sudden, I saw the guy on the backhoe digging the other footer right smack dab in front of the window I was sitting at.  I ran out and Mr. Fox was gone, but one of his workers was out there.  I said, "Stop!  You need to tell him to dig the footer over to the left of the window...there's going to be a 6-foot wall here.  Did you look at the plans?"

Feeling awkward about what had just happened, I went out and talked to Mr. Foxes' sons while they were taking a lunch break.  As a contractor myself, I really wanted to make these guys felt at ease and not to worry about making mistakes, so I thought I would just chit-chat with them.

They starting talking about music and I told them I was learning to play Native American flutes.  So, I thought it might be a good idea for me, aka, "Princess Tweet-tie Bird" to make sort of a peace treaty with them and play a little tune.  The only song I knew from memory at that time was "Amazing Grace."  How fitting...ha-ha!

I then had to leave for work for a few hours, and when I came back home, they were gone.  When I saw what they had done, I stared in disbelief at this heap of rubble completely surrounded by a huge trench where they had dug out for the footers.  The reality of, "If it's too good to be true, then it probably is," started sinking deep down into my gut.

I had personally prepped for concrete pours on previous jobs, and when I saw this I was stunned.  I knew it wasn't even near ready to pour concrete; they needed to dig it out deeper; add tons more crushed limestone to make a good base, and needed to be surveyed to make sure the water drains away from the house. 

Then, when I noticed they hadn't dug the footers for the fireplace and steps, my heart sank even deeper!  Obviously, now, they would have to dig it out by hand and haul the dirt out with a wheelbarrow, and then haul the crushed limestone in too; oh, but first they would have to build a bridge over the mote to get back in. 

I asked Mr. Fox why he didn't do all this when the backhoe guy was there so he could get it done in a fraction of the time.  He replied, "It's easier to dig those footers by hand, later!"  I thought to myself, Really?  He later said he was going to build the bridge over the concrete block wall after my block layer built it up to ground level.  Really? - Off the bat, I knew it wasn't a good idea to put a heavy weight on top of a newly laid block wall.

When I asked him about the additional limestone he needed, he proceeded to tell me that it was over-kill to even put any limestone in as a base; he said it would be okay to just pour the concrete over the dirt.  Then I realized that the two little piles of limestone shown in the picture above were all he was planning on using. 

To avoid getting into an argument over whether or not it was necessary, I reminded him of what the contract said.  Although Mr. Fox seemed agitated, he seemed like he was willing to abide by what he agreed to do.  I was so thankful that I had included this in the contract.

The next morning, as I was returning home from tennis, I saw the concrete truck coming down our street.  Things were really starting to happen!   I let out a big shriek, "Yay, We're getting the footers poured today!"  As I got out of my car I looked on with joyful anticipation as the crew directed the driver as he backed up into our yard.  One of the guys hollered out, "I like your tennis skirt!" 

I wanted to run in quickly to get changed, but then got side-tracked when I saw the cement truck slowly sinking down into the mud.  The guys kept yelling and signaling the driver to give it more gas.  The tires were literally buried up to the axles.  I ran over and said,  "Stop!  Wait, you're making it worse!"  I looked over and saw Mr. Fox on the phone asking the concrete company up in Oxford to send a tow truck immediately.

In sheer panic, realizing we didn't have much time before all that concrete hardened, I started directing the workers on how they could get the truck unstuck.  Still adorned in my tennis skirt (ha-ha), I ran to the woodpile and motioned them to help me get some big logs to throw under the truck tires.  Then I ran to the garage and got some plywood and thick boards to use for additional traction.

In the midst of all this noisy chaos, one guy went running to find more objects to throw under the tires.  As he jumped over a big pile of dirt, he fell headlong into the footer ditch and totally disappeared out of my site. 

I ran up over the hill of dirt and peered down into where he was, he was eerily not moving, and I screamed out, "Are you okay?"  Then, thank God, he started moving and got up -- very slowly.  He said in a macho voice, "Oh, that didn't hurt anything like when I fell on a piece of re-bar yesterday!" 

I was especially nervous about the concrete hardening in the truck because I had charged it on my own credit card.  My Fox had already ordered concrete which was due to arrive in about three hours but then canceled it.  Why?  Because, after he told me that concrete had gone up in price, and demanded more money; I said, "I can get concrete cheaper than that!" 

I called another company who was able to deliver it within the same time frame his load was due to arrive.  I was planning on deducting the amount I paid for this concrete later from the final payment since it was his responsibility to pay for it. 

I figured, paying for it was a safer way to give him an advance since he was complaining about needing more money upfront.  Ordering from this company would save Mr. Fox well over $400.00 in the overall concrete costs from what he bid the job, and I was planning on deducting this amount to pass the savings on to him. 

After this, he starting implying that we still needed to renegotiate the bid price and had the nerve to ask for more money. He said all the money I gave him was gone because he paid off a bill he owed and had to pay his workers!  He said that people renegotiate all the time.

There was no doubt about it...we were being "fleeced by a fox" in broad daylight!  Now, all I could do was try to appease him and get as much work out of him as I possibly could before he left with all our money.

Finally, the truck got unstuck and they were able to get the footers poured!  But, not before Mr. Fox had to call in another order of concrete because they under-estimated how much they would need.  

The next day, my block layer came to start building the foundation wall with concrete blocks.  He said he had never seen footers this out of plumb before.  The footer on the left was at least 3" off level.  I called Mr. Fox over to look at the footers and he hesitantly agreed to fix it to my specifications.

That same evening, his son, who worked on my job earlier, came to my house.  I was out working in the courtyard area.  He walked up and gave me a high-five and said, "Hey, Mary Kay!"  I noticed his speech was slurred and his eyes were glazed over and extremely red.  At first, I thought, Oh no, he's stoned and came back to retaliate because I asked them to fix the footer!

Then he said, "Hey, I've been working in the neighborhood and just got a call from my wife.  She ran out of gas up the street.  Could you spare just $15.00 for gas?"  All I could find was a $20.00 bill to give him and told I would deduct it from his bill.  I thought to myself, Oh man, this is not what I signed up for!

After all this chaos, I woke up about 3:00 a.m. wondering if they may have put the second load of concrete on my credit card (which was on file at the company); I got up and checked and sure enough they did, without my knowledge; I guess this was his way of re-negotiating!

When Mr. Fox came out to fix the footer, he complained that he had to buy 15 bags of cement and have a guy mix and pour it.  Um, I would think that $3,000.00 I gave him would be more than enough to cover this.  However, to make peace, I helped his work all along the way.

Later, Mr. Fox called me and asked if I would like slate instead of stamped concrete for the same price he quoted me.  Whoa, that was an unexpected twist.  I thought, "Really?  Slate?  Well, sure that would be fine."  Maybe this is his way of making things right, as I knew slate was much more expensive.  He said he installed slate all the time and would rather do it than stamped concrete.  He sent me to a stone place to pick it out.  

I thought, wow, Mr. Fox must get a really good discount since he lays a lot of slate.  But, when the guy at the stone place told me the price, I knew there was no way he could lay it for the price the had quoted me.  When I called Mr. Fox and told him the price, he said, "Oh my god, the slate has gone up!"  

By this time, I heard from three different sources that this guy had a bad reputation in town, and also found out he was featured on the Channel 9 news as a scam artist.  I'm sorry I missed that newscast!

By now, I certainly didn't trust Mr. Fox to come back on the job and pour the stamped concrete and wondered how I could get out of the contract.  The next day I called him and sternly asked if he was sure he was able to pour the stamped concrete to my specifications.  I was particularly concerned about the water flowing out of the courtyard properly.

When he knew I was sticking to what was in the contract, he blew up and said, "Oh, my god, you're impossible to work with, we'll just have to settle up and I'll give you half of your money back!"  The very next day Mr. Fox asked for more money.  I said, "What about the money you said you would refund me?"  He said, "It's gone and I need more!"

Mr. Fox tried to get away with not digging the other footers at all, which I'm sure was his original plan.  He said it would be fine if he just dug down about 4" down for the steps and the fireplace.  I actually had to get the building department on the phone to speak with him personally to convince him to dig the footers correctly. 

After he handed me back my phone, he looked at me, shaking his head and said, "Oh, my god, now you've opened up a can of worms!" 

He seemed like he would comply, but then started complaining and refusing to do it the very next day!  Mr. Fox said, "They don't know what they're talking about; I was an inspector for years up in Moscow!"  He showed me a paper with step specifications and said, "See, now this is how it should be done, now we wasted all that concrete!"

The concrete he was referring to as "wasted" is shown here.  While they were pouring the footer, he saved back these two little piles of concrete on top of the dirt, and hollered to one of his workers, "Quick, go dig a 4" footer for the steps before all that concrete hardens!"  (That would be some fast digging!)   I said "No, that's not going to work, you're supposed to dig down 30" below the frost line!"  (That's when I called the building department.)  Amazingly, this is the same area where they poured the footer 3" shy, off level...go figure! 

After this episode, I noticed Mr. Fox looking at me intently as he squinted his eyes in the sun.  He then tilted his head back as he slowly removed his cigarette from his mouth and said, "This is your dream, isn't it Mary Kay?"  I reluctantly answered, "Yes, it is."  He replied, "And, I'm going to make your dream come true!" 

After this, I was at Lowe's picking up supplies and I thought to myself, "Maybe I should buy a tamper, I bet they don't even own one."  After I stood there wondering to myself in the aisle for a few minutes, I plunked one into my cart thinking I could take it back if they had their own.  Sure enough, the next day when we were filling dirt in around the foundation walls.  I asked him if he had a tamper.  He said they used to have one, but someone stole it.  

I had to practically beg Mr. Fox to come back and dig the footers for the fireplace and the steps.  He said he had to make at least $2,000.00 a day and I was killing him!  He left a huge pile of dirt where the footer was dug out and said I would have to hire his workers to finish it and dig out the dirt for the patio. 

I then found out they made $7 to $8 per hour.  Later, Mr. Fox said he would gladly give me the name of his excavator so we could pay him to smooth out the ruts in our yard! I was dumbfounded; I just couldn't believe it was possible to be fleeced by a fox in broad daylight!  When he knew I was paying, he brought a truckload of guys.

I seriously felt sorry for the workers because they were treated like dogs and were yelled at constantly by Mr. Fox, while he barked out orders and didn't do any of the work himself.

Thank God, Mr. Fox ended up firing himself before I had to.  After that, things started running smoothly.  After learning this hard lesson, I hired some excellent workers to finish the job.  The bulk of the labor, as far as hours were concerned, was from the guy that laid the block and brick.  He worked hard and long hours to complete it to my specifications and did a fantastic job, and never complained! 

I was also able to find someone else to pour the stamped concrete patio.  The concrete guys were excellent and so easy to work with.  The main guy surveyed with a laser level and the water flows out perfectly, away from the house.  And, I hired an excellent electrician to install all the lights and plugs.  It's amazing the difference it makes when you hire the right people.

I later found out that the majority of lawsuits filed in the construction industry reference botched stamped concrete jobs!

Hope this story helps you the next time you're looking for a dependable contractor for your job.  

You may also be interested in my invention, the BLADEater® holster. It has a built-in blade snapper. Keeps new and used blades safely contained and off the floor. 



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Yours truly,
Mary Kay Hansen

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