It’s been more than a year since Sabrina and Jason Watson hired a local contractor to renovate their Chestermere home, and the job still isn’t done.
The couple is among five homeowners who have filed complaints with provincial consumer protection officials against Kreate Cabinets and its operator, Kieron Warren, alleging he illegally took tens of thousands of dollars in upfront payments for work that was never completed.
“Total losses (in the current investigation) are estimated between $400,000 and $500,000,” Service Alberta spokesman Mike Berezowsky said.
Under provincial regulations, contractors who take advance payments are required to have a special licence allowing them to do so and must maintain a security fund to ensure clients get refunds for jobs that are cancelled or not finished.
The Watsons said they paid a total of $151,000 over the summer of 2011 for a job that included a major renovation of their home’s upstairs, kitchen and bathroom.
The contract stipulated an Aug. 20 completion date, which was important, Sabrina Watson said, so the couple and their three young sons would be back in their house in time for the beginning of school.
The family was out of town as the summer wound down, but Watson said they were assured the work was progressing whenever they checked in.
When they arrived home, they were greeted by bare walls and little else.
“Nothing had been done. Our house was still in studs,” said Watson.
Hounding Warren resulted in some subcontractors arriving to do plumbing, electrical work and drywalling, but Watson said they never returned because they hadn’t been paid.
“Everybody walked off the job on us,” she said.
The Watsons cancelled their contract with Warren and Kreate in January, but have yet to receive a refund.
Warren declined comment when contacted by the Herald, instead saying to talk to his lawyer.
With their house untenable, the Watsons have moved from Sabrina’s mother’s home on an acreage outside Calgary to a rented house in Chestermere and back to the acreage after the lease on the rental ran out.
“It was devastating,” she said.
The family has also taken out a second mortgage on their home to get the renovations finished and are paying more than $2,000 a month to keep their belongings in storage.
Watson credits her and her husband’s experience in the real estate industry with helping them work out the complex financing, but said the stress on their family has been immense even with that knowledge on their side.
“I remember sitting here saying, ‘I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,’” she said.
Another couple, Brian and Angie Chubb, hired Warren in mid-April to renovate their kitchen and bathrooms in their Calgary home.
Brian said they paid Warren $28,000 up front for the job, which was supposed to be finished at the end of May.
“The demolition went fast,” he said.
However, a temporary kitchen that would have allowed the Chubbs to resume cooking took five weeks to complete instead of the specified five days, said Chubb.
Weeks passed with little work being done. Chubb said tradesmen who installed a granite countertop demanded payment for the material — money Chubb said was included in the amount already paid to Warren.
Chubb fired Kreate in August and the couple have returned the kitchen to usable condition with their own money, though it’s still not finished.
Chubb said the stress forced his wife, Angie, to take a two-month medical leave from work.
“It takes a toll,” he said.
In addition to the current investigation, Warren is facing sentencing in provincial court next week for breaching the province’s Fair Trading Act while operating under the name Hillcrest Renovations.
Warren pleaded guilty to five charges: three counts of operating as a prepaid contractor without a licence and two counts of failing to provide a refund after a customer cancelled a contract.
In that case, three complainants lost a total of $55,000 paid to Warren between 2007 and 2008.
Generally speaking, Service Alberta advises homeowners contemplating renovations to check with the department or the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against contractors they’re thinking of hiring.
Berezowsky said it’s also wise to shop around.
“Get written estimates from more than one business — we recommend at least three,” he said.
Consumers should make sure any prepaid contract has all the legally-required elements, including a detailed, itemized price list, a completion date and a statement of the client’s cancellation rights.