Larry’s Rant #7
So this is not really a rant, but a situation that occurs all too often (although not with this much discussion). I did an estimate for a house. The house needed a new perimeter foundation, with new posts and piers, and leveling of the floors. I did the bid in February of 2010. The bid was about $33k total, including plans and permits.
I get a call from an agent about a house for sale. Presumably, repairs were made recently, about $20k worth, with an engineered plan. So, as I typically do, I look up my records and note my original bid. I agree to look it over, as my curiosity got to me.
I look at the repairs. Basically, the perimeter was replaced, the posts and piers ignored, and the quality was very poor. I write a follow up estimate. Both estimates are here:
February 23, 2010
Via e-mail to
Dear Ms. Client:
As per your request, I have completed a preliminary cost estimate for foundation repairs at the property located at Blank Avenue, San Diego. This estimate is based on a visual inspection, as well as my subsequent conversation with you.
We examined the perimeter foundation system for the front, original portion of the house, and noted it has significant wear, with exposed aggregate and crumbling concrete. Furthermore, the post and pier system in the sub area is also badly deteriorated. We recommend replacement of the foundation system for the front, original portion of the house with a concrete stemwall foundation in the near future, particularly prior to major renovations.
We propose to support and lift the house with hydraulic jacks, remove 98 lineal feet of the existing perimeter foundation at the sides and front of the original house, and to pour in place a new foundation. We will perform a floor level survey and level the floors prior to pouring the foundation. We will install an additional row of 4×6 beams as necessary for supporting and leveling the floors. The new perimeter foundation will consist of the following: A stemwall 8 inches thick, reinforced with two pieces of 1/2 inch rebar placed horizontally. This will sit on a footing 15 inches wide, 24 inches deep, reinforced with four pieces of 1/2” rebar continuous. Foundation bolts will be 5/8 by 12 inches including a 3” square washer, and will be galvanized, placed at 4-foot intervals around the perimeter as well as within 12” of corners and connections between sections of sill plate. The concrete will be rated at a minimum of 2500 P.S.I. We will replace the entire sill plate with new 3×8 pressure treated fir and provide full blocking and double the rim joist. We will add Simpson A35 connectors at 24” intervals between the new sill and the blocking/rim joist, as well as between the bottom plate of the wall and the blocking/rim joist. The posts and piers will be upgraded and added with precast concrete strapped piers placed at 4’ intervals, placed on 16” square concrete pads, 12” deep, and with new pressure treated 4×4 posts. The poured pads will be reinforced with ½” rebar placed in a grid. We will strap post to beam connections with Simpson AC4 straps. We will strap the beam to joist connections with Simpson HST2.5 straps. We will remove and replace the adjacent concrete flatwork as necessary to access the foundation. We will place temporary restroom facilities on site for the duration of the project. We have not included landscaping, painting, siding, plaster or other cosmetic repairs. We will supply all necessary supervision, labor, and materials for completion of the project. We will provide the historic review, engineering, plans and permits necessary for the foundation replacement. Cost for this work is $32,825.
Six Months Later…
August 3, 2010
Via e-mail to
Dear Mr. Client:
As per your request, I inspected the property located at Blank Avenue, San Diego. Prior to evaluating the property I reviewed our previous estimate dated February 23rd, 2010 for this property, which is included as an addendum to this letter. We were informed also that some foundation work had been performed at the property and were informed that an engineering plan had been prepared for the work that was performed. Subsequent to our inspection we reviewed the scope of work and the engineering plan.
Our inspection revealed several issues. First, no work appears to have been performed on the posts and piers. As noted in our previous inspection the concrete is badly worn on the posts and piers, and we noted they generally have tilting and deteriorated posts, shims added between the posts and beams and posts and piers, excessive spans between the posts by current standards, and very limited access into the sub area. Soil that was previously excavated was not removed from the sub area, but piled up making many areas inaccessible. Furthermore, insufficient ventilation was observed, as current code requires 1 square foot of ventilation per 150 square feet of sub area.
We also noted that the perimeter foundation appears to have been replaced. We noted several deficiencies in the engineering plans, as well as the scope of work and implementation of the repairs. First, there appears to be no permit or approved plans with the City of San Diego as required by code. Also, the foundation bolts, nuts and washers are not galvanized, and the washers are not 3” square washers as required by code. The plans did not detail this requirement. The sill plate is not detailed in the plans, but current code requires a 3×8 pressure treated sill, and we observed 2×8 sill plate. Existing beam-ends no longer sit on the stemwalls, and are not connected to the framing. The cripple walls were replaced with a 2×4 placed on edge, but we observed large gaps between the sill plate and the 2×4, as well as between the 2×4 and the rim joist. Shims and cut wood wedges were installed randomly in the gaps. Additional 4×6 beams have been placed adjacent to the rim joists to support new sub floor sections. The engineering plan makes no mention of these details, and the plans do not match current city requirements. This may because they were only preliminary working drawings, not intended for city permitting. Nevertheless, permitting would have caused the plans to be completed in a manner matching requirements. It is our assumption and hope that the project engineer did not observe the completed project.
The plans also called for a beam to be placed to support the perimeter behind the front porch, placed on 4 poured concrete piers. The plans call for a pressure treated beam, but from a distance it appears that the beam is a laminated beam, which would be susceptible to deterioration. Closer investigation is recommended. We also find this type of repair to be a poor substitute for replacement of the perimeter as it creates cantilevering of the floor joists, which in our experience, causes future distress to the floors, creating a noticeable bowing or bending of the floors.
It is also our opinion that the footing depths outlined in the plans is insufficient, as it is common knowledge the soil conditions in the area are considered moderately to extremely expansive. A footing depth of 24” below grade is typical. Inspection by the city would also have likely revealed this issue. Since we have no record of plans or permits it is unclear if the footing depths match the plans, or if the coverage of the reinforcing steel is sufficient.
At this point, we recommend that a competent engineer evaluate the property, a repair plan and permits be secured, and proper repairs made. At minimum, it should be anticipated that the excess soil be removed from the sub area, the post and piers should be replaced, the perimeter framing and bolting be repaired, the installed beam be evaluated, and any other issues that are discovered are addressed. Due to the generally extremely poor implementation of the repairs we observed and the likelihood of issues with the footings consisting of inadequate steel coverage, unsure footing depth, improperly cleaned footings, suspect quality of concrete and the likelihood of soil movement in our opinion a complete replacement as per our original bid, with the additional costs of demolition of the existing may be warranted. Cost for this work including plans, permits and engineering is $39,825. Please note that additional costs for siding repair, paint, plaster or other cosmetic repairs are not included.
Now, after the second estimate, I thought would be the end of it. Then, I got an e-mail back from the agent with some questions. I responded with the following picture and comment that will be referenced. I thought THAT would be the end of it…
But No. After the agent forwarded the picture to the “contractor” I then got this e-mail from the “contractor” who did the actual work.
“Larry, We are neighbors though we have never met. Your office is a couple of blocks from my house, and I watched the snail pace progress that you guys made on that house on Collier. I never slam another contractor or their work in the manner which you did-it is really quite atrocious the tone which you took. I could perpetuate a lot of the rumors that I hear in regards to you, your crew, your personal conduct, failures in shoring etc.. while on foundation repair estimates but I do not, because that is not profesional conduct, (and it really makes you look flakey as well.)”
And my reply?
“Pictures are worth a thousand words.
Note the bolt with no 3″ square washer. Note the lovely shims. Note the
piles of debris, the beam that misses. The nailing of the shim. There is
more, but I just had my i-phone.
I would love to go there with my good camera. Beauty.
And again, the contractor replies…
“It is quite obvious to ANYONE with any construction experience that the floor beam was existing as were the shims. While the split in the 2×4 fill between the plate and the existing sill is unattractive, I dont think I deserve what you said.
We didn’t miss any of our beam connections. I dont know why you would try to stir up muck. You caused my client a lot of grief and put a strain on our relationship, you are causing the property not to sell and I need you to revise your review. This is truly a low blow and am dissapointed that somebody that is a competitor of mine plays on that level. I will be over there to remove the debris left by the trades to apease the client, maybe I will see you there.”
WOW! Was I that wrong on this? I am the lowlife guy who makes up details about how poor the work I observed was just to be vindictive? Was I mistaken? High on epoxy fumes?
No, I wasn’t wrong. Here is my response:
I was intrigued by your e-mail. Perhaps you should not have lead with the “snails pace” comment and then said you never slam another contractor. So which is it? I will say, I will slam another contractor, when he deserves it. That will be later.
To respond to your comments:
The job on Collier? Took 6 weeks. Takes that long if you do it right. Here is the client’s testimonial:
TESTIMONIAL-Craftsman Foundation Repair
Hi Mr. Davis:
We happened to drive by your house on Collier and noticed that one of our competitors was performing work there.
If it’s not too much trouble, would you be so kind as to let us know what we could have done to earn your business?
We are always looking for ways to improve out services so that more work comes our way!
Thanks so much,
-At the start of the job-
Dear “Competitor A”
Choosing Larry Teves at Craftsman was a long process for me. I received bids from you, “Competitor B” and Larry as well as a couple of general contractors. When discussing the job with the general contractors who weren’t specialists, it became clear that the job was not something I wanted to give to someone who had not done this before.
Once I settled on going with a company with a lot of foundation experience, choosing became a chore because there really are a lot of companies in the area that do a lot of this work. As you know, there are tons of houses in the area with 90 year old, bad foundations. The houses that people want to save get done.
A couple of people I know used Craftsman before. They were happy with the work and the scheduling. That wasn’t enough for me to choose them.
Larry was the only one of the three I settled on who spent a lot of time talking to me about the specifics of the project. I told every one of the contractors that I’ve done some major projects myself. While that was true, I didn’t have a sense of how detailed this job would be. I probably spent an hour on the phone with Larry over two weeks and met with him at the house for an hour before it dawned on me that this was a job that I couldn’t be the General on because I didn’t have the know-how. But beyond that, Larry told me in great detail how the project would be completed. He told me how they leveled the floors. How they supported the structure throughout. When I could do interior plaster work. Larry also came up with a lot of paint and trim ideas. He really is enthusiastic about the whole rehab as a project and not just the foundation job. Over the last three weeks I’ve met with him a number of times and his enthusiasm continues – he’s got good ideas as the total rehab goes forward.
“Competitor A” and “Competitor B” showed up and gave me written bids. When I asked specifics, I didn’t get specific answers. I got general answers. Like I asked “How can you take the stem wall out without dropping the house?” Your answer, while 100% true, didn’t tell me anything. You said, “We will support it.” That didn’t give me a picture of how that would be done – on jacks, beams and a crane? I didn’t know. I had to see the project clearly both to convince myself that I couldn’t orchestrate it myself and to convince myself that I had a contractor who really understood what I wanted out of the project.
Both “Competitor A” and “Competitor B” told me that leveling would be iffy. I read a lot of stuff on the Internet that talked about crowning floors and how hard it would be to level an old house. I brought that up with you and “Competitor B” and both told me that it might not be as level as I wanted it. Larry, on the other hand, expressed a lot of confidence and again, he told me HOW he combats crowning, if there is any, and said that he can usually get a floor pretty darned level. The initial leveling has been very good, even as they move the jacks around while framing. I understand there’s no guarantee on level and that the house will shift while I live in it. But there was a lot more confidence that I’d be happy with the leveling from Larry.
I checked out all the contractors with BBB and other means before I asked for bids. I was confident that everyone I got bids from was competent.
But the reason I picked Craftsman/Teves was that his attitude and helpfulness on the whole house rehab was much more inclusive. As the project progresses, I’m more convinced that picking him as the contractor was the right choice for me.
Timothy Lee Davis
-After the job-
Dear Mr. Teves:
I want to thank you for the completed job on my house at 3498 Collier Avenue. As time after the foundation completion goes by, I find more and more reasons that your guys did a great job.
For example, we expected cracking in the plaster from moving the house around. But 99% of the cracks in the wall were old cracks that had been previously repaired. What this clearly means is that when the old foundation settled and when earthquakes juggled the house, the house was out of its original square and the owners then fixed the plaster cracks inside. When you leveled the house to replace the foundation, the old repairs cracked again to allow me to repair them with the house walls square again. I found joint tape in all of the big cracks and joint compound clearly showing this.
If you’ll recall, that house was as much as four inches sagging on the corners where the most settling occurred. Of the three new cracks, they were hairline. That also showed me the carefulness and professionalism that your guys exhibited when they jacked the house up, supported it, removed the old foundation, put the new one in and let the house rest on the new foundation. If any one of those evolutions had been done improperly, I would have seen tons of big, new cracks in the plaster and stress on the joints. None of that happened.
Your work crews treated this house more delicately than the grocery store handles eggs.
Every day that I walk into my house I get a smile on my face from that new foundation.
Please feel free to direct others who are considering foundation work to contact me. I’ll be very happy to tell them that you really did a great project management. Your experience, and the experience of everyone in your work crews really shows.
Timothy Lee Davis
Attorney at Law
I don’t know you from Adam. But, I know you got your contractor’s license in March of 2010. You been doing this for all of 5 months? I got my license in 1994, and I got my specialty license in 1998 for foundation repairs. I actually worked for 5 years crawling under houses doing foundation repairs for the Horizon Company before I got my license. We have done over 1800 foundation repair jobs.
I noticed you do not have a specialty license to do foundation repairs. No shock there. Read the code. You aren’t even licensed to do this work exclusively.
Yes, in case you care, my company dropped a house. Made the news. Insurance rebuilt the client’s house completely, better than before, and I refunded all their money. Put them in a hotel. I hope it never happens to you or your clients. If it does, I challenge you to do what I did. By the way, Atlas and RAD both called to offer me help, and I respect them for it. I have seen their work, and they would be mortified if they did work of this poor quality. We respect each other, even as competitors, because we care about our work and what we do.
I don’t put down other contractor’s work that I haven’t seen, or those that I have seen that is to code, even if there are some flaws. Even if it’s done in a different way than I would do it, as long as it is serviceable. I have seen lots of shoddy work in my career, but this one is in the top 10 for sure. The foundation work you are referring to is just plain crap.
Look at this picture:
This is right by the opening. What does the other side of the house look like? Is that not the foundation bolt you installed? It’s NOT RIGHT. It doesn’t match code. It’s not galvanized, and doesn’t have a 3″ square washer as required. The sill plate is not 3×8 pressure treated. That is the current code. How can you defend that?
Is that wood framing not new? I had trouble describing it it was so bad. Those gaps not filled with shims are all around the house. If someone else framed this (sure they did) couldn’t you at least have removed this crap and framed this properly instead of leaving it? That is just not how it should be done.
Regardless, again, this would not have passed an inspection by any competent engineer, contractor or city inspector, and if you don’t know it, well, that proves my point. Whoever did this either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
This is only one of the many issues I found. As I said in my estimate, I recommend a competent engineer fully evaluate the foundation for this house. Then it won’t be contractor vs. contractor.
If you cared about your client, you would not have done a job of this quality. When you go there to clean up your mess, look at the beam ends. At one time they rested on the perimeter. Now, they are flying, not touching anything. You could at least have placed a pier (with a footing, that is code by the way) under the beam ends. If the client hammered you into doing a job for way too cheap to make it work you are still required to do the part you are doing to code. That was on the law portion of your contractor’s test. Lack of budget does not permit doing poor work.
By the way, I don’t consider you a competitor. And, I don’t want to work on this house fixing this mess. But when I am called out to look at something, then I will tell the truth about what I see. All the crying and complaining in the world won’t make me lie to make a deal go through. So, no, I won’t be revising my review.
Feel free to forward this to anyone you want. Believe me, I can’t wait to put it on my website. I stand by what I said.
By the way, that client on Collier? Maybe he’ll let you look under the house to see how a foundation replacement is supposed to be done.
Professional Conduct? Are you kidding me?
-Larry Teves, President
This story goes on. But, regardless, I am hoping I never have to fix this mess, and that the new buyers will be told exactly what they are getting here. Unfortunately, I am afraid that will not be the case.