AUSTIN (KXAN) – Missy and James Pemberton thought much of their summer would have been spent frolicking around their newly-remodeled pool with their 10 children. But, their idea of a backyard oasis turned into a nightmare after they hired Broadway Pools, Inc. to remodel their pool.
The Pembertons purchased their Round Rock home in March 2016 because it had a pool. While it was outdated, they knew it could be updated, as needed.
“It was functional for our family and it did its job and everybody had a good time,” explained Missy Pemberton.
“We had great memories last year when we used it and then unfortunately, we had to meet Richard [owner of Broadway Pools],” said James Pemberton. Now when he looks at the mess of his backyard pool, James says he thinks about the memories of his kids he’ll never get back. “We've just lost a lot of time.”
The Pembertons paid Robert “Richard” Leaf, the owner of Broadway Pools, $3,200 as an initial deposit at the beginning of April to remodel their pool. But soon after making that payment, the couple says the work stopped, for months.
'It’s a giant hole with lots of rust and broken rock.'
“I don't expect we'll ever see him again,” James said. “When I come home from work and I look at the disaster that he's left outside, I just think back to the day we had him out here and how nice he was and how he was a go-getter. And he basically tore down the line of our pool so we could not even use it anymore. If I had just not done business with him, we'd still use it today.”
Four months later, the family’s backyard is no longer functional. Instead, it looks more like an abandoned construction site with tools strewn about.
On top of the safety risk, the Pembertons say their costs are piling up to fix the mess Leaf left behind.
“[We have to] fix what the pool needed before, but also to fix everything that Richard has done, as far as the rust and the damage to the bottom of the pool now has to be fixed. So, now it's going to cost several thousand more. Plus the money that we'll never get back from Richard,” said James.
A KXAN Investigation finds the Pembertons' experience with the pool builder they hired has been repeated time and again across Central Texas.
Drowning in Complaints
KXAN found at least nine families across Central Texas who have hired Richard Leaf and Broadway Pools to either build or remodel a backyard pool but never got their finished project. Customers were left in a lurch when Broadway Pools apparently closed up shop and never returned to job sites.
The Colley family found out about the company through an advertisement in a local home and lifestyle magazine.
“They came right away over Labor Day weekend and dug the hole and we thought everything was going great. Then after that, we noticed they weren't showing up as much and by November, nobody was showing up at all,” said Robbin Colley, another Round Rock customer. “We paid him $41,000 and the only thing that he got right was to dig the hole.”
Several families told KXAN when they signed their contract with Broadway Pools, they agreed to pay for each segment of the job upon its completion. Leaf tells KXAN that's exactly what happened and that he "owes these people nothing."
However, customers say Leaf didn't stick to the payment schedule and started making demands.
Mary and Grant Booth entered into a contract with Broadway Pools in October 2016. The contract outlined a payment schedule that included a 10 percent down payment of $4,500.
“We were asked for more money and we refused to pay it,” said Mary. After that, the Booths say Leaf refused to finish the work.
By the end of May 2017, they were forced to break the contract, even though they had already paid the contractor $36,000 of the total $45,000 contract price. They said they also paid him approximately $8,000 to build a pavilion and make other miscellaneous fixes to the project. In all, the couple says they paid Leaf about $44,000.
“We saved for years for this. It's going to take us years to recover from this mess,” said Mary. “We did not pass Austin inspection and we needed a four-point bond added to our structure.”
The couple had to pay to clear the debris Leaf left in their backyard and start looking for new contractors. They tried to get other companies to pick up where Leaf left off on the project, but they say it was difficult and expensive.
"They don't want to take on the responsibility of leaving a warranty on their work,” said Grant. “They don't want to be held responsible for someone else's shoddy work."
The couple eventually hired local small business owner Stuart Nolley, with Crossroads Construction & Design, to finish out what had become of the hole in their backyard.
“Sure enough, we found a half completed pool with several problems. Most of it just needing to be finished, but also needing to be finished correctly, to code, and done professionally," said Nolley, who has been in the construction business for 15 years. Nolley believes Austin's housing boom may be contributing to an increasing trend of poor contractor service and unfinished projects.
“Being in Austin during this really high growth market that we have, it seems to be happening more and more. The number of people that are moving here – it’s outstripping the ability to provide good quality contract labor, reputable construction companies,” he said.
Broadway Pools' History
Court records show a string of lawsuits throughout Central Texas against Broadway Pools and its owner for unfinished work.
In 2013, a Leander homeowner sued Broadway Pools, Inc. and received a judgment in their favor of nearly $150,000. In 2016, a Bexar County judge ruled in Jayne Dugger’s favor, as well, with a judgment of more than $3,000. But, to date, neither family has received that money.
“No matter what I did, it wasn’t enough,” said Dugger, upset her experience years ago wasn’t able to prevent other customers from doing business with Leaf and his company. “I filed with the Better Business Bureau, filed with the Attorney General, and nothing comes of it. [Leaf] continues to go on and conduct business.”
Dugger paid a Travis County Constable to make the $3,000 collection, but Leaf told law enforcement he did not have the money to pay.
“The constable told us there’s nothing he can do about it,” Dugger said. “I'll never see that money. I don't even know how we're going to fix our pool. What are we supposed to do? We're just stuck.”
According to the Office of the Secretary of State of Texas, Broadway Pools, Inc. was formed on Jan. 7, 2008 in the care of Robert “Richard” Leaf, the owner who is also listed as the corporation’s president and director.
On Feb. 21, 2014, Broadway Pools’ tax forfeiture occurred. Meaning, on the surface, it appears the company’s existence is forfeited – at least on the state level. All businesses registered under his name with the Secretary of State have lapsed “entity status" and are no longer registered.
Leaf declined an on-camera interview, but in emails to KXAN, Leaf says his business is broke, his doors locked and operations are over. Leaf wrote that certain customers have been “closed-minded" and that they "would not [even] listen to alternatives and jumped to conclusions.” He adds, “I do not care what these people say. The total amount in dispute could not buy a good used car.”
The Pembertons say if they had to do it all over again, they’d do a lot more research. “Check reviews and get references – multiple references,” said Missy.
“Don't go for the cheapest price because you oftentimes get what you pay for,” echoed James.
Several homeowners who dealt with Broadway Pools filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office. However, at this point, it’s unclear if the AG will get involved because the decision to investigate or file a lawsuit is based on several consumer protection factors.
A number of the customers also notified the Better Business Bureau, or BBB, to report their negative experiences with the company.
Even though customers may have a contract with the contractor, the BBB says a "surety bond" may be your best bet to protect your investment. It’s essentially a three-party contract that often includes the participation of an insurance company. The surety, often the insurance company, promises to help get money or finish work for customers (the obligee) if the contractor (the principal) violates the terms of the contract.
One of the most common surety bonds is a "performance surety bond," which is like a financial safety net. This type of bond can result in the insurance company and the pool owner finding a way to complete the work – even with another contractor – if necessary.
Some cities and contractor types require surety bonds.
In general, experts say consumers can protect themselves and their home remodeling and repair contracts by carefully choosing a contractor and being smart about contracts. When choosing a contractor, for example, the Attorney General’s Office says to take time to decide who you’ll trust working on your home.
Tips on Choosing a Contractor:
- Choose a contractor with an established physical address
- Industry leaders say you should get multiple bids for a single project, before signing on with a contractor… no matter the type of work on your house.
- Get the bids in writing and look for details in their descriptions
- Beware of the “low-ball” bidder whose price is much lower than everyone else’s… question the quality of materials used and the work promised. Most legitimate bids will fall into a fairly close price range.
- Seek references; speak with satisfied customers and visit their homes to inspect work done by a contractor you’re seriously considering for hire
- If hiring a state-licensed contractor, contact the licensing agency to check the contractor’s credentials and any complaints against them or their company
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