It’s been almost three years since Robin Harris had a roof that didn’t leak.
Not that she let the problem go. The 57-year-old school bus contractor and grandmother of 12 already paid to fix it. Twice.
The third time, it was free.
The Northeast Florida Builders Association’s Remodelers Council on Tuesday brought roofing shingles, gutters, drywall and a couple dozen pairs of hands to fix the leaking, water-damaged home.
The work day was co-sponsored by Builders Care, NEFBA’s charitable arm.
After so much disappointment, Harris could hardly muster excitement one week before the build.
By the day of the project, though, she felt differently.
“I am so happy,” she said. “I’ve cried and cried until my cheeks were swollen. I cannot believe this is really happening.”
Nathan Moore, chairman of the Remodelers Council, said, “There are good contractors out there. But then, you hear stories that cast a negative light on all of us.”
He called Harris a genuinely good person who had been through a lot.
“I want people to see that what goes around comes around,” he said.
Three years ago, Harris was sitting in her kitchen during a rainstorm when she noticed water trickling down the wall.
The first contractor she hired to repair it charged $7,500. He installed the shingles improperly and went out of business before Harris could have him correct it.
The second contractor had her take out a $20,000 mortgage to pay him upfront. He said he would replace her roof and repair her water-damaged bathrooms, bedrooms, living room and back doorway.
He spent months making excuses for rain and subcontractors he hadn’t paid. He repaired drywall and put a tarp on the roof.
Eight months after she hired him, Harris saw the contractor on TV. He was a suspect on WJXT TV-4’s “Wheel of Justice” segment.
“I cried all day,” Harris said. “I thought — this man has $20,000 and I still have no roof.”
Harris’ Northwest Jacksonville home sits in a pretty neighborhood, with brick houses and well-managed lawns.
It’s where Harris has lived since she was a little girl and where family members still gather for the Christmas dinner she cooks every year. It’s a home she hopes to someday leave to her children.
But locked by the contractor into a new set of mortgage payments, Harris couldn’t afford to pay for the roof again.
“I’d probably have to sell the house,” she said.
When it rained, Harris would check that buckets she had placed in bathrooms, closets and halls hadn’t been kicked out of place by grandchildren who’d been playing there.
After rains, she’d clean the whole house with mildew remover, bought by the case. Boxes of Damp Rid were scattered about.
She’s moved leather coats to her daughter’s house. Church hats were ruined.
It took the Remodelers Council about six months to pull together finances to help Harris. At one point, Moore promised her he’d pay for it on his credit card if he had to. “I had made a commitment. I didn’t want her to be let down again,” he said.
But Moore wasn’t alone.
Nine building companies pitched in for the work day, offering help either pro bono or at cost. Builders Care fronted the expense.
Clayton Brogdon of Brogdon Builders said he can identify with what Harris has gone through.
Brogdon last year switched from an accounting career to running his own building company after a crew of unlicensed workers “pretty much destroyed my house” and then threatened to place liens on the property.
“It kind of hits home,” he said. “A lot of people are doing this kind of work, but there’s not always a lot of integrity.”
Peter Helton, owner of HW Contracting and a council board member, said the Harris project was a chance to show off what a NEFBA contractor can do for the community.
“Remodelers are mainly smaller and newer companies, not the D.R. Hortons of the world,” he said. “This is a way smaller companies can participate, doing what we do best.”
The contractor who took advantage of Harris scammed over 30 other people, Moore said. The council can’t afford to help them all. But, he hopes people who see this example will learn lessons about hiring reputable contractors.
Never pay a contractor in full up front, he said.
Homeowners can contact the Northeast Florida Builders Association to get a list of members who are properly licensed remodelers.