Friday, February 8, 2013

The Fritsche's Story

An unfinished story...
In late 1999 we contracted with RDA and Don Shulman to purchase a home from Westchester Modular and install it as our vacation home in Dennis MA. We had no major problems or complaints.  So in 2010 when we decided to buy an older home in Hopkinton to convert to our primary residence, we didn't hesitate to call RDA and Don Shulman to renovate, add a large modular addition and build a three car garage. Wow, were we wrong!  We trusted him from our prior experience, but we now feel like he exploited that trust.  

We signed the contract in mid-December 2010.  The house delivery date was supposed to be late March, and the certificate of occupancy was to be delivered by June 7th. Shulman promised us 'a better place in line’ at the factory if we paid more money up front. By early February 2011, we had paid Shulman and RDA 90% of the value of the contract.  A major permitting oversight (they claim to be experts on that, right?)  pushed the house delivery date to early June and CO to end of August.  After the house was delivered in early June, the button up work was very slow. Many days there were no workers on site at all. The likelihood of receiving CO in August was dropping.   RDA and Don Shulman were continually evasive with respect to schedule commitments. We needed a move in date as the sale of our current house was drawing near. 

Despite the fact that we had paid for 90% of the contract value, the subcontractors continually reported that they had not been paid, or were paid substantially less than they were due.  Yet Shulman continued to ask for more money.  In September he asked for yet another advanced payment. He promised that if we gave him the money he could commit to occupancy in October, 2011. We were desperate for completion because on November 5th we were selling our home and would have no place to live. 

We agreed to give an additional disbursement if Shulman signed a document that had penalty provisions in it should he break his promise.   He signed it, we gave him the money, but it didn’t make a lick of difference. He cashed our check but progress continued to inch along.  Our closing date arrived for our current family home and our worst fears were realized, WE WERE HOMELESS!   We appealed to Westchester Modular for help with no success. They said they had never heard of such difficulties with Don Shulman and RDA before and recommended that we finish the job with them.

All of our belongings were put in storage, our pets were farmed out to family members and we moved into a hotel with our three children and our dog.  Did this matter to RDA? No! They were still unable to establish a firm completion date. 

From this point on I acted like the general contractor. I was at the site every day. I was coordinating services. I was speaking to sub contractors and finding out that many were still unpaid, despite the fact that we had paid RDA. I pleaded our case to the local building inspector for leniency regarding the occupancy permit. We 'celebrated' Thanksgiving in a hotel and as Christmas drew near we were in despair. The house was so far from completion, many things were done incorrectly, and there was just a hole in the ground where there should have been a garage that we had already largely paid for. The hotel bill was exceeding $7,000.  

We finally took occupancy the week before Christmas in 2011.   We had no garage, no air conditioning, no landscaping or final grading, no driveway and no gutters.  We had plywood exterior temporary stairways , incomplete exterior woodwork and serious electrical issues.   Our bathroom pipes leaked and damaged our first floor ceilings the first week we were there. RDA sent someone to stop the leak, but never came back to repair the damaged ceilings.  We had two glass slider doors that didn't open and structural issues that were never addressed. 

We attempted to contact RDA and Don Shulman to no avail. When we finally did get a response from Don Shulman in February of 2012, he said he would complete the job if only we gave him more money!  At that point the total amount we were withholding was approximately $20,000.  We knew the work remaining far exceeded that.   In the following months we gathered independent estimates from two reputable builders that said the completion of the house and garage according to the RDA contract would cost between $160,000 and $180,000.   We spent a thousand dollars in lawyer fees with nothing to show for it.  

Thankfully, a few weeks ago we received a phone call from a group of people who had similar experiences with Don Shulman and RDA. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.   We bought our house in 2010 and it is now 2013. We are still living in a mess of unfinished projects, paying storage fees because we still don't have a garage and walking through inches of muck because we don't have a driveway. 

We found a wonderful honest new builder who is doing what RDA was supposed to do which means we are paying for everything twice. What Don Shulman and RDA did to our family was devastating. I believe Westchester Modular homes also bears some responsibility for allowing this to happen to so many people. RDA and Shulman have stolen from me my trust and general belief that most people in this world are good. They have robbed me of my optimism. The house we can eventually fix, the money we can someday recover, but the image of my children living for seven weeks in a hotel can never be replaced or forgiven.

The Coirier's Story

In the beginning of 2011 my husband and I decided to build our first home. We had dreams of starting a family soon and began looking for a builder. After researching, we decided to build modular for the quality and price. We contacted +Westchester Modular Homes, Inc. through their website and were redirected to one of their independent authorized builders, RDA, owned by Don Shulman. We hesitated between Westchester and another local modular company, but ultimately decided to go with Westchester and RDA. Even though Shulman's price was higher,  he insisted on quality and reassured us that the turn-key experience would be easy and stress-free. We had no idea how far from the truth that was.

At first, things went fairly smoothly. The house we designed was delivered at the end of November 2011, right after Thanksgiving. As 2011 drew to a close, we thought we saw our dreams becoming a reality and were excited about what our future held. I was three months pregnant, and full of hope for the future. We expected the completion of our house by March and we also anxiously awaited the birth of our first child in May. I couldn't wait to get our daughter’s bedroom painted and set up her crib. I was looking forward to welcoming our little one with a house full of family and friends. As a teacher, I looked forward to spending my summer bonding with her. 

Our excitement about the house didn't last long. Issues with RDA soon started piling up. At the beginning of January, a contractor complained that he wasn't being paid. We called RDA figuring the check was slow to arrive with the holidays. We assumed everything would be back on track. Wrong again.

In February, work was moving slowly, but just enough was completed for our bank to disburse more money. We tried to hold back this money since we were concerned with the progress and this would mean that the majority of the money was dispersed. RDA threatened to stop the entire project. We wanted our house done in time for Charlotte's birth and were desperate. We gave the money to complete the job. Another bad choice.

We were on the phone almost everyday looking for updates and answers. RDA promised us everything would be done in March. I still thought I would have time to move in and prepare for the baby. In April 2012, we met with Don and demanded an explanation. He admitted he didn't have any more money. He claimed contractors stole money from him, that there was a closing in the works, and this would be solved within a few weeks. A month from my due date I was losing hope. He brought me to tears as he yelled at us (at us!) and told us not to complain. According to him, he did thousands of dollars of work for free. He was making this right by giving us an upgraded deck (materials we ended up paying for in the end).

In May 2012, we still did not have completed electrical or HVAC work, a front yard, stairs, flooring, a deck, gutters, etc. With heavy hearts, we realized we could no longer live out of boxes in our current apartment. We started to unpack. We had nothing ready for the baby. We contacted Don about paying contractors directly since this was the only way we could see getting our house completed. We met with Shulman again in the beginning of June. He offered us a new contract that detailed which contractors were working on the house, how much they were owed, and how much was needed to complete work. We would write check to the contractors and Shulman would pay us back within a month with 18% interest. He would also pay a $100 a day penalty if the house wasn't delivered within 30 days. At this point, we had already lost so much and no longer trusted him. He insisted he would hand the checks directly to contractors, but this gave us no guarantee that the funds would pay for work on our house. Thankfully, we were smart enough to walk away this time. We found out later that at least one contractor listed on this contract had never done any work on our house.

We then decided to call the contractors and to work with them directly. They had been hurt and had lost money because of Shulman. They understood our situation and accepted to finish the work if we paid them what was left to finish the job. RDA still sent their employees, but we had to pay for the material so that they can actually finish remaining tasks. I spent my whole summer playing general contractor, making sure everything was done the best way possible with the money we could spare. I was an emotional wreck. Everyday there was another problem, another unexpected expense. I enjoyed every moment with my newborn, but these worries and fears were always at the back of my mind.

In the end, we got our certificate of occupancy in September. I finally got to set up the nursery, more than six months later than planned. We're trying to make this house a home and put the experience behind us, but with a lot of work left and about $60,000 lost, it's hard to truly enjoy it. My daughter was four months old when we finally moved in. Rather than the idyllic bonding during the summer that I dreamed of, I spent each day of the summer worried, anxious, and in tears as I dealt with subcontractors and RDA employees. I thought I'd be relieved to finally move in, but I'm disheartened above all else--sad that this has happened to so many good people and impacted so many families.   I’m sad that my first months with my daughter, as beautiful and precious as they were, will always be associated with this nightmare.

The Glasser-Proctor's Story

We owned land in Provincetown, MA that we’d tried selling for several years to no avail.  In early 2011, we decided that we would develop the property rather than continue to try to sell.  We wanted to use Westchester Modular since we were quite familiar with them (their factory is about 12 miles north of our home in Patterson, NY and we’d gone on their tour several times).  We learned that Realty Development Associates was the authorized Westchester Modular contractor for Cape Cod and we met with them several times before entering into a contract to build.  

We had hoped to build condominiums but due to the town’s scale restrictions, we couldn’t build anything quite so large.  Working with Don Schulman, the owner of RDA, we came up with the idea of subdividing the property to build three single family homes.  RDA worked with a local engineer to divide the property while we worked with RDA to design the houses we wanted to build.  In the spring of 2011, we signed a contract with RDA to build the first of the 3 homes.  

The house was delivered to the site in September 2011.  We looked forward to all that had been promised us and expected, even with perhaps a few delays, that the house would be finished and on the market sometime that winter or certainly by spring.

Work began on the interior of the house and then the Halloween snow storm hit which caused a delay in getting a utility pole installed and electricity to the house.  RDA used that storm as an excuse the entire winter for not making any significant progress on the house.  In January 2012 we received an invoice from RDA for upgrades we made to our selection of flooring, tiles & countertops and were told the funds were needed right away because of the lead time in obtaining the materials.  This was the first time we had seen the additional costs for materials we had picked out over 4 months earlier and we were quite stunned by the increased cost.  We would have preferred to then pick out less expensive upgrades but didn’t want to delay the project any longer, so we paid RDA with the understanding that the funds would be turned over to the subcontractor to order the materials.  We learned many months later that the sub-contractor ordered the materials but were never paid anything by RDA.  As time went on we began questioning, then complaining, regularly to RDA about the lack of progress.  Most of the time, since Don was seldom accessible, we dealt with his associate, Bill D’Antonio.  We were constantly given excuses and then promises.  Then, in April 2012, Don met us at the house and requested a $26,000 advance promising to get the house completely finished in 30 days.  Though that was about the same amount still left on our construction loan, we were extremely uncomfortable about the request.  We felt we were, as the expression goes, “caught between a rock and a hard place”.  Rather than just advancing the money to RDA we raised a number of issues including asking about paying the subs directly and we wanted assurances the money would be spent only our house.  Don had an answer for every issue we raised.  Thinking that finally the house would be completed, but against our better judgment, we agreed to advance $18,000 and signed an agreement with RDA on May 9, 2012 that the house would be completed within 30 days and that RDA would incur a $200.00/day penalty for every day beyond the 30 days that the house was not completed.  

For the next several months, through the spring and summer, almost nothing of significance happened.  We discovered that subs weren’t getting paid – electricians, plumbers, painters.  The company that had our flooring, countertops and tile wouldn’t do the work because RDA hadn’t paid for the materials we had paid for back in January.   Fireplaces were installed, and then removed by the sub for non-payment.  Painters were not paid (they recently took RDA to small claims court - and won).  Deck materials were delivered, and then removed.  Somehow RDA convinced the subcontractor to install our countertops, but ultimately we had to pay for them (yet again!) to avoid a lien being placed on the house.  By this point it had become virtually impossible to reach anyone at RDA for answers.

Though we weren’t there, our Provincetown realtor, a dear friend, checked on the house almost daily and there was virtually never any workers there despite constant promises from RDA.  Because of all the delays, the construction loan expired and became a mortgage requiring interest and principal payments of nearly $2,300/month.  

Finally in September 2012 (a full year after the modular boxes were delivered), we had had enough and, through our attorney, notified RDA that they were not to return to the construction site.

It then took a couple of months to find a reputable construction company willing to finish the house and we discovered far more hadn’t been done than we realized.  The air conditioning had never been installed, there was no septic system and the water had not been connected to the street.  We are paying the new company over $100,000 to complete the house!   That’s $100,000 that we’d already paid RDA!  Here it is now the winter of 2013, and the house still isn’t finished.    

The Montalto - Donaghue Family Story

We are a family with young kids and had made the decision to knock down our house and buy a modular home.  We liked the modular concept because it was to be built in a factory (no exposure to the elements) and put up quickly (12 weeks from start to finish).  We entered into a contract with RDA, Inc., (Realty Development Associates of Sagamore, MA) of which Donald Shulman is the principal, to provide and complete a Westchester Modular home in Quincy, MA.  The contract was signed on July 21, 2011.

We moved out of our old house in October and the modular house was to be delivered in the beginning of December 2011.  Almost immediately there were problems: the delivery was delayed 3 weeks.  Finally, we had our delivery date at the end of December.  But a few days before Christmas we received a call that stunned us.  The first check that RDA had written to our foundation company (we had paid RDA in full for this work) had bounced and RDA was past due on their remaining payment.  The foundation company was threatening to put a bulldozer on our foundation to prevent the modular house from being delivered.  They also threatened to put a lien on our house.  It is Christmastime and we were in a panic regarding whether our house would even be delivered.  Don Shulman did not return our call for days.  The only reason the foundation contractor did not deliver on his threat is because Shulman promised to overnight checks to cover the balance.  Days later, those checks bounced, too.  The nightmare began.

And in fact, after our house was delivered very little work was done in January, until, at the end of the month, Shulman calls for a meeting.  We think, finally, he will give us the completion schedule and we can get back on track.  In fact, what he does is tell us that he is having financial issues and wants us to pre-pay him more money.  We don’t agree because we are concerned that this money will not go towards work on our house.  Things stall even more.  We called and e-mailed and pointed out that we had a contract and deadlines.  We were in the middle of winter with a house that was exposed to the elements: one of the main reasons we had gone with modular was to avoid that exposure.  The house wrap was falling off and moisture seeping in; we had leaks inside the kitchen.  Deadlines came and went.  Don Shulman continually promised that he would complete our home but whenever we contacted his office we were told that “they had no money”.  Shulman continued to tell us that he was having financial issues and needed us to pay more money in advance.  We tried to work through this, but as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, we realized we had to make a hard decision.  RDA breached our contract by not completing the work in a timely manner and we never received a finished house from Shulman.

We had rented a small attic space in a bungalow because RDA told us we would be only be displaced for four or five months.  It turned out to be a year.  The attic was unheated and was stifling when the weather was hot.  But this suffering was nothing in comparison to what our children felt.  For almost an entire year they lost their parents.  Rather than reading bedtime stories at night, they were told to put themselves to sleep while we worked on yet another hours-long e-mail that we hoped would persuade Shulman to finish our house (at some point, he refused to take our phone calls stating that we could only communicate via e-mail).  Or we prepared for yet another conference call with Westchester Modular.  Or another meeting with our attorney.  Or agonized over the impossible task of how we could possibly come up with the money we needed to finish our house.  Days would go by where the only thing I had accomplished was running around acting as GC for our house so that we could get something, anything, accomplished.  And even when we were physically there, our minds were always someplace else.  We were facing financial ruin: the stress was relentless – there was no let up.  What was to have been one of the happiest times of our lives was the most hellish.

In despair, we finally decided we could delay no longer and fired Don Shulman.  We were forced to finish our home out of our own pockets at a considerable additional expense.  But our decision to “move on” was riddled with more problems: once we fired Don Shulman, the subcontractors that had done work on our house, work that we had paid Shulman for, contacted us and wanted payment or else they would put liens on our house. 

We made several attempts to request that Don Shulman pay us back our money, and pay all sub-contractors.  We were never paid back, and to the best of our knowledge, neither were the sub-contractors.

Our move-in date was the end of September 2012; almost a year from the point we moved out of our old home.  We relay our experience so that the number of victims at Don Shulman’s hand will not increase. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Olney-Anderson's Story

In April, 2011, we signed the initial agreement with RDA to construct a Westchester Modular home for us in Marion, MA.  The actual contract to build was signed in September, 2011, when we sold our home In Taunton, MA.  The house was delivered and set on the foundation in January, 2012. We were told it was delivered 2 weeks early and that RDA's work on the house would not commence for 2 weeks. The home was to be completed by April 23, 2012 - approximately 12 weeks from February 1.    A minimal amount of work was done on the house during the period Feb 1 to April 23 despite the fact that we were constantly calling and emailing RDA asking them for a construction schedule and a date when the house would be finished.   We advised them that lease on the house we rented during the construction period would end in May and we needed to get the house done so we could move in.  We were never given a construction schedule or a completion date for the house.  We were given many excuses, most of which involved RDA’s claims that the subcontractors failed to show up when they were supposed to.  We were told that the plumber was working in Boston on another job, that the Painters disappeared, that work would start on ‘Thursday’ -  For approximately 5 weeks, we were told that the person who would be pouring the concrete basement floor would 'be there on Thursday'. Ultimately, we were told by the sub-contractors that they would not continue working on our house because they were not getting paid.  When we questioned RDA, we were told that the delays were due to ‘scheduling problems’.  On April 21, Don Shulman, personally visited us and told us he had run into some cash flow problems because someone had ‘defaulted’.   He asked us to advance him $19,000 for the purpose of supplying any materials and labor as needed in order to complete the house within three weeks (May 12).  The advance represented a portion of the remaining funds to be disbursed to RDA from our mortgage with Salem Five.  Our advanced funds would be repaid to us by RDA as the remaining funds were disbursed by the bank.  The agreement also states that RDA would pay us a penalty of $100 per day for every day after May 14 that the house was not completed.  We gave RDA the $19,000 on April 22 with the agreement that the house would be completed by May 14.  At the time, there was approximately $36,000 left in the mortgage account, $19,000 of which was to be repaid to us.  Within several days $9000 was disbursed to RDA from the remaining mortgage funds leaving approximately $26,000 in the construction mortgage.  We saw no significant progress on the house after the $19,000 was advanced.  We would find RDA crew sitting in trucks in our front yard doing no work.  They told us that they had no supplies and also told us they were not being paid.  We continued to call the RDA office asking what was going on, when work would be done and when the house would be completed.  Everyone we spoke to was evasive.   At one point, we had left 5 messages for Don Shulman to call us with no response from Mr. Shulman. 

On May 10, the concrete basement floor was finally poured.  On May 14, the house was not complete or even livable – water had not been brought into the house, the boiler and hot water heater had not been delivered, the electrical finish work had not been worked on, the sewer connection had not been worked on.  We continued to ask what was going on, reminding RDA that we would be without housing soon but still did not receive any answers and no completion date.  We called the bank holding the construction loan, explained what was going on, and asked them to hold any further disbursements of the loan unless we approved it because we had given RDA $19,000 in cash to complete the work. The bank agreed to do this. We also began to call the sub-contractors and were told again that they had not been paid for work already done on our home, as well as other RDA projects and would not do any further work for us unless they were paid. Ultimately, we had to pay over $20,000 buy materials and to pay sub- contractors, including the plumber, the electrician and the flooring people, among others, to have the work done that we had already paid RDA to have them do.   We finally moved into the house on August 17, however, there were still items that were incomplete, the basement floor was cracking and the foundation wall where the sewer pipe comes in was leaking. We made RDA aware of these issues more than once. They sent a worker to our home once to put sealer on the foundation wall around the sewer pipe. The wall still leaked and we made them aware of it. Bill De Antonio from the RDA office said he would send someone out to look at it again, however, that never happened.   The RDA contract provided for a walk-through 30 days after occupancy to address any problems that may have developed – that 30 day walk-through never happened.  The contract also provides for a one year follow up which we anticipate will not happen either. 

As I write this today, January 24, 2013, we now have cracks in the foundation and cracks in two of the bedroom walls.  We have nowhere to turn to get these problems addressed and will end up paying for these repairs from our own pocket once more.

Beyond the additional expense, we experienced 6 months of incredible anxiety and stress as we wondered if we would see our home finished.  RDA, and Don Shulman in particular, turned what should have been a joyous and exciting experience into a living nightmare.  

The Lucchesi Story

Our experience with Don Shulman, owner and president of Realty Development Associates has been a nightmare. In February 2012, we entrusted him with our money to build our retirement home. When it came time to  pay subcontractors, our money was gone and Don Shulman could not or would not tell us what happened to it.

From the start, the entire process with Don was what I would call painful. As soon as we made that initial deposit, things started going downhill. He knew what we wanted in our house, but the house he was selling us was not going to have many items we wanted unless we upgraded and added more cost to the contract. In his sales pitch, when we suggested many items we wanted, he would agree that could be done. We waited for months for changes to the plans and answers to questions. In an effort to get plans from the engineer, we paid him directly. For all those months when we were trying to resolve many issues, Don Shulman and RDA had our 25% deposit. Or we should say he used our 25% deposit elsewhere. The plan laid out by RDA was that we were to be in our home by August.  
In August, the foundation and excavating started. Don gave checks to two subcontractors that were returned because of insufficient funds. To keep things moving along, we began paying the subcontractors directly. We had already paid Realty Development Associates the money for these subcontractors, however, Don Shulman would not or could not tell us where that money went. We tried to work things out with Don, but it was not going anywhere. In our opinion, he would say anything to try and get you to pay him more money. He was very uncooperative in giving us information we considered necessary. We terminated the relationship and requested a refund. He has not responded to our request for refund made on October 31, 2012. We estimate only a small portion of our deposit was actually spent on costs for our home. We are currently working on trying to finish our dream home.