Frank and Michele Sokolovic have lived in their Sewell home for 22 years.
The weather hasn’t been good with their 12-year-old deck. They needed to replace or sand some burst boards and give them a rehab.
So the time had come when the couple received a coupon in the mail last fall from a company called Deck Wizards.
“We searched the internet for this company and found that it was attached to a company called Wheaton Door and Window,” said Michele Sokolovic. “It’s a company that has been established since 1934 and we decided to call them. “
They have set an appointment for September 20, 2019.
After meeting with a salesperson, the couple received a written estimate of $ 6,720. The deposit would be $ 1,720.
They decided to hire the company and the contract had an estimated start date of November 2, 2019. They paid the required deposit, according to records.
Over the next few weeks, the contract was rewritten several times due to changes to the scope of work. Each time, the total price dropped to finally settle at $ 5,000. Minus the deposit, they would pay $ 3,280 when the job is done.
“Two separate project managers came to us, measured and re-measured and assured us that the project would be started and completed within the time frame established in the contract,” said Sokolovic.
But there have been unexplained delays.
On November 21, a project manager came to the house and took further action. He promised work would start soon, Sokolovic said.
“This was the last time we could contact someone at Deck Wizards,” she said. “The phone number will only take messages, or not respond at all, there is no response to any of the emails.”
Still hoping things could work out and knowing the weather was getting colder, the couple offered in an email to reschedule work for the spring. The company could keep a deposit of $ 100 and return the rest, but that message also went unanswered, the couple said. Even a certified letter was returned undelivered.
They filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but the company did not respond.
It was then that they contacted Bamboozled.
SEARCH MORE DEEP
We took a look at the couple’s contracts and the timeline of events, then took a closer look at the business.
Deck Wizard and Wheaton Door & Window are sister companies or names of companies “doing business as”, according to public documents. Both are registered business names for Maryland-based Letty Place Associates, whose website describes the company as “a community of craftspeople.”
Deck Wizard has four locations listed on its website: one in Del Ran, New Jersey, and locations in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.
His website, which was deleted when this story was reported, said he had been in business since 1945, doing bridge restorations from “Pennsylvania and Maryland to Virginia and the District of Columbia.”
The site also reported that the company has an A + rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but BBB tells a different story.
Fourteen customers have filed complaints against Deck Wizard in the past three years, and the company has an “NR”, or “No Rating,” rating because BBB reviews the complaints, he said.
Wheaton Door & Window, shares the same address in Maryland, and also appears in BBB searches. Wheaton has received 54 complaints in the past three years and also has an “NR” rating.
Its website was still up and running at the time this story was published.
The New Jersey Consumer Division has said it has a complaint against Deck Wizard. And even though the Deck Wizard site boasted of having a home improvement contractor registration with the state, its application is still pending, Consumer Affairs said.
“A registration number can only be issued after the application is completed,” said a spokesperson.
This is a blatant violation of New Jersey law.
Public records did not reveal any lawsuits against the New Jersey companies, but in Maryland there have been 10 lawsuits against the companies since 2017. Four were dismissed, four resulted in judgments against the company, and two remain. active.
We reached out to several senior company officials via email, phone messages, and via Facebook and LinkedIn. None of the messages were returned and several of the phone numbers we tried were disconnected.
But a person contacted by email, who identified himself as an employee, said most of the employees were laid off in November and the rest were laid off in December. The employee, who did not want to be named, also said the company headquarters had been abandoned.
He said he did not know how many clients may have paid for services they did not receive.
Which brings us back to the Sokolovics.
Unless a member of the business comes forward and does the right thing, their only option is to file a complaint in Small Claims Court. But since the companies are based out of state, they said it was more of a problem than it’s worth.
NJ Advance Media Research editor-in-chief Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.
Have you been scoffed at? Contact Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and subscribe NJMoneyHelp.com‘s weekly electronic newsletter.