Pool Builder Scams – What To Look Out For When Building a Pool – Pool Magazine
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A growing number of pool builder scams are popping up from coast to coast. This comes after a recent increase in pool construction over the last two years. More and more consumers are complaining of mismanaged pool installation projects. A list of builders under investigation continues to grow by the day.
District Attorney Terry Houck is accusing 58-year-old Roger Kornfeind of scamming 76 people in Northampton County out of $1,378,146 in down payments for pools he never installed. Houck alleges Kornfeind had been collecting deposits but failing to install pools and hot tubs he had been contracted for.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Augustine suggested that a growing number of consumers looking to have a pool installed during the pandemic created an easy crime of opportunity.
“I think it certainly helped that Mr. Kornfeind was able to have a steady stream of people looking for swimming pools because public pools were closed. There were limited activities in the public, in the community during the quarantine,” said Augustine.
The allegations are that Kornfeind’s company Hydro Dynamic Pools was undercutting the market with zero intention to complete any of the projects he was selling, telling customers: “‘I don’t care what anyone else is telling you, I’ll get you swimming in 90 days or 60 days,’ and that led to a lot of this,” said Augustine.
It’s a problem that isn’t isolated to one particular market and has been popping up anywhere and everywhere that there is a white-hot demand for pools. Consumer confidence and low-interest rates on pool financing have caused a spike in consumer interest.
One company Amore Pools out of Indian River County in Florida is facing serious allegations that include 16 crimes. Charges include seven counts of identity fraud, four counts of money laundering, insurance fraud, contracting without a license. In addition, they’re charged with making false statements of compliance and participating in a scheme to defraud.
Owners Chrystal and Brian Washburn of Treasure Coast are accused of taking large deposits to build inground pools, but never completing the projects. One alleged victim, Alice Patterson, claims after paying Amore Pools $21,000 in deposits she was left with a stagnant and dangerous hole in her backyard – and nothing else. She claims the couple was charismatic and had a believable sales pitch which she bought into. However, after months went by with excuse after excuse without any work being performed. Patterson says she discovered a Facebook group where other alleged victims were sharing similar stories.
Officials claim the Washburns were accepting large deposits to begin pool projects. Prosecutors allege the work that was performed hurt the structure of buildings. There are accusations that work also passed property lines, and remained untouched for months at a time.
The now-defunct company faces a litany of charges stemming from over 150 homeowners in six counties. At least a 25% deposit was collected on the majority of them, FDLE agents said; with the overwhelming majority of those projects left uncompleted by Amore’.
The pervasive problem of pool builders taking advantage of unwitting customers is an issue that recently arose in South Carolina. There is a long list of unsatisfied customers who want their day in court with Travis Taylor. Officials have since revoked his ability to obtain a permit and construct pools in Aiken County. Court documents go so far as to accuse Taylor of a “scheme to defraud”. Records cite “multiple incidents” where he took deposits for inground pool projects and failed to complete the job.
Taylor is by no means a licensed pool contractor. In the state of South Carolina, he actually doesn’t have to be. Right now the official laws on the books in that state only require a license if you’re going to be building commercial pools in places like hotels and water parks. State legislators tried to change that earlier this year but the bill failed to pass.
The enthusiasm to capitalize on the momentum of the pool industry has drawn many inexperienced and unscrupulous pool companies who are eager to start installing pools. The state contractors board began fining ex-Cabot firefighter turned pool builder – Austin Logan $400 each day after leaving 14 pool projects abandoned in various stages.
The Cabot fire department to which Logan was employed fired him. Citing conduct that brought into question the integrity of the fire department and mayor’s administration, Logan was terminated.
Jamie Wilhite, an investigator for the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board, has been investigating Logan. “We’ve had around six pools at $126,000 that nothing has been done and we’ve got a little over half a million dollars of about eight pools that the projects are not finished,” said Wilhite.
The situation isn’t much better for homeowners down in Miami who have been dealing with pool builders who have allegedly taken deposits and skipped town altogether.
Angel Lacasse said he contracted with Ricardo Villarroel’s company, Villa Pavers and Pools. Lacasse says he paid a deposit of $21,000 to have a pool built in his backyard. Villarroel has been arrested by authorities and is charged with defrauding homeowners for over a million dollars.
Luis Alvarez Daboin of Conquer Pools, and Villa Pavers and Pools salespersons Michael Borrego and Laura Ballester Alpizar in addition to Villarroel himself, are now facing additional racketeering charges associated with the investigation. Over 100 homeowners across the state of Florida are claimed to be affected in this case.
The problem is symptomatic of the frenetic pace of which pools are being built across the country. Quite often state licensing departments simply can’t keep up with the volume of complaints they are receiving from homeowners. The amount of open investigations into allegations of fraud and negligence has been increasing exponentially in sync with the increase in consumer interest.
*A&S Pools and Pavers is a pool builder who allegedly provided misleading information to the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. They’ve been accused of dropping the ball and allowing A&S to operate. The company claims that it is licensed on its website but investigators couldn’t find any license that is attached to the owner or the business. A search of permits uncovered a completely different company name listed on them.
*(not affiliated with Anthony & Sylvan Pools)
A company called Gabbidon Construction or Gabbidon Builders, both owned by Leonard Gabbidon was listed on 10 of the pool permits. The North Carolina Licensing Board filed a complaint stating Gabbidon failed to disclose a bankruptcy in 2020 and instead claim he misled them on his application.
Meanwhile, A&S customer Janet Hadjar’s backyard still looks like an abandoned construction zone. After paying owner Mario Salmeron $33,000, Hadjar claims construction came to a halt when A&S complained of delays and began making excuses. Hadjar says she has no idea who Leonard Gabbidon is and wants answers on why Salmeron was allowed to use Gabbidon’s license. “I am a little surprised that it has gone this far,” said Hadjar. “So when I found out he was using another contractor’s license, I was shocked.”
Ryan Baird, owner of Beyond Blue Pools said consumers should be on the lookout for “can’t miss deals” that are too good to be true. “Homeowners need to get quotes from at least a dozen pool builders and evaluate prices,” said Baird.
“Watch out if the builder is coming in ten to twenty thousand dollars under the lowest bid you are getting,” said Southern Poolscapes co-owner Aaron Rogers, “If they don’t know how to price a pool to begin with, that is definitely a big red flag.”
Emile Stinchcombe, owner of Aquaguard Pools said, “We’ve definitely seen more of this since the pandemic started. Homeowners need to really research and do their homework before hiring just anyone to work in their backyard. The consequences can be absolutely devastating.”
“Some of the things you want to look for are open litigations. Complaints on review sites or on social media are also an indication that things may be going south,” said Stinchcombe.
Jason DeBosky a Virginia-based inground pool builder and owner of Crystal Blue Aquatics said, “There are numerous things consumers can do to make sure the process goes smoothly. Research pool builder reviews. Also ask to go on a “pool tour” of past completed jobs and ask for references from past customers. Any pool company worth their salt will jump at the chance to provide solid references.”
“How you pay your contractor is extremely important,” said Brandt Gibert, owner of Windgate Custom Pools a pool construction company in New Orleans. “Avoid paying a huge down payment upfront. That gives the pool contractor incentive to continue to drive the construction process forward. Make sure payments are chained to major milestones of work being performed. Work with a lender that puts cash in your hands. Don’t sign off on work that hasn’t been completed to your satisfaction.”
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The relationship that consumers have with their homes has changed in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The average homeowner has doubled their home equity since 2020. Homeowners gained $3.2 trillion in equity in 2021 alone. Across the nation, folks were eager to use that equity to finance backyard improvements.
With a housing market shortage, the prices for homes have skyrocketed to the point that many believe their investment will pay off down the road. Consumers are investing in outdoor home improvements like a pool, calculating that improving the backyard will ultimately increase the value of their home. This is a strategy that may pay off, especially as swimming pools become more expensive to build in 2022.
Supply chain shortages and a tight labor market have plagued the pool construction industry over the past two years. Pool equipment shortages came seemingly out of nowhere. Basic materials were in short supply. Concrete prices have continued to soar. Consequently, the price of an inground pool has gone up substantially since 2020.
Most pool construction companies rely on a healthy subcontractor base. Today, the number of masonry crews that were available before the pandemic is roughly half of what it was in 2020 and ranks 4th in severity amongst labor shortages in the trades. Among the subs that are still operating, many are working with a skeleton crew with half the number of workers they had prior to Covid. The prevailing labor shortage problem in itself is why it’s taking longer to build swimming pools.
Those with the foresight to know when to strike while the iron is hot may not get a better deal by ‘waiting it out’. Prices for inground pools are expected to climb again in 2023, waiting to build may not be the smartest option if it winds up costing thousands extra.
For Donna Sanchez of Folsom, CA, the choice was a clear one. She spoke with Pool Magazine about the challenges of building her dream backyard. “When our community swimming pool was shut down due to Covid, my mind was made up – we were building a pool.” Her husband was working remotely from home and having the kids around taking their lessons online meant a full house for Sanchez. Building a swimming pool in the backyard meant an answer to a variety of problems.
Financing backyard improvements like building a pool meant refinancing her home and flipping her home equity into an inground pool. “As easy as the financing process was for us, the building process was the complete opposite,” said Sanchez.
Plagued with a series of delays due to weather, permitting, and construction, Sanchez said her pool was finished by mid-2021, roughly 3 months behind schedule. “Everything about the project was more expensive than we initially anticipated. During construction, the price for materials just went absolutely crazy.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Sanchez family had considered building a swimming pool but had put off the idea for concerns it would lower the resale price of their home. Traditionally, this line of thinking may have been true. Homes with swimming pools tended to take longer to sell as they would need to appeal to a particular buyer who wanted one in their backyard. The additional costs of maintenance and insurance were considerations that could turn away many buyers.
“The pandemic changed everything,” said Sanchez, “if I had a crystal ball and knew the price for a pool would shoot up the way it did, we would have built back in ’19. Waiting wound up costing us probably an additional $30,000 to build our pool.”
“The hardest part of building a pool was competing against everyone else who wanted one at the same time. The initial builder we wanted to build with was booked solid, and so was our second choice,” explained Sanchez, who said that quite often communication with her builder was lacking throughout the entire process. She claims he was inundated with other projects they were building simultaneously with hers.
By the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, it had become increasingly desirable to purchase a home that included a swimming pool, if only to save the hassle of installing one. Rather than dealing with the difficulty of building, buying a home that was “ready to swim” has been what many consumers have opted for. “We’re seeing homes with a swimming pool go for a premium,” said Yuba City realtor, Michelle Lightle, “consumers who don’t wait to wait for two years to get their swimming pool built are snapping up homes that already have a pool.”
Talking Pools podcast recently celebrated a pretty big milestone with their show by reaching #43 on the “How To” section of Apple Podcasts (Chartable.com). The “How To” category typically comprises an audience base of homeowners, and DIY’ers looking for sound advice. Being in the #43 position is an achievement in itself. With over 850,000 podcasts out there, its a good indicator that the show has begun to break through and track with listeners outside of the pool industry.
The team behind Talking Pools are industry professionals Rudy Stankowitz, Andrea Nannini Heather Linton, Kelli Clancy and Dan Lenz. Dedicated to giving back to the industry, the group finds the time for coordinating to record episodes in their off-hours between servicing and maintaining pools.
One of the things which perhaps makes Talking Pools stand out from other pool-related podcasts including our own, is the uniquely spontaneous format of the show. It’s often reminiscent of listening to your favorite radio show on your morning drive to work.
Best-selling author, CPO trainer, and Talking Pools Co-Host Rudy Stankowitz shared his insights as to what their hit new show is all about and why it is fast becoming a favorite among pool industry professionals.
“Talking Pools is about real pool talk. It’s about the sharing of information, the conversations that you would have with another pool pro in the distributor parking lot; that’s what we’re about,” said Stankowitz.
“We have the right hosts in place to ensure a listener doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; that they can avoid the typical stumbling blocks a service company or builder can face, only one with less than ten years of experience, and two with over thirty years each” explained Stankowitz, “I think I can speak for the five pool pro hosts of the Talking Pools Podcast and say that the goal of this podcast is to benefit the listeners. An occasional interview, but eons from the standard interview podcast format. We mostly talk about our own experiences. Just pool pros talking pools.”
In each episode, you’ll hear plenty of witty banter about everyday issues in addition to whatever pool topic du jour is being served up that day. Perhaps, one of the most pleasing aspects is how all of the hosts seem to have a camaraderie and chemistry that resonates and makes the podcast genuinely enjoyable to listen to.
While all of the hosts appear to have their unique areas of expertise, the nature of the podcast and its revolving guest list makes for the type of impromptu back and forth that stimulates thought-provoking dialogue. The unforced and often unplanned approach to the program is often more in line with traditional radio interview formats, which is perhaps the secret behind the show’s success with mainstream audiences.
The fact that you’re listening to a bunch of pool jocks talk shop doesn’t really sink in right away because of the tempo and often entertaining banter between the hosts. That the show has begun generating a buzz is something co-host Kelli Clancy is still trying to wrap her head around.
“I love being a part of the Talking Pools Podcast Network,” said Clancy, “I’m glad we can represent multiple areas of the country while helping our fellow pool pros grow. It’s been amazing seeing the success of our show grow on Apple Podcast. It is a reward to see our hard work appreciated by everyone. I hope we continue to be an influence on our industry members.”
Pool professional Heather Linton is immersed in the construction and remodeling side of the business. This is where she lends her expertise to the Talking Pools Podcast. Since joining the show, she’s received numerous requests from people to cover various subjects of interest.
“I enjoy our team as we all have different ideas and insights and experiences that can be helpful to others,” said Linton, “whether you’re a pool industry professional just starting out or have been in business for years. My focus is pool remodeling, pool construction, and business coaching. I’ve had several people call my office and ask me to do a certain topic or help them with a particular question.”
“Being a part of the Talking Pools Podcast has been one of the most fun and rewarding things that has come from my time in the pool industry,” said Co-Host Andrea Nannini, “not only do Rudy and I get to talk to some great people who are involved in all aspects of the swimming pool world, but I also get to learn along with our listeners.”
Andrea, who is often the ying to Rudy’s yang on the show, feels it’s their unique ability to offer their own insights and areas of experience from different sectors of the industry that distinguishes Talking Pools from other pool industry-related podcasts.
In this episode, Andrea interrupts Rudy #swimmingpool #poolcleaner #poolcleaningservice #swimmingpooldesign #swimmingpoolconstruction #swimmingpoolcontractor #podcast #podcasthost #podcastshow
“Heather, Kelli, and Dan each bring their own special elements and expertise to their shows,” said Nannini, “I think that having such a great group of people working together to bring people something entertaining and useful is why we made it to the top 50 on Apple podcasts. For me it’s still so amazing that so many people listen and enjoy what we wanted to do for them, and I am so grateful.”
Many of the topics that come up during the course of the show are issues pertaining to what is happening in the pool industry right now. You’ll find a running op-editorial column for Talking Pools right here on Pool Magazine.
Last week, pool builder, Doug Wilson – the owner of Mobile, AL-based pool company (Wilson’s Pool Design) surrendered himself to Metro Jail. The pool contractor was charged with nine counts of theft by deception after several of his clients claim he took their money but did not complete their swimming pools.
The owner attributes incomplete or delayed work to worker and supply shortages but a long list of fed-up customers believe what’s happening is criminal and are turning to authorities to investigate.
According to court documents, the charges represent more than a quarter million dollars in just those nine cases. More dissatisfied customers are coming out and speaking to authorities about their experience.
Several people, according to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, signed contracts with Wilson’s company, Wilson’s Pool Design, but never had their pool built.
Kyle Malmay claims to be one of them. Malmay says that he was referred to Wilson in December and claims to have invested nearly $30,000. According to photos, he only has a hole in the ground so far. Malmay claims he requested a refund from Wilson.
“I started getting concerned and in my text messages say, hey I’m losing confidence here when is this going to be done?” Malmay told reporters. “He’d always say or we’re going to be out there. He would say I promise I will be out there tomorrow, or I promise I’ll be out there next Wednesday. Did not show up.”
Malmay isn’t the only one who didn’t get his money back, according to MCSO Detective Joshua Grimm. Another customer, Phillip Ward, claims Wilson started work on his pool last year but never finished it. Ward claims he began to suspect something was wrong in June.
“He basically dug the hole, wouldn’t show up when he was supposed to, put us off,” said Ward.
Dissatisfied customer, Sandy Smith, stated that she will also file a complaint. Currently there is an eight-foot hole in her backyard that she claims should have been a finished swimming pool but has instead become a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Smith claims she agreed to pay Wilson’s Pool Design $70,000 in January 2019, but the project was halted after she paid about $50,000. She claims she was given the brushoff by the owner, who she claims caused $15,000 in damage elsewhere in the yard during the project.
“On average for each individual person so far we’re looking at about an average of $40,000,” Detective Grimm told reporters. “It was a bunch of concerned citizens that were making complaints about this same company.”
News sources reached out to Wilson’s attorney, Christine Hernandez, who claims there is more to the story.
“Mr. Wilson is a businessman and I believe this matter will be resolved,” said Hernandez, “Everything that you see on Facebook or everything that you hear from your neighbor is not necessarily one-hundred percent accurate.”
“I’m not taking people’s money and running. I’m trying to get them done,” owner Doug Wilson told reporters.
Wilson claims that both Ward’s and Smith’s projects involved change orders, and that if Smith had completed the payments, the project would have been completed a long time ago. She denies it.
According to court records, another couple was awarded a $47,000 default judgment in February after suing Wilson for fraud and breach of contract in their pool project. Wilson claims he did not appear in court because he is attempting to save his struggling business, which he claims has been severely harmed by rising fuel prices, inflation, and material and labor shortages.
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