BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - Landis Lehmann and his wife first pictured their backyard paradise back when they moved to their home in Giddings 10 years ago.
“The timing was right to start this summer,” Lehmann said. “She finally said, 'OK. We're going to do it,' and pulled some money out of savings and cashed in some stocks and went for it.”
But dreams of splashing around in the pool in the comfort of their own yard still haven't been realized. And the experience cost them a sizeable sum of money.
What's more, the Lehmann's experience with the contractor they hired has been repeated time and again in Central Texas, a KXAN Investigation finds.
More than 100 people, customers and sub-contractors were left in the lurch when TD Landscape Design, LLC., closed its doors.
The customers had paid the company to build pools and outdoor kitchens but say the company never finished the jobs.
The Lehmanns hired TD Landscape Design, owned by Louis "Tuffy" Davis, in April.
“(He) seemed like a nice guy, talked well, really well spoken, seemed like he knew what was going on,” said Lehman.
So the Lehmanns signed a contract with a total estimated cost of $42,240. They wrote the first check for $15,000 on May 22 and the work began.
“Everything was on the fast track," Lehmann said. "It was moving along: Boom-boom-boom.”
The Lehmanns made two more payments, a check for $15,000 on May 30 and a check for $10,000 on June 19. Less than 10 days later, well before the job was complete, the Lehmanns received an email from TD Landscape Design saying the company was going out of business.
“My wife is heartbroken. She really is,” said Lehman. “When she read the email and started to get confirmation she really was heartbroken.”
Similar stories from similar customers
Julie Beauchamp of Elgin says she paid $135,000 to TD Landscape Design and all she has to show for it is a backyard disaster.
“It started out going so great and everything was on track and he promised to have us swimming by the Fourth of July and then it just all fell apart,” said Beauchamp.
As initial work progressed on her pool, Beauchamp paid in installments just like the Lehmanns and assumed Davis then paid the subcontractors on her project with the money she paid him.
“They all showed up at my house with bills in their hand asking for money and I told them I had already given Tuffy the money,” Beauchamp said. “And they all were holding bills in their hand saying he didn't pay us."
Beauchamp says one sub-contractor showed up at her house in tears.
“And I was in tears right along with him because I felt sad because I have a job," she said. "I have electricity and I can feed my kids. But that is his job.”
And KXAN discovered TD Landscape Design LLC and Davis' other business, The Outdoor Marketplace, both filed for bankruptcy last month.
Court records show Davis estimated his business owes between 100 and 200 creditors up to a total of $2.5 million.
And just weeks before the bankruptcy filing, court records in a civil case show a Bastrop District Court ordered Davis to repay a defaulted $200,050 bank note.
“Where'd the money go?” asked Lehmann. “That's probably the biggest question.”
The same goes for Beauchamp. “I want to know what he did with our money, why he lied to us, why he took money at the very end knowing he was not going to finish my job, knowing he was closing his doors.”
But they couldn't get any answers from Davis, saying he stopped returning calls.
Tracking down the contractor
KXAN tried several times to reach Davis by phone and even went to his home in an upscale neighborhood in Bastrop County, which has a total appraised property value of $485,607.
In front of the house were a couple of high-end vehicles and a TD Landscape Design truck. But no one answered the door. Neighbors told us the Davis' hadn't been home in weeks, since closing the business.
But on Aug. 7, Davis and his attorney, Patty Tomasco, attended a creditors meeting in bankruptcy court.
KXAN obtained an audio recording of the hourlong hearing where Davis was required to answer his creditors' questions.
“Where the money went -- basically we were keeping the company afloat,” Davis said at the hearing. “Some of the people in this room right now were investors looking at helping me get out of the hole we were in so that we could continue."
Davis explained that he was having a hard time keeping things afloat after he opened The Outdoor Marketplace in Bastrop in May 2012. He said some of his investors backed out at the last minute, forcing him to close the businesses and file bankruptcy.
But what happened to the money?
“Basically it was paying past things to keep the people that were moving forward,” Davis said in the meeting. “And the business…I wasn't planning on going out of business. Believe me. I'm losing everything because of this.
"I had everything up on the line for this company personally and business. So believe me, I'm not happy about it and I didn't want to do it to anybody."
After the hearing we asked Davis what happened to the money customers paid him and whether he was personally filing bankruptcy as well. He would not answer any of our questions.
No red flags on the front end
For Beauchamp, there were no warning signs.
“He was a reputable company,” said Beauchamp. “He had a beautiful business. So I didn't know and I had gotten a homebuilders reference.”
Before hiring the company, she did her homework on TD Landscape Design, which has been in business for more than a decade.
Just to get her backyard usable again she says will cost another $70,000 to hire another contractor.
The Lehmanns paid another contractor $14,000 to finish their pool. They’re swimming but the nightmare isn't over.
“It’s disappointing,” said Lehmann. “My wife is torn up about it because this is what she wants. We're close but we're not done.”
The Lehmanns also did their research on TD Landscaping and Design and saw no red flags.
“Even if its an established company you've got to be careful,” said Lehmann. “It’s not a handshake world anymore.”
KXAN spoke to an Austin resident who claimed that even in the days before closing down his businesses and filing for bankruptcy Davis pitched an $80,000 landscaping job to he and his wife, which they say they did not accept.
Davis is expected back in bankruptcy court Friday.
More stories from more places
KXAN has also learned law enforcement in Williamson and Lee counties are looking at possible criminal charges against Davis. But no criminal charges have been filed against him so far. Williamson County investigators say they may leave it as a civil matter.
KXAN checked with the Better Business Bureau about how many complaints they get on pool companies and landscaping companies every year. The BBB provided the national statistics below as well as its tips for consumers considering the purchase of a pool and/or landscaping services.
National Statistics – Swimming Pool Contractors
2010: 2753 Complaints
2011: 2844 Complaints
January 1, 2013 – August 7, 2013: 1522 Complaints
Typically, complaints allege incomplete work in time frames given and dishonored warranties.
Tips specific to finding a Swimming Pool Contractor include:
- Do your research. Start your search with BBB Member Pages at checkbbb.org to find BBB Accredited Businesses in your area. If you’re referred to a business by friends, verify the business is in good standing at bbb.org before contacting them.
- Compare costs. Get at least three bids from businesses. BBB’s Request-a-Quote service is free to use and will allow BBB Accredited Businesses to send you quotes via email.
- Get it in writing. Pool services vary from water testing to cleaning. Be sure to know the maintenance your pool requires and what additional services will cost. Make sure your contract includes all the materials needed to complete the job.
- Verify licensing. The janitorial part of pool maintenance does not require a certification. However, companies are required to have state licensing if repairs are needed on motors, timers, lighting or other electrical components. Check with the Department of Licensing and Regulation to confirm their license is current.
- Check insurance/warranties. Find out if the company is insured against claims of property damage. When it comes to draining your pool, be sure the company has insurance that covers any problems that may surface.
National Statistics - Landscape Contractors
2010: 3540 Complaints
2011: 3693 Complaints
2012: 3503 Complaints
January 1, 2013 – August 7, 2013: 1903 Complaints
Typically, complaints allege dishonored warranties and service issues where the landscaper failed to show up.
Tips specific to finding a Landscaper include:
Know what you want from a lawn service. Lawn care companies provide many services, so it is important to decide what services and products are appropriate for your needs and budget.
Find a trustworthy company. Check out any company’s BBB Business Review at centraltx.bbb.org to see important background on the business, such as how long they’ve been in business, ownership information and how they resolve complaints. For an online directory of Accredited Businesses visit checkbbb.org.
Check references. Ask the company for references and photos of previously completed projects. Call all references and ask what their experience was working with the company and if they were satisfied with the services provided.
Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Lawn care companies that quote a price without seeing your lawn may not give you an accurate estimate. A company should be willing to visit your home to provide you with an agreed upon fee.
- Get a written agreement. A contract should clearly state the services you will receive, guarantees and refund policies, as well as how and when payment will be handled. If you are using a recurring service, the contract should also include how often the company will come out to work on your lawn, how to cancel the service and a schedule for when payments are due.
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