AUSTIN (KXAN) - When spring storms strike, demand for roof repair increases. So does the number of complaints from customers about scams.
According to the Better Business Bureau , complaints about roofing contractors have tripled in the Austin area during the past three years.
One common complaint: customers pay an up-front fee for supplies, but the contractor takes the money and never completes the work.
That's what happened to Mary Templemeyer.
In April of 2009, a strong storm swept across Williamson County, pounding Templemeyer's Round Rock neighborhood with hail.
"You felt like the roof was going to come caving in with the golf-ball sized hail that was banging on it," Templemeyer remembered. "I was actually saying my little prayers, 'Please no roof damage.'"
Her roof looked fine after the storm, but after seeing several of her neighbors receiving roof repairs, Templemeyer called her insurance company. An adjuster decided that she needed a new roof.
She started gathering information and price quotes from roofers. A friend saw a sign at one roof replacement job, and told Templemeyer about 5 Star Roofing. The company had an office on West Palm Valley Boulevard in Round Rock.
"I like to do business locally," Templemeyer explained, "so I called him."
She said she spoke to Terry Sims, who's listed as the president of 5 Star Roofing and Exteriors. He came out to her home and gave her a price quote.
"He was going to give me a good deal," she said, "same comparable prices as the other roofers. So, you know, I felt like it was going to be a good deal."
Templemeyer said Sims asked for a 50 percent payment up front to cover the cost of supplies. She paid him $6,287.50.
"I paid the money. Oh, that's when the fun began," she said sarcastically.
It is common for contractors to ask for partial payment up front to pay for supplies. But, the BBB recommends that consumers only pay a third of the cost up front.
"That should cover the materials," said Lydia Hekman with Austin's BBB. "Then maybe another third when the project is halfway through and the timeline has been met, and the final third when the project is complete."
"What that does is really protect the relationship between the contractor and the consumer," explained Hekman. "So, the consumer isn't out all of their money before their expectation is met, and the contractor is comfortable knowing that he is getting the money he needs to keep the project, to keep anyone he has working for him paid while the project is going on."
Templemeyer signed a contract and paid the up-front fee in November 2009. But the project never got under way.
At first, Sims told her he couldn't start the project because he had other jobs in front of hers. Then he said that bad weather prevented him from working on her roof.
"We did have a lot of bad weather," Templemeyer recalled. But she started to worry when she saw some of her neighbors getting roof repairs while she waited.
Then in February 2010, Sims came back to her house. He left several packages of shingle s in her driveway.
"He said, 'I'll be out there next week,'" Templemeyer remembered. "Next week came, nothing."
She walked to her kitchen counter and flipped open her laptop. With a few keystrokes, she pulled up e-mails that she said Sims sent to her.
Templemeyer read through the messages, each with an excuse for not starting the project. "I apologize, I had a death in the family," she read. One message said that one of his employees stole thousands of dollars from the company. "It just always seemed to be something."
After more than a year, Templemeyer filed a complaint with the BBB. That's when she found the 5 Star Roofing and Exteriors had an F-rating on the BBB website.
Phone calls to the company do not get answered. The phone number at the Round Rock office has been disconnected. The company's website and letterhead list an office in Houston. That number now rings at a home residence that is not tied to the business.
"Unfortunately, I have a feeling I'm out of my money," Templemeyer sighed. The shingles are stored in her garage, but her roof still needs repairs.
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