If you’re a homeowner, chances are, at some point, you’re going to hire someone to perform repairs on or make improvements to your house.
It’s wise to do your homework before choosing a contractor. That means not only making sure the contractor is registered with the state, but also getting several estimates and checking the bidders’ references.
Diane Plisga, of Duryea, a nurse and social worker, wishes she had taken that advice last September when she and her brother, Jesse Rutkoski, hired Sekelsky Plumbing and Heating to install a new furnace in the house they own together.
Owner Joe Sekelsky, a state-registered contractor, had installed a new water heater and done a good job, said Plisga. So when he offered to clean the furnace in the home, she and Rutkoski said OK.
After cleaning the furnace, Sekelsky delivered bad news.
“He said there was a crack in the furnace,” Plisga recalled. “”He said a patch would cost $1,500 to $2,000 but it wouldn’t last, and we needed a new furnace.”
Sekelsky quoted a price of $6,000, which Plisga and Rutkoski couldn’t afford, so another brother agreed to help out and wrote a check to Sekelsky for the entire amount.
Sekelsky cashed the check, but almost five months later, still hasn’t delivered the furnace.
“First, he told us the furnace came in but the box was broken and he had to return it,” Plisga says. “The next time we called, he said there was a recall and no furnaces were available.”
What Sekelsky did have available was a string of excuses, says Plisga. Once the furnace came in, he asked for a delay because of a death in his family. A few weeks later, a second death in the family.
“This was right before the holidays,” said Plisga. “I sent him a sympathy card.”
In mid-January, Sekelsky promised to install the furnace by the end of the month, according to Plisga. February came, and still no furnace.
I gave Sekelsky a call.
“I’ve been in the hospital with an amputation,” he explained. “I had three toes amputated. I just came home yesterday. I’m not running with their money.”
“They feel like you are,” I said. “What does the law say in Pennsylvania about how much of a deposit you can take in advance?
“It doesn’t say,” Sekelsky replied. “I can take as much deposit as I want.”
Not true. In fact, Pennsylvania law prohibits contractors from receiving a deposit exceeding one-third of the price of any contract over $5,000.
“I will call Mr. Rutkoski as soon as I get off the phone with you,” Sekelsky assured me. “I will set up a date. This furnace will be delivered and installed. When it’s done, I’ll contact you and let you know I’ve done the job.”
Great, I told him. I called Plisga and gave her the news.
“We’ll see,” she said.
Yes, we will. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know.
Christine Young is the Times Leader’s Consumer Watchdog. She can be reached at ConsumerWatchdog@timesleader.com.. Her column appears weekly.