HOUSTON – On a dusty road in Rosharon, Chris and Trisha Louviere walk to the mailbox, dreading what they will find inside.
They fear it will be another payment demand on a $35,000 loan they took out to build a small workshop on their property.
They paid a contractor over $21,000 to build the workshop and yet, eight months after signing the contract, they have nothing to show for their money.
“He’s taken over $21,000 from us and he has done no work at all. He didn’t deliver materials. He did not start the job and build us anything, but he has our money,” says Trisha.
Trisha and Chris are not rich people looking for ways to spend their money.
They are a blue-collar, working couple raising three young children.
They hired Marcus Thompson and his Lone Star Barn Company, of College Station, nine months ago, and they aren’t the only family trying to hunt this barn builder down to get their money back.
In fact, Channel 2 Investigates found at least six other angry clients who have shelled out thousands of dollars for unfinished projects.
Kelly and Lauren Dyer, of Houston, paid Thompson $34,000 for a pole barn that, months later, is less than 10 percent complete, according to Kelly.
There are poles sticking out of the ground and trenches have been dug, but the building has not been framed out, and there are no walls, no roof and no foundation.
They signed their contract in May 2015.
Mark and Kalli Drosos, of Buda, paid Thompson over $53,000 for a 10-stall horse barn.
They signed the contract in 2015, and yet they have nothing to show for that money but a large mound of dirt and a number of holes that were drilled into the ground.
Then there’s Jessica Atkin, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq.
She paid Thompson over $21,000 for a small horse barn.
After 10 weeks, there is a frame in place, but no walls, no roofing and no floor.
One angry client even created a special website dedicated to finding Thompson called Help Find Marcus Thompson.
Leah Napoliello, with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston, says what clients claim Thompson is doing is a common contractor scheme.
“They will go from one customer to the next. They collect money, don’t actually do any real work and then disappear.”
Napoliello calls them “fly-by-night contractors.”
So Channel 2 Investigates hit the road, driving hundreds of miles to several cities in search of Marcus Thompson.
At his home in Midway, Texas, no one answered the door.
When we went to the address listed as his business -- the address printed at the top of Chris and Trisha Louviere’s contract -- we found it was actually just a UPS store that had a post office box for Thompson.
When Channel 2 Investigates tried to talk to Marcus by phone and asked for an on-camera interview, we were told that he would not go on camera.
When we asked for a phone interview, Thompson said several times we could interview him over the phone, but when we actually called to do the interview, he did not answer.
Chris and Trisha Louviere sued Thompson for both breach of contract and fraud.
When Thompson failed to show up in Fort Bend County Court last week, the Louvieres won a default judgement in the case.
Still, they are wondering if they will ever see even a penny of the money they’ve paid to Thompson.
“He can’t continue to do this to hardworking families. He must be stopped,” said Trisha.
There is another company with a name similar to Lone Star Barn Company. It's called Lone Star Barns Inc., and it's based in Amarillo, Texas. This is a different company not associated with Lone Star Barn Company, which Marcus Thompson owns.
If you are considering hiring any kind of contractor to begin a project for you, the Better Business Bureau has a whole list of tips you need to follow to protect yourself.
Tips for hiring a contractor:
Do your research. Contact the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas to learn how long a contractor has been in business and if the firm has been responsive to any complaints filed with Better Business Bureau. Search online for any other information you can find on the company or owner.
Get multiple estimates. When hiring a contractor to do any type of work, get at least three estimates. Make sure the contractors have proof of insurance.
Ask if a permit is required for the project. Qualified contractors are able to acquire any permits before starting the job. Check out a contractor at bbb.org to see how long they have been in business, if they are accredited and if there are any complaints against their business.
Check references. Look at more than what the contractor supplies. If possible, ask to visit previous jobs, and interview the given references. Ask the previous customers if the job was completed to their specifications and if it was completed on schedule. Ask why they would recommend that particular contractor and if they would use that person's business again. It is also important to find out if the original estimate was close to what they paid or if the contractor charged unforeseen costs along the way.
Never pay upfront. Try to arrange a low down payment and only pay the contractor according to how much work has been completed. Do not make the final payment until the job is completed and the final project meets your standards. Always pay with either a credit card or a check. Never pay with cash.
Get everything in writing. Ask the contractor for a written agreement that clearly includes all of the project details. The contract should consist of the following: contact information, payment schedule, estimated completion date, materials being used and their cost, warranties and any specific promises. Make sure to include that the contractor is accountable for cleaning up the area after completion of the project. Never sign a blank contract, and never sign any contract without reading it thoroughly. Keep a copy of the contract after the job is completed, in case there is an issue.
Cancellation rights. When you sign a home improvement contract in your home and in the presence of a contractor or contractor's representative, you have three business days in which to change your mind and cancel the contract. The contractor is required to tell you about your cancellation rights and provide you with any cancellation forms. If you cancel, it is recommended that a notice of cancellation be sent to the contractor by certified mail, with a return receipt request.
Final payment. Never make final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you are satisfied with the work done and know that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
Avoid contractors who:
- Sell door-to-door or have extra material from their last job
- Ask for payments in cash or want the full payment upfront
- Pressure homeowners to sign a contract
- Tell customers to borrow money from their lender
- Ask customers to get the building permit
To contact the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas, click here.