School's out and Jennifer Linzey was looking forward to relaxing with her children in their newly remodeled home.
Instead, the interior of her three-bedroom house is topsy-turvy. Her daughter and son's bedroom furniture is in the living room. The couch is in the dining room, covered in plastic, and the dining room table is on the back patio.
Her floors have been ripped up, so the family is walking around on concrete throughout the 1,600-square-foot home. The doors are off her kitchen cabinets. Construction dust has settled everywhere.
Linzey is left trying to figure out how she will get the bulk of the remodeling job finished with half her budget spent. On the recommendation of a friend, the casino cocktail waitress hired Shaun Dennison of Ocean Springs, owner of Quality Coatings Drywall & Home Maintenance, to remodel her house.
They agreed March 30 that she would pay $30,200 for the job. She paid him $15,000 up front, as requested.
The job was supposed to take three to four weeks, but seven weeks in, materials for the big-ticket items still weren't on site and the house was a shambles. Linzey sent Dennison a "cease and desist" letter that included her attorney's contact information.
Dennison hasn't been back to the house since May 17. He initially agreed to talk with the Sun Herald about the job, but instead sent a text message Thursday afternoon.
"Miss Linzey terminated the contract," he said in the text. "We were ready and willing to finish the job but she refused to comply with our agreement. Only then did she start voicing all these complaints. I plan on handling this matter privately and will not discuss it further."
Linzey made two mistakes common among homeowners with major construction projects, according to the Mississippi State Board of Contractors: She did not check to make sure Dennison had a contractor's license, and she gave him more money down than recommended.
Dennison completed some of the work, but Linzey and her boyfriend, Dennis Branch, say some of it will have to be redone. The big-ticket items are outstanding, with only $15,000 left in Linzey's budget to buy materials and install porcelain-tile flooring throughout the house, and granite counter tops in the kitchen and two bathrooms.
Electrical and plumbing work also remains, along with painting the kitchen cabinets.
Dennison presented her an accounting, which Linzey shared with the Sun Herald, claiming he had spent her $15,000 on materials and labor to install crown molding throughout the house, paint the crown molding and interior, demolish the flooring, and install a bathtub in one of the bathrooms.
The wall around that tub is gutted and has a hole in it. The crown molding needs to caulked. And the interior paint job is uneven and, in some place, unfinished.
Linzey was trusting when the job began, but she started asking questions about three weeks in, when materials failed to show up and work seemed to start late and end early.
She learned from the Mississippi State Board of Contractors that Dennison did not have a license and, to make matters worse, had been fined $1,000 in 2016 for working without a license, which is required on remodeling jobs that exceed $10,000.
The case was based on another remodeling job gone awry in Ocean Springs. The homeowner, who spoke to the Sun Herald but did not want her name published, had complaints similar to Linzey's.
Linzey also has filed a complaint with MSBOC. It will be investigated and, if warranted, go to a hearing. Enforcement director Charles Sharman said a finding of guilt can result in a fine of $100 to $5,000.
But Linzey has little recourse for getting back her money. She's resigned to finishing what work she can herself, and finding someone else to install her floors and counter tops.
Meanwhile, her children, 7-year-old Lyrik and 11-year-old Kayleigh, are sleeping on mattresses on the concrete floor.
She put her complaints into a Facebook video that includes a tour of her remodeling nightmare.
“What do I do?" she asks in the video. "Give me your feedback. What do I do now?”
MSBOC recommends only a minimum down payment, if any, to a contractor, with 10 percent being typical and 20 percent the maximum.
The website also offers other tips for hiring a contractor.
“The problem is, once you pay that contractor more than what they've done, there's almost no way to get that money back,” Sharman said.
A good maxim for anyone considering a home remodeling or construction project, he said, is, "Don't let the money get ahead of the work."