Sun Structures Review This is a review of a construction company called Sun Structures that operates in central Virginia. This review does not apply to any other company with the name of Sun Structures--whether in Virginia or any other state. In November, 2010 we contracted with Sun Structures to build a house and a cottage in Central Virginia at a cost of a little over $400k. Sun Structures is a construction company owned by John Donne, and he came very highly recommended to me by a close friend. I also saw some of John?s work, and I was positively impressed. The contract was for construction from beginning to end?from clearing woods to cleaning the house. In my view John and his sons did a very good job on framing, trim, decks, etc. John is a good carpenter, and I have no big gripes about any of the carpentry work. Admittedly some carpentry things weren?t perfect; but when we pointed them out, he agreed and fixed them. Clearing and Septic was done by Arnold Excavation. We had asked them to clear the trees and haul away the stumps and an old concrete pad. They also built the septic system. The original allowance for clearing and septic was for $15,500. They overran the cost by $11,841 or 76%. John did not inform us of the overage until this amount had already accumulated, and he gave us no option. He did reduce the overage expense by $2000, but demanded that we pay the remaining $9841 or 63% above the allowance. We should have fired him then, but we didn?t. We were inexperienced, didn?t have another builder to call on, and we were negotiating on our old house and didn?t feel that we had enough time to find another builder. John told us that his paying $2000 toward to cost of the overage was taking responsibility. In our view asking us to pay 10% - 15% over would be taking responsibility, but not 63%. When Arnold Excavation went to excavate the cottage, they hit a big rock. Rather than keep working at it, they stopped in our view because it would have been very expensive to keep going, perhaps thousands of dollars. The excavation work was part of the contract and would have cost Sun Structures, not us. When the expense was ours, John allowed the expense to go way over the allowance. However, when he had to cover the expense himself, he was very attentive. The result of this decision was to require us to re-design the cottage; and even in the end, the roof line of the house and cottage are off by about two feet. When we brought this up to John, he said that having the roof lines the same height doesn?t matter. Architects and experienced builders told us later on that matching heights on roof lines are pretty basic. The electrical subcontractor was late on just about everything, did not pay attention to our requests for locations of receptacles and lights, and was disrespectful. The work itself was inadequate, and John himself said he would not use this subcontractor again. We wound up firing him. There are many examples of this. Here are five: 1. We told John and the electrician multiple times that we wanted TV, internet, and phone available in both bedrooms, in the kitchen, and the office.. The electrician?s solution was to put one CAT5 cable in each location so we could have internet or phone, but not both. 2. The electrician did not ask us about placement of many items; and when he did, he usually did not follow what we said. 3. Where he located switches was inconsistent--sometimes 2" from the trim, sometimes 6" from the trim. 4. We had many discussions about the cottage, wiring and our office. In the end the electrician had run no wire from the house to the cottage. Then at the very end John fabricated a story about how he told us that it was up to us to find someone to run that wire. This was incredibly frustrating at the end of a job that was fundamental from the beginning. 5. We fired the electrician on the day that he agreed in the morning to take his shoes off when coming into the house so that he wouldn?t track in mud. When I got home, he had wiped his shoes on my yoga mat--destroying it in the process, and the house was full of dirt. He and his assistant were the only ones in the house that day. At punch list time when we saw how shoddy much of the work was, we hired another contractor to inspect the work because we didn?t know what we were missing. When we submitted a punch list, John acted as if he was the one who would decide what deserved fixing and what was acceptable, as if we had nothing to say about it. Therefore, we withheld money. We wanted to pay him. We just wanted the house we asked for and what we hired him to build. At punch list time John hired a lawyer to send us a letter about what our rights were, what he would fix, and what he would not fix....as if he had the final word. Here are some excerpts from the punch list: 1. There are still 3 switches in the house that do not control anything, and there was a switch in the cottage that did not control anything. We had asked for a switch in the house to control an outdoor lantern on the cottage and vice versa. To this day no one seems to know the original intention of these switches. Of course, we had fired the original electrician, so we can take some responsibility there, but John did not want to do anything to remedy the situation. 2. We asked for dimmers to be fixed that were getting hot. John?s response through his lawyer was, ?The situation you are describing is typical and normal for a dimmer switch. There is nothing wrong with it.? Our other contractor explained that dimmer switches need to be matched to the wattage of lights they are driving. When the dimmers are undersized, they get hot...our other contractor fixed the dimmers so they don?t get hot. 3. We asked for closet doors to be fixed so they wouldn?t rattle. John said that nothing could be done because that was how they were made. In the end our other contractor showed us how to fix them and then fixed them himself. 4. The condensate pipe for the AC unit ended next to the foundation. When we asked for it to be extended beyond the foundation (so we wouldn?t have water running out next to the foundation), he said it was done according to code. Well, maybe, but we had hoped that he would want to build a better house rather than save $20 and 20 minutes. 5. In the contract Sun Structures specified ?professional cleaning,? and thorough cleaning. Then he came out with an old vacuum and cleaned as best as he could. However, it was more of a ?C? level job than professional cleaning. Although he did a good job in the cottage, he did a ?C? level job in the house. It saved him some money; but when we asked for a credit, he said the job was ?acceptable,? as if he were the final decision maker. 6. The floor in our living area is undulating. Apparently it was not sanded properly, so it has waves from board to board. It was sanded in one direction, but not both. There?s no easy fix to it without making a massive mess. 7. We had ants in every room in our house. Through his lawyer John wrote, ?This is not a Sun Structures issue. Perhaps you should consider hiring an exterminator of some sort.? Really? We hire a guy to build a new house and we should expect ants throughout the house. In the end our other contractor found that the basement insulation and walls were not sealed properly. This was a general issue throughout the crawl space and foundations--things were not sealed properly. Summary: Our perspective 1. Sun Structures has good carpentry skills with good attention to carpentry detail. However, in our view John Donne is not skilled or knowledgeable in other trades such as plumbing or electrical. Although his organizational skills are barely acceptable, his communication skills, supervisory skills and money management skills are very poor. 2. In our view John did not manage subcontractors, although he always demanded his surcharge. John was very subcontractor friendly. Whenever we had a conflict with a subcontractor, he always sided with the subcontractor. He never sided with us--the paying client. This grew increasingly frustrating as the project went on, and John became more and more obstinate and difficult to deal with. 3. John was agreeable to some changes, but just as often he was defensive and argumentative. When we brought something up, he was always ready with an excuse for why things were done a certain way and why they had to be that way. We just never knew how he was going to show up. 4. John verbally offered us a 5 - 10 year warranty; but when he did not agree to fix the things that needed fixing right after construction, we didn?t want to be arguing with him three years later about what he would or wouldn?t fix. 5. After John?s final bill, we estimated that we had at least $24k in expenses to deal with the problems with the house. (The real number if you include the warranty would probably be a lot higher.) John wrote that our paying $16k of the $24k difference and his paying $8k was fair, but I would not relent until it was a little more even. I gave up fighting with him when we would be responsible for $14k, and John reduced his bill by $10k.