New Jersey snow and ice can do pretty hefty damage to asphalt driveways.
Erika and Jon Abahazy of Manalapan decided to take the road of prevention.
When a salesman from Garden State Asphalt and Sealcoating of Toms River knocked on their door on Oct. 8 offering seal-coating services, they said yes.
“We hired them on the spot,” said Erika Abahazy. “The salesman told me what a wonderful company they were, that they had a three-year guarantee on the work, that they were a legitimate business because they had a license number. He went on and on about how great their product was. So I said, ‘Sure, do the job.’ ”
Abahazy said she paid the salesman $250 cash upon completion of the job.
Upon first glance, the work looked fine, she said, but she only took a quick look because the family of four was rushing out to dinner at a friend’s house. They didn’t return home until well after dark.
The night before, “I didn’t check my property to see if there was splatter. It never occurred to me,” she said. “At 7 in the morning I saw the paver damage.”
The materials that were used to seal the driveway during the seal-coating process splattered all over the sidewalk, on the pavers next to the driveway and on the bottom of the garage door.
ASKING FOR A FIX
Abahazy said first thing Monday morning, she started calling the company to tell it about the damage. She made calls for two weeks.
She said she left several messages. She spoke to the salesman several times. Several times, she spoke to Marie, the woman who answers the phone. She spoke to Victor Zambuto, the company’s owner.
“All we asked was that they clean our pavers. Victor said he would get someone out there, but no one ever came,” she said. “When no one came, we called again.”
Abahazy said each time she talked to Marie, she’d promise that someone would call back, but no one ever did.
“I did not get one phone call returned, ever,” she said. “Only the salesman called us back and he could not believe that the company wasn’t taking care of the problem. He was astonished.”
In the meantime, Abahazy did some research to see what it would take to clean up the pavers and sidewalk.
“You can’t just power-wash pavers. The tar could only be removed by a special chemical or the pavers needed to be replaced,” she said.
One contractor told her it would cost $1,000 to replace the stained pavers.
A second contractor gave a price of $214 to treat the damaged surfaces with a special chemical, which he said would remove the damage.
Abahazy decided on the $214 cleanup job, but she still tried to get in touch with Zambuto and Garden State Asphalt and Sealcoating.
On Oct. 26, Abahazy decided to send owner Zambuto a package by certified mail and by regular mail. Both included a letter explaining the problem, the estimates from the other contractor and photos of the damage.
Part of her letter read: “In order to rectify this situation … we would like you to reimburse us for the cost of this cleaning (which would be $214).”
A very reasonable request.
Zambuto didn’t respond to the letters. The certified one was returned to Abahazy, but the one sent via regular mail wasn’t returned, so she imagines it was delivered successfully.
Abahazy said she considered small claims court, but she contacted Bamboozled first.
Bamboozled reviewed the contract, the damage photos and the estimates.
We also took a closer look at the company. The Better Business Bureau gives Garden State Asphalt and Sealcoating an “F.” The company had 10 complaints — all related to “Problems with Product/Service” — in the past 12 months. Six complaints went unanswered by the company, two were resolved and the remaining two were addressed by the company but the customers said they were not satisfied with the business’s response.
We left a message for Zambuto on Nov. 21. No call back.
We called again Nov. 23 and Zambuto answered the phone. We explained we were calling about a customer complaint — the Abahazy family from Manalapan.
He said he knew the job.
Zambuto then made a series of allegations without giving Bamboozled a chance to ask follow-up questions.
First, he said, “I got a group of individuals who work for me in the busy season. They take my contracts and my license and they do the work.”
Then he said some of those individuals steal his business ideas, use his paperwork and take his license number without his permission.
Zambuto next said he didn’t do the Abahazy job. That he had no paperwork on the Abahazy job.
He then spoke about the salesman who sold the Abahazy job.
“He was fired for stealing money,” he said. “This is what he does.”
When we started asking for some clarifications, Zambuto then asked us to call back in 25 minutes.
Good, because we had lots of questions.
But the answering machine picked up 25 minutes later. And two hours later. And two hours after that. And a couple of days later. You get the idea.
Yes, we had lots of questions.
If he didn’t do the Abahazy job or had no paperwork on it, why did he tell Erika Abahazy he’d send someone to take a look at the damage? Why did he initially say he knew the job?
If the salesman was fired for stealing money, did Zambuto report the theft to the police? Stealing is a crime.
If other contractors are using his license number (that’s what Zambuto called it, but home improvement contracts have registration numbers, not license numbers), did he report it to Consumer Affairs?
If Zambuto in fact had nothing to do with the Abahazy job, why didn’t he answer Erika Abahazy’s letter, if only to defend his company’s reputation?
We left several more messages, but our calls were not returned.
That leaves the Abahazys reconsidering small claims court — not because of the money, they said, but to hold the company accountable.
In retrospect, they say they should have checked references and looked for online reviews before hiring the company, but they simply didn’t think a small job would be such a big deal.
“We wanted to … let people know the mistake in trusting a company that comes knocking on your door to do work at your home,” Erika Abahazy said. “From all of our experiences with contractors, we know to expect a few mistakes along the way. We also know that a good contractor follows up to resolve issues.
“The way that a business handles a problem and deals with its customers is what defines their reputation,” she said.