Bamboozled: Between a brick and a hard place

Newlyweds Mike and Jessica Gromek decided to buy a house.BB branding

After a four-month search, they found it in late 2009: a four-bedroom Colonial in Scotch Plains. A perfect place to start and raise a family, they thought.

Wanting to make sure everything was safe and in good working order, they hired Golden Eye Home Inspections of Union to check out the property after they went to contract.

Jessica Gromek, her father-in-law and the real estate agent met inspector Paolo Valeira at the home on Jan. 25. Everything seemed to go smoothly.

‘‘The home inspection report clearly indicated that the chimney, chimney crown and chimney flue were inspected,’’ Mike Gromek said. ‘‘The only recommendations made were to have the flue swept and install a rain cap to reduce water and pest entrance.’’

Satisfied with the report, the couple closed in March.

Based on Valeria’s recommendations, the couple contacted a chimney company. Nine days after the closing, the company came to install a $40 rain cap and clean the flue. Minutes after the service tech climbed on the roof, he came back down.

9610‘‘He told me that I should go out on the deck and watch what he was about to do,’’ Mike Gromek said. ‘‘While on the roof by the chimney, he touched the top of the brick on the chimney and moved it at least 6 inches.’’

The service tech said he believed there was a break in the chimney, right below the roof line at the flashing. He told Gromek the repair would cost $1,000. Not happy but wanting his new home to be safe, Gromek agreed.

The service tech and his supervisor arrived the next morning to do the work. They started the repair, then asked Gromek to join them on the roof. The supervisor told Gromek to try to move the chimney.

‘‘I was able to move the chimney 4 to 6 inches from one side to the other,’’ he said.

It was a much bigger problem than initially thought, and carbon monoxide leaks were a real possibility, Gromek said he was told.

‘‘We found that the chimney was broken in two places below the flashing at roof level and below attic floor, and was in danger of falling,’’ said the new repair estimate. ‘‘Flue lining was broken and shifted and is not safe to vent furnace and hot water heater gases.’’

After talking in detail to the chimney company, Gromek accepted the supervisor’s estimate of $18,500, and the work was done.

The couple then contacted Valeria, the home inspector, who came to the home.

‘‘I told him the story and showed him the pictures (of the damage),’’ Gromek said. ‘‘Valeira offered to pay me $1,000 and told me that he was sorry.’’

That wasn’t enough for Gromek. Valeria said he’d contact his insurance company, Gromek said. After a few days, Gromek called Valeria, who said he’d changed his mind. He would not file an insurance claim after all. Gromek said he asked why but received no answer. He then asked for the name of the insurance company, but Valeria wouldn’t tell him.

‘‘It makes no sense why he just won’t file a claim. The state mandates that these business have insurance, so what else is it there for?” Gromek said.

Gromek did some research, and through the state licensing board found out the name of the insurance company. He sent a certified letter to the insurer, explaining what had happened and asking for help. The company responded, explaining that because the insurance policy is between Golden Eye Home Inspections and the insurer, the home inspector must be the one to file a claim and Gromek could not deal directly with the insurance company.

‘‘They will not accept a claim filed by anyone other than the policyholder,’’ Gromek said. ‘‘Now I am in between a rock and a hard place. Filing a civil suit could give me a win, but there is no guarantee that I receive the money owed to me.” ‘

Hoping to avoid a lawsuit, the Gromeks contacted Bamboozled.


We called Valeria to find out why he wouldn’t file a claim with his insurance company. He wouldn’t answer the question.

He did say he thought the Gromeks overpaid for the repair job. We asked what he thought the couple should have paid. Valeria wouldn’t answer that question, either.

‘‘(Gromek) should have called me first before he had it fixed, and he didn’t,’’ Valeria said. ‘‘They fixed it, so I couldn’t go back and look. I said maybe I did make a mistake. When I went to the attic to reinspect it, it was fixed so I couldn’t go back and say I missed it or I didn’t miss it.’’

Fair enough. Yet Gromek showed Valeria the photos taken before the repair was completed and Valeria offered the couple $1,000. Why?

‘‘I felt maybe it was something I overlooked, but after reviewing the report I feel it was not,’’ Valeria said, adding he also offered to return the nearly $400 inspection fee.

Bamboozled asked again why Valeria wouldn’t put in a claim with his insurance company. That question remains unanswered.

The Gromeks haven’t decided what their next step will be. They’re waiting to hear back about a complaint they filed with the Department of Banking and Insurance.

They’re convinced the home inspector missed something, and they said they think his $1,000 offer is an admission of some kind.

‘‘My fear of going through the legal system is that it could take two or three years and I could end up spending $18,000 fighting this guy with no guarantees,’’ Gromek said. ‘‘I don’t want anything from him personally. I just want him to file the claim.’’