DETROIT -

For many people, sitting in front of a fireplace is a relaxing and enjoyable time to unwind.

This is especially true in Michigan when the winter temperatures can get extremely cold. Joy Breeze of Macomb has a fireplace in her home, but never really loved how it looked. Last January, she decided to order a new improved model.

Joy says she hired Peter Pone with the Fireplace Design Center. Pone had done some repair work on Joy's existing fireplace, and that experience had been very positive.

"Everything looked legit in every way. I just thought he was a fine young man," said Breeze.

She says Pone asked for a hefty deposit.

"He wanted a 75 percent down and at that point, I blinked and thought that this was a lot to put down," Breeze said.

Despite her initial reaction, Joy says she wrote a check for $2,500, slightly less than the 75% that was requested. She says he quickly cashed
the check.

Frustration Builds

After her check was cashed, Breeze waited for the project to begin. She says there was a series of delays, and it became more and more difficult to contact Pone.

"He didn't call back. I waited a significant period of time and didn't hear a thing," Joy said. When he failed to respond, she finally contacted Ruth to the Rescue.

Ruth to the Rescue Responds

The Ruth to the Rescue unit tried to call Peter Pone over a few weeks. Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer went to some of the addresses listed for Pone, but could not find him. Joy Breeze is left to wait and wonder if she'll ever get her money back, if she'll get her new fireplace, and if she'll ever hear from Peter Pone.

"To know that somebody just turns around, and doesn't keep their word, doesn't show integrity, it just broke my heart, because I believed in this young man," said Joy.

Checking Reviews

The Better Business Bureau has given the Fireplace Design Center an "F" for failure to respond to a customer's complaints. It offers the following the guidelines if you are planning a big project in your home.

*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 their licenses and insurance. Ask if a permit is required for the project. Qualified contractors are able to acquire any permits before starting the job. Double check the information provided with the Better Business Bureau and see how long they have been in business, if they are accredited, and if there are any complaints against their business.

*Look Carefully at References

Look at more than what the contractor supplies. If it is possible ask to go to or call 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 their 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.

*Do Not Pay for the Whole Project Upfront

Try to arrange for the lowest down payment as possible. Pay the contractor according to how much work has been completed. The customer should not make the final payment until the job is completed and the final project meets their standards. Always pay with either a credit card or check because it provides proof of payment. And make sure the contractor pays their subcontractors after the job is completed.

*Put Everything Into a Contract

Ask the contractor to make a written agreement that includes all the project details very clearly. The contract should consist of: the contractors information, a payment schedule, an estimated completion date, all the materials being used and their prices, warranties, and any other specific promises. Make sure to include that the contractor is accountable for cleaning-up the area after completion of the project. Never sign any blank contracts or any contracts without reading them thoroughly. Keep a copy of the contract after the job is completed in case there are any issues.

*Avoid Contractors Who:

Sell door to door
Ask for payments in cash
Have extra material from their last job
Pressure customers to sign a contract
Want the full payment upfront
Tell the customers to borrow money from their lender
Ask customers to get the building permit

If you have a consumer story you would like Ruth to the Rescue to investigate, you can call (313) 298-WDIV or send an email to ruthtotherescue@clickondetroit.com.

To review any business or charity follow this link to the Better Business Bureau.