Four-year battle between Kalodimos and builder fizzles with Chapter 7 filing

This is a story for those who have ever thought about building their own home. It is a story about architectural drawings, misunderstandings, disagreements and unpaid bills. It is a story about a lawsuit and a bankruptcy. It is a story about a woman, ostensibly one of the most powerful people in Nashville, who felt powerless through the entire process.

Now that she has gone through it, Demetria Kalodimos has some advice for people who want to build that dream home:

Don't.

"My advice to anyone is to think hard before they do it," says Ms. Kalodimos, an anchor for WSMV-Channel 4. "If I could do it all over, I would never build from scratch again unless I had a year off and could live there and be there full time from dawn to dusk watching what went on, counting every piece of wood."

Like every story, this one has two sides. For Nashville architect and homebuilder Mitchell Barnett, the moral of the story is different.

"I'm not going to stop building houses, because I enjoy construction and I enjoy building homes and working with reasonable people who pay their bills," he says. "But from now on, we are going to be very selective about what projects we take."

The story of Demetria Kalodimos' dream home started in 1993, when she came home late one night to find that a broken water line had flooded her townhouse. Ms. Kalodimos and her husband James Mauries decided then it was time to buy a house. Rather than buy an existing one, they chose to have a new house built from scratch.

Eventually, they contacted Mr. Barnett, who designed a house for them that Ms. Kalodimos loved. Not only did it incorporate many of the architectural elements she admired, it even had a central domed tower that she felt reflected her Greek heritage. Mr. Barnett also helped Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries choose a lot just off Granny White Pike (the exact location of which Ms. Kalodimos asked NashvillePost not to publicize.) According to Ms. Kalodimos, she and Mr. Mauries told Mr. Barnett that they didn't want the house to cost more than $300,000. He said he thought it could be done.

At first, the project went smoothly. According to Ms. Kalodimos, Mr. Barnett helped them find a builder for the home, Scruggs Homebuilders. On December 22, 1994, Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries entered a contract with Scruggs Homebuilders and Mr. Barnett. The couple borrowed $338,000 from Third National Bank (SunTrust) to finance the project, which was supposed to be built on a "cost-plus" basis.

Scruggs Homebuilders began building the house on April 1, 1995. By October of that year, according to a court filing by Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries, "construction was proceeding only on a sporadic and intermittent basis." In October, Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries changed builders and hired Mr. Barnett's home-building company, NMB Builders, to take over the project.

Ms. Kalodimos says that Mr. Barnett was more than anxious to take over the project. "He kept telling me that if he took it over it would go better," she says. "He was heavily lobbying for it."

Mr. Barnett gives a different story. "I was requested by the owner to take the project over," he says. "I did not want to do it at the beginning and it took a lot of requests and a lot of pleadings by Ms. Kalodimos to get me to do it. So I did it as a favor."

Mr. Barnett's company soon got to work on the house. From that point on, Mr. Barnett and Ms. Kalodimos have different stories on virtually everything that took place. According to Ms. Kalodimos, the project began costing more money and taking more time than agreed upon at the beginning. The deadline, Ms. Kalodimos says, moved from April 1996 to May, then June, then July. Finally, in August 1996, Ms. Kalodimos says her husband and she terminated Mr. Barnett's contract and began looking for another builder to complete it.

"By August, my life savings had been spent, the house was languishing in a half-built state, and SunTrust Bank refused to increase my construction loan, having lost all confidence in the project," Ms. Kalodimos later wrote. "Yet I had made no changes whatsoever to the house Mitch Barnett told me could be built for $300,000."

Mr. Barnett, however, claims that his company was building the house very much as it was hired to do through the spring and summer of 1996. After June of that month, according to Mr. Barnett, the owners of the property stopped paying him. "She had not paid us for three months," Mr. Barnett said. "I told her that I couldn't continue building the house with my money. Instead of paying the bills, she elected to terminate us, leaving the house incomplete in several areas."

At this point, Mr. Barnett sued Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries for failure to pay. Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries countersued, claiming that the project was $200,000 over budget and that the house had been built with numerous codes violations.

Lawsuits take time. Mr. Kalodimos and Mr. Mauries put most of their possessions in storage and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. Not long after that, the couple filed for divorce. (Through the divorce settlement, Ms. Kalodimos came away with the house.) Eventually, Ms. Kalodimos hired general contractor Steve Cates to finish her house.

Cates Construction eventually finished Ms. Kalodimos' home, where she now resides. But Ms. Kalodimos says Cates Construction discovered and repaired numerous major flaws in her home. Repairing those flaws and finishing the house eventually cost her $400,000 more than she had ever planned on spending on the house. "I have now spent about $750,000 on the house that started as a $300,000 house," she says.

During a recent tour of her home with a NashvillePost reporter, Ms. Kalodimos pointed out several places where Cates Construction had to repair or reconstruct things that were built by NMB Builders. The two most dramatic examples, she says, were a retaining wall on the north side of the house and the waterproofing of the house's foundation - both of which were made all the more important by the fact that the house sits on a very hilly lot.

NashvillePost contacted Mr. Cates, who declined to comment on the state of the house when he took over the project. However, it did talk to the contractor that rebuilt the retaining wall and the contractor that waterproofed the house.

Ron Smith, the president of RJS Construction of Murfreesboro, was brought in to fix the wall. "The wall was very bad, and dangerous as a matter of fact," he says. "It was leaning so much that I could tell that the balcony above it was about to fall. I told her to take the balcony down, which she did, and I rebuilt the wall with stone reinforcement in the backfill area."

Ms. Kalodimos says Mr. Smith did a good job with the wall. But her bill to tear down the wall and rebuild it was $55,000.

Today, Mr. Barnett says that the wall and the deck were not dangerous. He also says that it is not fair to make a judgment on the condition of the wall or the deck when the project was not completed. "The deck was under construction and incomplete at the time we were terminated," he says. He also says that Ms. Kalodimos "elected to get a more elaborate and bigger retaining wall than the one that was on the original blueprints."

As for the waterproofing, Ms. Kalodimos says that she first became aware of the problem when she noticed that water was seeping into the basement of the house in many places, damaging some of her furniture and the extensive wardrobe that is necessitated by her job. Mr. Cates recommended to her a waterproofing company called ABG Caulking, a Goodlettsville-based company that is one of the largest waterproofing companies in the U.S. Today, ABG president Arlis Green says he remembers the job well.

"It was terrible," he says. "The house hadn't been waterproofed properly. In fact, there was more water coming into the basement of the house than there was staying out of the house. We had to hire big backhoes and everything to come in there and redo it.

"I felt sorry for her."

Ms. Kalodimos says that ever since ABG did the waterproofing, she has had no problem with water coming into the house. But the cost of the waterproofing was $40,000.

When asked about the waterproofing, Mr. Barnett says that the original homebuilder Scruggs "provided what he thought was adequate perimeter drainage around the structure, and she said it wasn't adequate." He also said that "a drain pipe was in existence around the perimeter of the house as required. The cost choice was given to the owner, and she elected not to spend extra money to get a more elaborate system."

Ms. Kalodimos made many, many other claims about flaws in her home, including kitchen tile, drywall and wood flooring that she says was installed improperly. During the months after she hired Steve Cates to complete her house, she spent countless hours carefully documenting the construction and bookkeeping of her home. Ms. Kalodimos put all of this together in a 150-page volume that she had hoped to present in Chancery Court.

However, it now appears as if the case between Ms. Kalodimos and Mr. Barnett will never go to trial. Last December 9, a house that NMB Builders was constructing at 2315 Woodmont Boulevard burned to the ground only weeks before it was completed. In the aftermath of that fire, Auto Owners Insurance Co. filed a court document claiming NMB Builders didn't have builder's risk insurance for the property. Mr. Barnett has since claimed that his business did everything appropriately, and has filed a countersuit against the insurance company to that effect.

However, the fire indirectly caused NMB Builders to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Court-appointed trustee Larry Edmondson is now liquidating the meager assets of NMB Builders, whose creditors include small businesses such as lumber company Norvell & Wallace ($27,631) and Hart Hardware ($5,666).

Today, neither Ms. Kalodimos nor her attorney Roger May are certain what the bankruptcy means for their lawsuit. "I certainly hope that this is not the case, but it probably means that I will get absolutely no relief from this person," says Ms. Kalodimos.

Ms. Kalodimos says that if she could give advice to other people who want to build their own homes, one piece is to not let the architect be the builder. "That was dumb," she says. "That was like letting the fox guard the henhouse."

Now that she is finally in her home, Ms. Kalodimos says that she doesn't think there is any way that she will ever sell it for what she paid for it. However, she says that the place is beginning to grow on her. "The truth of the matter is that I like this house," she says. "I hated it for the longest time.