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October 29, 2004
Dealing with Topsider

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As the cold weather approaches, a fog covers the valley view

With Rick Dietrich now on board as our foundation sub-contractor, we thought that we would finally be able to make some progress.  We thought wrong.

Because some of the house plumbing will need to be embedded in the foundation cement, we first had to find a plumbing sub-contractor.  Luckily, Rick was able to recommend a friend of his, Cliff Overmeier.  Cliff looked over our blueprints... and came away with many unanswered questions.  These involved all sorts of aspects of the HVAC (heating, venting, and air conditioning) system.  Among Cliff's questions:

As usual, Gail referred these questions to Topsider.  At the same time that we had hired Rick, Topsider had brought aboard a new Customer Service Rep, Brian Troxel, who reported to Brian Reed.  Brian T didn't last too long as our Customer Service Rep.  Once he was bombarded by Gail's phone calls, emails, and questions, Brian T found it necessary to escalate our account back to Brian R.  In the end, Brian R declared that he would be our primary Customer Service Rep.  (Even so, Brian R had to continue escalating several of our issues further upwards to Al Fielders.)

It took several weeks for Rick's and Cliff's many questions to be answered.  Our house would require the addition of a "chase" -- a sleeve built around the center column, to carry pipes, vents, and electrical wires.  We were surprised and disappointed.  A chase would be unsightly, especially when we had worked so hard to create a lower floor with no view obstructions.  (Gail also learned that our design would require a center column more than twice as thick as what we had originally been told.  She was not pleased.)

How could Topsider never have accounted for this in their original design and engineering process?  We asked if it was possible to reengineer around the HVAC system.  Topsider said that the house was already completely built and sitting in their warehouse.  Unfortunately, at this point, there was no other choice.

Finally, on October 22, Topsider declared that they were ready to ship out the foundation forms.  Almost casually, Gail asked what would be included in this first shipment.  We received another surprise.  Topsider intended to send out not only the foundation forms, but the first shipment of building materials as well. 

Back when we had signed the original contract with Topsider a year ago, the terms stated that Topsider would be ready to ship upon receipt of the final payment -- in other words, May 2004.  However, when it became obvious that we would not be able to build this year, Gail set very clear expectations with Topsider that we did not want to receive shipment this year.

Gail called Brian R and reiterated that under no circumstances was Topsider to ship out any of our house or building materials this year.  Brian, obviously under pressure to get our materials out of Topsider's warehouse, tried to assure her that everything would be fine on top of our mountain for the Winter.  He told her that he had another client in Colorado who had no problem with everything being shipped.  Gail responded that we are not the other client, we are not in Colorado, and we will not accept any shipments this year.

Gail sent email and left voicemail messages for every person at Topsider for whom she had a phone number.  Brian R soon called and informed her that our shipment had been put on hold.  He was sure that Topsider could work something out, but that he would need to consult with Al.

Gail and Russell had a long consultation with each other.  Legally, according to the terms of the contract, Topsider could indeed ship the building materials if they wanted to.  However, we certainly didn't want piles of finished wood sitting up on a mountain top in the rain for the next several months.

We decided that we did have some recourse; after all, it was because of Topsider's errors that our building schedule was delayed:

On October 29, Topsider came back with a solution.  Brian R said that when the new team had come aboard at Topsider earlier that year, they knew that some accounts would need special attention.  Ours was flagged as one of them.  (Actually, this was not the first time that Brian had told us this.)

Topsider would send only our foundation forms at this point in time.  The rest of the building materials would be held at Topsider's warehouse in North Carolina until the Spring of 2005.  We set a tentative shipping date of March 1, 2005.  Gail stressed that this date was weather-dependent.  She also stressed that the storage and extra shipments would be at no additional charge to us.  Brian agreed.

So it is now finally official.  Our house construction is delayed for a year, and we will not begin construction until 2005.  With the Winter almost upon us, we will not be making any more camping trips up on our mountain top.  But with any luck, Rick and Cliff will be able to get the foundation installed before the rains come.


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