House of cards crumbling for custom home builder

It's the American dream: owning your own home and customizing it, choosing the lot, having it built from the ground up.

But behind that beautiful model home might be a builder who's not a model businessman.

Welcome home. It's a community of lovely new homes in Shelby Township. There are fancypants model homes from several builders here, including some by Sunset Homes LLC. Sunset builds new homes all over Macomb County. 

"We were supposed to be in this house Christmas of 2018 - and it's been hell," said Emily, a customer.

"The whole building process has been a nightmare," said Jessica, another customer. "He's a nightmare himself." 

'He' is Sunset Homes' owner Paul Esposito.

"He called me a miserable mother f***** and told me to f*** off," said Doug, another customer.

Hey, there's Paul now! 

Wolchek: "Can I talk to you?  Can you roll the window down? Hey Paul, I'm trying to talk to you."

But Paul drove off in a hurry.

We caught up with Paul again. 

Wolchek: "So has the sun set on Sunset Homes?"
Paul Esposito: "Are you really going to do this right here in front of everybody?" 

Wolchek: "I sure am."
Paul Esposito: "Why don't you go to my office?" 

Wolchek: "You're never at your office." 

Paul Esposito: "Get that out of my face." 

If you think Paul is upset, wait until you meet some of his customers. 

Wolchek: "You've got to be mad."
"Oh yes," Maura said. "We are very, very angry." 

Wolchek: "So you're not in your house?"
Maura: "No, it's not built. There's no walls. There's no brick. There's no insulation."
Wolchek; "And yet you're paying $700 a month?"
Maura: "Correct."

Seven hundred a month on a construction loan. Here's how it works - some new construction homeowners, like Maura, give the builder a down payment and then take out a construction loan. 

Money from the construction loan is accessible to the builder, Paul Esposito, to pay for materials like lumber. But as you'll see, Paul seems to take out money for materials and labor and not use that money to pay for the materials and labor.  

Then, the suppliers and sub-contractors' only remedy is to go after the homeowner. And in this case - that's Maura.

"We've got four liens and we've gotten notices from Chesterfield Township about the noxious weeds on our property because we're the owners," Maura said.

What's Paul Esposito got to say about that? Heck, he doesn't even seem to know who Maura is.

Paul Esposito is in the Hall of Shame

Wolchek: "What about Maura? Maura De Grande?" 

Paul Esposito: "I don’t ... (shakes his head)."
Wolchek: "She's got a house, it's halfway done."
Paul Esposito: "I'm going to finish the house."
Wolchek: “That’s the one where you knocked the neighbor's sidewalk down." 

Paul Esposito: "No we didn't knock the sidewalk down." 

Wolchek: "Well, the neighbor's sidewalk fell down."
Paul Esposito: "It fell down because of an open hole." 

Okay. Paul remembers this. Two summers ago when his crew was digging the hole for Maura's house, it seems they dug a little too big of a hole. 

We met with Kerri, the neighbor whose property was being swallowed up by the hole. 

"They actually put up a big board that said 'Danger Keep Out' right in front of our property," she said. 

Eventually, all of that fell into the hole. Paul promised to fix Kerri's property but didn't for a whole year. It only got fixed when her insurance company fixed it. 

"He always tells you what you want to hear," Kerri said. "It just never got done. Nothing ever gets followed through. 

Paul also doesn't remember Brendt and Emily who have a half-completed house in a different sub. 

"We may not recover financially from this but the thought of someone else having to go through this, just breaks my heart," said Emily. 

Wolchek: "I just talked to Brendt and Emily on Friday. Are you familiar with them?"
Paul Esposito: "No."
Wolchek: "Brendt and Emily? They had a house out in Harrison Township. Brendt and Emily." 

Brendt is a firefighter and Emily a working mom. They have two kids and they were supposed to move into their home in December of 2018. They, too, were hit with delays.  

Brendt finally met up with Paul last September. 

"We met here, he said by Tuesday he'd have a plan and he'd have people here working - and we still haven't heard from him to this day," Brendt said. 

They are stuck paying $1,100 a month on their construction loan. Brendt and Emily filed a formal complaint with the state saying Paul mismanaged money - but on top of that, they've been slapped with $44,000 in liens.  

Wolchek: "So this has been a complete nightmare and you're still not even in the house?"

"No and we've decided we will never live in the house," Emily said. "It no longer holds the values and the memories we want it to." 

Wolchek: "This lady was crying. She hates you. She thinks you ruined her life, her dream home."
Paul Esposito: "Well you know what? I didn't. Something financially happened to me which I'm rectifying - that's all I can tell you right now."
Right around the corner from Brendt and Emily's house is Doug's house. Hey, it's finished, but Doug can't get a mortgage on the house.

"Until we have these liens taken care of, there's nothing we can do," Doug said.

Doug and his family have lived in the home for more than a year. But they are stuck paying a $1,300 a month interest only on their construction loan because they say Paul never paid for the lumber for the house. 

No one will finance them because there's a $39,000 lien on the home. Paul just makes excuses. 

"'It'll be done next Friday.' 'It'll be done next Friday.' 'It'll be done then.' 'It'll be done now.' He just keeps kicking it down the road," Doug said.

Wolchek: "And when you say done, you mean paid?" 

"Correct," Doug said. 

Paul remembers Doug.

Paul Esposito: "He's got one lien and that's through Carter Lumber." 

Wolchek: "Well what happened with that?"
Paul Esposito: "I want to tell you the truth, but if you give me a day to two days, okay, I'm thinking I'll have everything rectified. I wish I could tell you everything right now. It's something that I've done, okay, but in another day or two, if you give me your card."
Wolchek: "I just gave you my card." 

Paul Esposito: "Okay, I will clear my name. Okay, I promise you, I will clear my name." 

Paul has had several complaints with the builder's licensing board, going way back. The state residential building board fined him $500 for bouncing a check for a city building permit. In another case, the board ordered him to pay $14,000 in restitution to a supplier. 

Paul had to petition the state to reinstate his builder's license because he let it lapse. Then he filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Paul re-emerged a few years ago, started Sunset Homes and got his license back but was fined $7,500 in 2016 for building violations.  

Speaking of violations, one man said Paul did him so bad he doesn't want his face shown on TV. 

Wolchek: "How much have you put into the house?"

"$240,000? Yeah, 240 I think," he said.

We visited his unfinished house, too. There's been no work on it for a long time.

"I have a lien from the lumber company that says we have received zero dollars and I have a sworn statement showing that there was supposed to be $35,000 on this draw going to them. So where'd the money go?" he said.

Now he's paying $900 a month interest-only on his construction loan. Of course, he and his family can't live in the house, so he's also actually paying a mortgage on another house. 

What's Paul got to say about him? 

Paul Esposito: "It was a little bit of bad blood. He worked for Homeland Security, he tried using a little bit of force on me, okay, and it triggered me the wrong way."
Wolchek: "What does that mean?" 

Paul Esposito: "Well, I can't discuss it." 

Meanwhile, the house sits rotting away a block from the beautiful Sunset Home model home that impresses Paul's future customers. 

Paul Esposito says Sunset Homes is coming out of the darkness. 

"I'm rectifying the problems right now," Esposito said.
Wolchek: "Yeah, that's what these people have been saying for months." 

"But I've been trying to do it honestly, I've been trying to do it," Esposito said. "I swear on my children; I've been trying to do it." 

Wolchek: "I'm not sure what's going on here. You're doing bad work"
Paul Esposito: "No I'm not doing bad work. You're not going to find one person who's going to tell you I did bad work." 

Really Paul, do I have to introduce another unhappy customer? 

"I don't even know how he sleeps at night knowing that he has done this to people," Jessica said. 

Jessica's Sunset Home was at least finished, but she's got cracks all through her ceilings, nails coming through the drywall throughout her home. She says Paul is a monster. 

"Actually anybody is more than welcome to contact me," Jessica said. "Except for Esposito."  

And a few doors from her house is one of Paul’s half-done eyesores. 

Paul Esposito: "Can I prove myself if you give me a couple of days?"
Wolchek: "Yeah, I'll give you a couple of days, but all these people have said you've been promising them and promising them."
Paul Esposito: "I've been promising myself something that's supposed to come through for the last year."
Wolchek: "Well why don't you give me a clue what it is? Hitting the Lotto?"
Paul Esposito: "No, please don't be a smart ass. I'm being considerate." 

Hey Mr. Considerate, consider this: You're in the Hhhhhalll of Shame!"