Four months after David James Homes unexpectedly closed its doors, Nicholas Akers’ home on Colvin Drive in Huddleston remains unfinished.
“The house sat untouched after they closed,” Akers said during an interview last month. “I was left with a big mess to sort out.”
Akers said he spent $80,000 building his Bedford County home through David James Homes. However, nine months after construction started, the home only was about a third of the way completed when Akers said he received news that David James Homes no longer was in business.
“Everything just stopped,” Akers said. “It really took me by surprise. I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do when I heard.”
The Roanoke-based company — which opened in 1995 with the motto, “We build every home like it’s my home,” — shut down in July after almost 25 years in business.
According to information obtained on the company’s website before the site was shut down, David James Homes had at least 39 homes under contract as of June 15, with a combined value of $12.4 million. The company’s Lynchburg office had seven houses under contract at the time: two in Albemarle County; one in Amherst County; one in Campbell County; and three in Bedford County.
Following the company’s closure, its founder — Merle Heckman — filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August. Unlike a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where the applicant sets up a court-structured payment plan, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy claim does not involve a repayment plan and some debts may be forgiven by the court.
The matter currently is in the Office of the U.S. Trustee for the Western District of Virginia, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The case had its first creditors meeting Oct. 2 in Roanoke.
The United States Trustee Program is the component of the Department of Justice responsible for overseeing the administration of bankruptcy cases and private trustees. The program monitors the conduct of bankruptcy parties and private estate trustees, oversees related administrative functions and acts to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures. It also identifies and helps investigate bankruptcy fraud and abuse in coordination with United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies.
A spokeswoman with the Office of the U.S. Trustee in Roanoke said officials could not provide comment on ongoing bankruptcy hearings, including Heckman’s filing. A notice of need filed Nov. 6 by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court said assets of David James Homes may be recovered by the trustee handling the case. Creditors seeking a share in any distribution of funds must file a proof of claim by Feb. 4, 2020, with the Roanoke court.
Attempts to contact Heckman since the creditors meeting Oct. 2 have been unsuccessful. Numbers at the company’s Roanoke; Lynchburg; Winchester; Culpeper; Moneta; and Clarksburg, West Virginia, offices no longer are in service and the company’s website was shut down soon after the company’s closing.
Akers, who hired David James Homes to build his Huddleston house, said under the terms of the contract he entered into for his home’s construction, he was responsible for making a payment to David James Homes once the home’s construction reached a certain stage. Akers said David James Homes requested two draws of $40,000 each, which Akers claimed he paid.
Former Lynchburg City Councilman Gil Cobbs — who served on the council from 1990 to 1993 — said he paid the company three separate draws requested by the company between February and July for the construction of his home in Forest.
Akers and Cobbs claim the money they were requested to pay the company was supposed to be used by David James Homes to pay for subcontracting labor and building supplies for the next scheduled stage of construction.
However, Akers and Cobbs both said since the closing of David James Homes in July, they have been contacted by subcontractors seeking payment. Akers and Cobbs said some of the subcontractors are attempting to put liens on their unfinished homes to get the money they claimed they are owed.
“They started looking to me to get paid,” Cobbs said. “I paid the money to David James Homes and that was supposed to be used to pay for the work. If I have to pay them now, it will be like paying twice for the same work. That isn’t right.”
“They [subcontractors] are attempting to put a lien on my house and I had to get an attorney,” Akers said. “If they were not getting paid for the work, I didn’t know anything about it until after David James Homes closed.”
Chuck Weckel, the owner of Troutville-based C.W. Builders, claimed his company is owed about $75,000 by David James Homes for work he did for the company.
“Basically, I got screwed,” Weckel said. “This is the craziest thing I have ever seen.”
Weckel said he had framed houses for David James Homes for about seven years and claims he never had problems receiving payments from the company until January.
“I used to religiously get a check every Friday,” Weckel said. “In January I was told the company was changing payments to every 30 days, which I didn’t have a problem with that at the time.”
Weckel claimed he received monthly payments for several months after January; however, the amounts paid to him were less than what he was owed by the company.
“I was getting bits and pieces of what I was supposed to be getting,” Weckel said. “I didn’t worry about it at first, but the amount I was owed was getting bigger.”
Weckel claimed he stopped receiving payments from David James Homes about a month before the company closed.
Ronnie Eades — who owns a company in Richmond that provides roofing supplies to companies including David James Homes — claims he is owed about $80,000 for supplies provided to the company it never paid for.
“I had been doing business with David James Homes for 15 years, and I never had a problem until January,” Eades said. “I always got paid before that. It wasn’t always as fast as I would have liked, but I never really worried about it.”
Eades and Weckel both said they are unsure they will be able to get the money they claim is owed to them.
“I can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees to take this to court,” Eades said. “I don’t have that kind of money to throw at something like this.”
“People keep asking me if I am going to sue,” Weckel said. “From what I understand, Merle Heckman wasn’t left with anything, so I don’t know what I could even get if I did go to court.”
Cobbs — who also is the president of Cobbs Corner LLC, which is developing properties in Forest off of Cottontown Road in Forest — sent a letter to Mark Herring, the attorney general of Virginia, asking Herring’s office to review the matter.
“I am asking that you assign your appropriate division to review the matter,” the letter states. “I and numerous others have been grossly affected by the bankruptcy filing. Citizens throughout Virginia will be grateful for your review.”
Attempts to contact officials with the state attorney general’s office Friday were unsuccessful.