Special Report: Solving the mystery of the missing kitchen

Russell Darnell called 10 On Your Side for help.

WAVY News 10

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Imagine you’re about to sell a house, and suddenly your kitchen goes missing.  If you’re scratching your head, so was a Suffolk home owner who saw things go from bad to worse, and then it got so bad he called 10 On Your Side.

We’ve been working on this story for three weeks. We got involved because it appears a contractor was supposed to take measurements for new counters and cabinets, but ended up doing much more than that.

All sides agree what happened was wrong, so we want to know who’s going to make things right.

Russ Darnell met us in his kitchen.  His empty kitchen.  “What we’re looking at is a kitchen that was fully ready.”  But now is fully gone.  The seller is Russ Darnell and his kitchen went missing 10 days before closing.  Darnell told us, “That was my thought… ‘Who took my kitchen?’…not only that, but why did they take it in the manner in which they did?'”

Darnell immediately called the buyer’s agent, Sheila Stockton with Berkshire Hathaway Towne Realty. “The first question I asked is why am I not calling the police, and where is my kitchen?”  Stockton assured Darnell the contractor was only to take measurements for the new cabinets which were part of the purchase agreement, but he ended up doing much more than that.  Towne Realty’s Chairman and CEO Barbara Wolcott had this explanation, “A contractor hired by the buyer went into the house to take estimates before closing. That’s all he was supposed to do.  He went in and removed cabinets.  He shouldn’t have touched them.  The property had not closed. He took it on himself and he was wrong.”

The contractor, Antione Clark, refused to do an interview, but sent us a text showing Stockton gave him the combination to the contractor’s lock box to enter the property.

“He acknowledges nobody told him to do it.  He said he thought he was doing a favor, and that it was going to make life easier for the painters when they went in there,” said Wolcott.

Antione Clark thought wrong, and put the torn out cabinets and counter tops in the garage. CdNwk0DUEAAEAvz CdNwkukUMAEWuGZ CdNwkujUEAA-Mck

It was sad watching Darnell rummaging through the cabinets in the garage. “Then we have pieces here, and bottom of cabinets, piece of back board, and it is all trash. Trash,” Darnell says as he throws the broken wood work on the floor of the garage.  Ms. Wolcott adds, “Mr. Clark went based on the assumption which was not a correct assumption, and that is that the property was going to close.”

The bad assumption and bad news got worse. The buyer walked away from the deal, and now Darnell has no deal on the house, and no kitchen.

“They (took) my kitchen for a house they wanted, and then decided not to have it,” says Darnell.  Making matters worse, he opens an envelope from his lender Bank of America, to find these words: “Payment instructions.  Our records show this loan is in foreclosure.”   Darnell is days away from foreclosure.  Why did he call 10 On Your Side?  “I needed help.  I needed assistance.  I needed help.”

We got on the phone with Bank of America.  The Bank of America service representative on the other end would not allow us to record his side of the conversation, but we said, “All we are asking for is another month, so we can try to find another buyer for this house, and make Bank of America whole.”  We also called a media representative and made her aware of our story, what the issues were, and what Bank of America could do to help out the situation.  Amazingly, Bank of America generously agreed to give Darnell at least 30 days to find a new buyer. That problem was solved.

Now we want to know who is going to make things right and to make things whole for Mr. Darnell.  Who is responsible for the removal of cabinets and counter tops in the kitchen?  We pounded the table with Ms. Wolcott, not in a negative way, but in a direct way, “How did this happen?”  She responded, “All I want to do is fix this. Instead of pointing fingers which I really can’t stand, how do we make things right?”  Wolcott was direct, sincere, and results oriented.

Ms. Wolcott then does the right thing.  We asked her, “Is your company legally responsible for the missing kitchen?  This was her answer, “Legally, would we be responsible? No.”  Most executives would end there, but here’s what Ms. Wolcott said next, “Morally, do I think we are responsible? Yes. Morally, yes. I feel we have a moral obligation to make this man happy.”  How about that?  In a time when observations are everyone ducks for cover, not Ms. Wolcott.  Ms. Wolcott had already offered Darnell $1,000 towards new cabinets, which under the purchase agreement were to be replaced anyway.

Ms. Wolcott came up with even more good news from Towne Realty. Initially, Ms. Wolcott agreed to come up to $2,500. She also agreed to hand over the buyer’s $500 earnest money.  But then Ms. Wolcott went even further and offered to split the cost for new cabinets and counters with Darnell, “If he is willing to share the cost then we will split the cost of replacing those cabinets, so we have been trying to fix it.”

Darnell is in a lot better place today than when he opened that foreclosure letter with us earlier in the week.  We asked him then, “What are you going to do?”  He bowed his head, emotional, and got choked up.

Today, Darnell is looking for another buyer, and thanks to Ms. Wolcott that new buyer will have brand new cabinets and counters in the kitchen; a stark difference from the cabinets and counters that Contractor Antione Clark took down in January.

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