Are you licensed, insured, and bonded?

Yes, fully.

Michigan Homebuilder License, Essen Davis #2101213459.  In Michigan that licenses me to do all types of residential construction work except for Plumbing/Electrical/HVAC.  I can also do residential design work up to 3500 sq feet without signed and sealed architect as long as standard methods of construction are employed.  Along with contract law, MIOSHA, and some other misc training… the residential homebuilder license is the sum of all residential construction sub-specialties, which in Michigan, are named the following:

  • carpentry
  • concrete
  • excavation
  • insulation work
  • masonry
  • painting and decorating
  • siding
  • roofing
  • screens and storm sash
  • gutters
  • tile&marble
  • house wrecking
  • swimming pools
  • basement waterproofing

Additionally I hold an Asbestos Abatement Contractor/Supervisor license (important for homes built before 1981).

And hold an EPA RRP certification, and we are a registered EPA lead safe firm (important for homes built before 1978).

Various others, like confined space, osha safety, properly handling refrigerants, etc.

We hold $1,000,000 general liability insurance that is backed by Lloyd’s of London

We hold workers comp insurance.

We carry a theft Bond.

We do not always carry a Contractor License Bond in Michigan (unless it is a year that we did work for a public building for a city government).  It is not required in Michigan for residential work and therefore bond companies will not generally sell them unless you are working on a road or public building for a city goverment.

In situations where other bonds, like bid bonds or payment bonds are prudent, we will discuss them.

Where are you located?

Trenton, MI.  I work out of my home shop.  Since this is very much a “come to you” business… it lowers overhead to not maintain a storefront.  I am located at 2136 Third St.

Are you registered with the Better Business Bureau?

Yes, I am registered, but do not pay for their accreditation.

How do you determine your pricing?

I prefer to work with all my customers the way I would bid friends.  I try to do this in the simplest and fairest way possible and with complete pricing transparency.  Full details available here.

My brother (or _______ ) does electrical (or _____ ) work, can they do that portion of the work for the project?

If they have a Michigan License AND carry proper insurance AND worker’s comp, I will use them as the sub for that stage if you’d like.

Can I help with the project to reduce some of the labor costs?

Yes.  While I don’t expect it.  I try to never discourage a homeowner from learning, watching, asking questions, or swinging a hammer along side me for anything I am licensed for (everything but plumbing/electrical/HVAC).  Many people, I think really want to do a project on their own, but just haven’t been exposed to that type of work or instruction before.  Or they want to do certain parts of the project, but other parts they just want to pay for a professional to do it.  I can work with that.  There is definitely a satisfaction to be said for having your sweat and personality into a project.  There are some safety limitations… if someone wants to watch me replace a shingle… I might replace the shingle and then re-demonstrate on a piece of scrap wood with some spare shingles on the ground for safety. No matter what we are doing, all MIOSHA safety equipment and practices must be followed.

Levels Schmevels.

At my other non-construction jobs (The fire service and air force), I have been teaching high school students to be EMTs and young adults and adults to be paramedics for nearly 20 years while they do their clinical rotations and I was a flight instructor in sailplanes years ago in the Air Force and am currently an FAA advanced ground instructor.  I guess I’m saying that teaching while I do time sensitive dangerous work is second nature.  I picked up quite a few construction, business, and life lessons by willing teachers at that age myself.  I still consider myself a student and am always learning new things myself.



How do you handle changes in the project?

We use a standard change order process.  All changes are documented by “change order”.  If a change is requested early enough, and there is no cost, it is just documented.  If there is an additional cost, the difference in cost for the change order is paid for at signing (to keep the job progressing).  If there is a reduction in cost, it is reduced from the next or the appropriate progress payment  (whichever is most appropriate to keep the job progressing).

A change order example is an owner supplied higher end fixture that was bid in as a builder supplied mid grade.  In that case the owner would buy the fixture and the cost allowance for the builder supplied mid grade would be reduced from the appropriate progress payment.

Have you been cited for license infractions?  For actions against bonds you’ve held?

No and No.

What’s your warranty policy?

We warrant our work for 12 months.  We don’t call a job complete until both you and I are both satisfied.  If something should change over the next 12 months, Just call us at 407-SMILE and we’ll come out and do everything we can to make it right.   We have a few limitations which would be spelled out in the contract.  We don’t go back and check the date and say no it’s been 13 or 20 months…. if your project is in our recent memory in the last couple years, and we’ll come back and do what we can to make it right.  Our work is on referals, so we’d rather come back and fix any errors we missed and leave you completely satisfied when you speak of our work to others.

Some common exceptions are concrete and paint.  Concrete starts cracking internally within hours and all concrete you see in the world is cracked even if not visible.  We follow best practices and spell out in our contract all of the things we will do to limit and control this cracking process and settling issues, and include directions on your responsibilities for the first 28 days to manage the curing, but don’t warranty it from cracking or settling.  Paint gets scuffed by use.  We do a tic list and will come back once in the first month for paint and leave you with touch up paint so you can handle scuffs.  Sometimes our paint or concrete work is subbed out and the subcontractor does not have these limitations, in these cases their warranty would apply.

Do you have customer service?

Not a dedicated office staff.  I am personally available to answer your questions.  Call (734) 407-7645 or email at  I will answer or respond as soon as possible.  Sometimes it is a few hours until I can return a call.   Especially days when I am fulfilling my duty to society as a firefighter/paramedic. But I am also available by phone or text on my personal cell at (734) 925-2528.

My last secretary, Marley (the poodle pictured on the right), used to help work the phones, but quickly realized he still got treats even if he didn’t write down the messages, and then he tried to eat the pencil and the pad of paper.  So that didn’t work out and I promoted him to riding along in the truck when bidding projects (when it’s not too hot out), and I just forward office phones to my cell when I’m mobile.

Are you Pet Friendly?

Yes, but no matter how pet friendly I am, my biggest concern with pets is open doors.  Please provide a way to allow me to not have to worry about them running out an open door with two hands full, preferably have things like pet gates so they can be comfortable and most like their normal routine and not locked up in a cage or bedroom because we are there.

When you say you do custom work… just how custom?

While there is no license for custom furniture, leather, canvas, or custom window cushion work.  I do many non-license-able specialty craftsmanship work in both old and new methods and am not afraid to pick up new skills.   We can pull off things you might think are possible only on TV.  We are not afraid of new building methods if they look to be superior (sometimes require engineering sign off by a structural engineer).  Some skills I am looking forward to learning, for example custom art reproduced in stained glass, making a bathroom sink from a boulder, slate roofing, and Guastavino tile arched ceilings.  If they are on my list of things I’ve always wanted to do, I might do it for materials cost only my payment being the experience of learning it.  So it doesn’t hurt to ask for some fine craftsmanship details. or have pictures of things you like but wouldn’t think were possible.  They just might be.

Child’s Walnut Rocking Chair by Essen Davis

For an example, this chair pictured on the right was the second chair I ever made.  (and is actually a more refined walnut copy of the first chair I ever made… which came about trying to make the most beautiful thing I could out of a single piece of leftover construction 2×12 lumber). I include this, not as a furniture maker… but to assure you that there are almost no limits to what is possible.

The 3D image to the left of the chair was made AFTER the chair was built to show the same no limits side of our computer aided design abilities.  While we use modern purpose built computer software, we aren’t limited to mass production boxy home design tools and can design from scratch aren’t afraid of curves.  The custom work we can roll out both our computer and our shop is second to none.

Even though non-built in furniture isn’t the focus of what we do, there are some instances when built-ins or antique furniture repair is in order.  Of course we can do quick and strong yet inexpensive furniture carpentry, too, using methods like pocket screws and plywood.  And sometimes a napkin sketch and a story stick is the cheapest and quite good enough plan for a built in, so we don’t lean too heavily on computer design tools.  We actually don’t do a computer mock-up for many things that we do, but the point is that we can if needed.

How do you handle lien releases (when subcontractors will be used)?

This is a tough one to answer shortly, clearly, and intelligently…  I think most companies you call will avoid a real answer by saying they have things set up in their contracts that work better for you and them and have lien releases signed and that they’ll do the Michigan Lien system by the letter if you truly want.  (We are all in fact required to establish and follow that statewide lien system if the owner, any supplier, any sub, or the contractor wishes.) However, the lien system in Michigan is for all intents and purposes dead and gone thanks to the housing crash, so I prefer to not pretend to use it since it is a dog that has no teeth.  The same can probably by said by all subs and suppliers.  I prefer to use good contracts, payment schedules that allow no supplier or subcontractor to lend or put forth their money into an improvement on a customer’s house, and document both partial and full lien releases whenever anyone is paid in partial or full.   A good short summary of the basic problem can be found here:

I keep a hybrid pre-payment schedule with complete transparency and for every dollar paid in material and labor you end up with a detailed receipt that shows just where every dollar went.  I do so in a manner which allows me to pay suppliers for materials prior to them working and then in full at time of completion exchanging that second payment for a full lien release for you.  And in the case of partial work or incomplete work by a subcontractor that they are unable or unwilling to rectify, my subcontractor contract contains language which holds them responsible for liquid damages for delaying and/or failing to complete their portion of the project, I use this to leverage a full lien release in exchange for releasing them from the requirement to pay these liquid damages.  Again, this would be only if we can’t work something out, or something way out of the ordinary happened.  I move on and hire someone who can complete it with those same funds.  I bought the materials, they didn’t perform the work, they don’t get paid, they sign a release protecting you in exchange for not being “penalized” as specified in the contract they signed, the money they would have been paid goes to another sub.

I give you each full lien release by all subcontractors and myself to keep in your files… which would be invaluable to you if someone ever someday did try and pull some sort of fast one on you.  Essentially, due to the failed backend of the Michigan system, it is now up to the contractors to make a system that works for the homeowner, the subs, the supplier, and the contractor at this point.  In this regard, I am responsible for making sure all parties are treated fairly, and make sure you have documentation on file to prove that both you and I did the right thing.

What it boils down to is now the homeowner pays a little more upfront than maybe they’d like (or have read to expect to in nationally publicized advice in websites or magazines that cover more states than this one, or even advice from people with experience in Michigan pre-2010), the suppliers want the money first and charge more interest for situations requiring delayed payment, and the subs can only work on their normal thinner margins if they know they will be paid their asking rate and will all jack their prices up to stay in business if people start making them the fall guy.  I don’t make any money as a general contractor until after the whole job is done and all suppliers and subcontractors are paid and you are happy.

The heart of this question is why you are hiring a contractor to begin with, to navigate these and other pitfalls on your behalf.  I took the time to understand the shortcomings of the remnants of the old lien system that is still partially there no longer has any teeth and set my process up so that your money is not wasted. I am knowledgeable and know what the work should entail, make sure the money and labor is accounted for, goes where it needs to when it needs to, and that you have documentation proving that when it is all said and done.. and are holding full release of lien wavers at the end.  And my contracts specify that no one will be dragging you or me into court for stuff like this… in the event of dispute, it is settled by referring to the contract and if that is not clear enough quickly and inexpensively by independent binding arbitration.  If a worker or supplier tries to cause you problems later, I set up both the contracts and the paper trail in a manner to protect you and your money and keep the project moving despite any occasional oddball situation.