A Stillwater home builder who touted green, energy-efficient houses fitted with solar panels is on the brink of bankruptcy amid mounting complaints over its business practices, leaving a trail of unpaid subcontractor bills and a group of embittered buyers who say their houses were poorly built or never completed.
The apparent collapse of GreenHalo Builds comes just days after its CEO, John Sharkey, publicly stated he was proceeding with a 46-home, 26-acre development in Bayport, raising questions about how the company plans to proceed when numerous creditors say they're owed money from past builds.
Amid a handful of finished houses in Stillwater, Hudson, and Hugo, some buyers found major problems when they moved in. One woman hired her own subcontractors to finish her GreenHalo house at a loss of some $400,000.
Another buyer said he spent weeks asking Sharkey for invoices to claim tax credits for the solar panels and EV car charger, only to finally receive a piece of paper listing one number and no breakdown of costs. It listed the buyer of the solar panels as "Derek Zoolander," the main character of a 2001 comedy film.
"This doesn't seem that any person who is responsibly doing business would do this," said Jesse Dykhoff, who bought a GreenHalo Builds home in Hudson, Wis.
It's not clear how much money GreenHalo Builds owes creditors — a bankruptcy filing could come as soon as Aug. 1, according to an email the company sent to homeowners this week — but numerous subcontractors who painted, laid sod, built bathrooms, put down flooring or installed plumbing say they're owed tens of thousands of dollars and have been unable to collect for months.
Sharkey declined to speak to a reporter, sending out a statement through his attorney.
"At the moment, we are focused on communicating with the affected homeowners to do everything we can to mitigate this unfortunate situation," attorney John Lamey wrote. "We have offered to fully cooperate with the affected homeowners to access the Minnesota contractor fund for reimbursement. Mr. Sharkey is doing his best to help out to the best of his ability, and is very sympathetic to the impacted homeowners."
Lamey said he represents Sharkey as well as GreenHalo Builds, LLC and Sharkey Design Build, LLC. The websites of both organizations have been shut down.
Kellie Kreller moved into her GreenHalo house in the Liberty neighborhood of Stillwater this week, months after it was supposed to be finished. She sold her house in Blaine and moved out May 25, spending two months in hotel rooms while overseeing the last stages of construction herself.
"I'm not a house builder, so this has not been easy at all, but what do you do?" she said. Kreller said she gave Sharkey a little more than half of her home's $800,000 cost, but when she asked to see receipts, he stopped talking to her. Her fears were confirmed when she visited the job site in February expecting to find a hive of activity but found no one there. She confronted a subcontractor at the house on a return visit and learned that no one was working because Sharkey hadn't paid them.
Kreller hired subcontractors on her own. She ended up spending $1.2 million on a home valued at $800,000.
"It took every bit of savings that I had," she said.
She doesn't know if the financial mess is over. Subcontractors who haven't been paid might file liens against the property, she said.
Homeowner Jake Langer said he and his wife wanted to build their dream home on some family land in Hugo, and chose GreenHalo after a positive meeting with their team. The home was finished about five months late, and major errors will require repairs. Worse, subcontractors who weren't paid sometimes knock on the door.
"We have angry subcontractors showing up at our house. My wife is scared to be home alone," Langer said.
He's since learned that a portion of the house is sinking — 3 inches since April.
"What we're left with now is we have an unfinished home and we have major warranty items that are structural," he said.
Langer reached out to other GreenHalo home buyers and found a group eager to share information in the hope of clearing liens or getting some of their money back. Members have pored through public records about GreenHalo and Sharkey, including various land deals in Washington County.
"It's moving so fast; none of us are lawyers," he said.
JC DeKraai said she and her wife wanted to build their forever home on land they bought in Stillwater along Boutwell Road, but started seeing red flags a few months after they hired GreenHalo. The utility room was too small to fit the water heater, the pre-fabricated walls ordered for the house were the wrong "R" value, and cracks appeared in their concrete floor.
DeKraai said she broke down in tears at the closing, since the two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house was uninhabitable.
"We just want to be able to finish our home," she said.
It's not just homeowners. Troy Pleski, the owner of All Pride Plumbing, said he's owed $11,275. Kevin Hentges laid sod in Mound, Stillwater and Mahtomedi and is still owed about $15,000. He's been trying to collect since last year. Painter Tim Miller said he's owed $10,500. "He put me way behind the eight ball," said Miller.
Bayport city administrator Matt Kline on Friday said Sharkey's EcoHaven project was still moving forward, as far as he knew. The planned-unit development near Barker's Alps Park would be Sharkey's largest ever. Land developer Kevin Von Riedel spoke to the city as recently as July 17 to talk about stormwater issues, said Kline.
Told about the creditors, the homeowners' complaints and GreenHalo's letter mentioning bankruptcy, Kline said he's concerned. "I think the city has a whole would have definite questions on the viability of this development at this point."