Let's break down my rating - unfortunately HomeStars aggregates the score for "How satisfied are you with this company" and "How likely are you to recommend this company" together. We would rate them 3/5 stars and 0/5 stars for the respective categories.
We will detail our experience below, which I have adapted from a letter originally addressed to Penguin Basements (a.k.a. Penguin Renos a.k.a. Penguin Kitchens) (dated August 28, 2018) - you can refer to the photos/tables attached to see the types of issues we encountered. If you want the short verdict, see the "BOTTOM LINE" at the end of this review.
Our family decided to finish our basement because we wanted to be able to accommodate our growing family; we decided to go through a contractor as it would save time (note, the project started and "finished" within 2 weeks starting July 3rd, but deficiencies were not completed to our satisfaction until October 16th, 2018). Our initial meeting was in May 2018. We were impressed by the professional sales presentation, complete with demo of construction material samples. Despite a higher estimate for the project (i.e., approx. 500 sq. ft open area + 3 piece bath), we felt that our commitment to have the basement showcased would be reassurance of Penguin's pride in experience, quality and workmanship.
We encountered several issues along the way, many of which I had to address (on my own time, on my own dime). I ended up acquiring the necessary equipment and materials and rushing to adjust the HVAC (if the HVAC return/supplies were not easily/conveniently adjusted, Penguin proposed to delete them, even though it was explicitly indicated to us that those adjustments would be included). It was to my surprise that Penguin did not have any experience (nor provide the recommendation) to switch out a round to an oval supply so that there would not be a "jog" in the wall.
We also had various framing issues (most notably, a twisted column that Penguin tried to have us sign off on as "complete"), some issues of which were rather reluctantly addressed after much back-and-forth. When we mentioned the various issues to Penguin, the response we got from them was along the lines of “you won’t notice the imperfections once there’s furniture!”. We also had various electrical placement issues, some of which I had to address myself (otherwise it was indicated to me that we would be charged for a change order to get the electrician back even though it was recognized that the electrical was not placed correctly). After I addressed these issues myself, Penguin's overwhelming commentary was "it just tests how handy you are"! There were other issues that I pointed out (cracked grout in shower along the edges - which should be caulked with silicone as per standard practice, but when I pointed this out, my concerns were initially dismissed. What I don't understand is why I am having to spend my personal time and energy on fixing things that I have already paid for!
Penguin aspires/prides itself on doing its projects efficiently. However, it does so sometimes at the expense of brushing off client concerns. At one point we were aggressively put on the spot to make a last minute decision about choosing between two shower bases - both of which were not agreed upon at the Design Selection meeting. “Efficiency” in and of itself is never an excuse for poor customer service – these cases are made worse when the homeowner is pointing out problems that could potentially save the contractor significant time and effort from returning to the site to rectify problems.
The 3/5 satisfaction rating reflects the fact that they came back to do a decent job of addressing the majority of the deficiencies - but it took them over 3 months to come around to come to terms with them and to address them! It wasn't until I wrote an extensive letter at the end of August, complete with photos, for Penguin to take us seriously about addressing the issues. For the significant cost associated with this project (and the time/money I ended up spending to DIY), we cannot say we are completely satisfied with the money we spent - hence we would not recommend Penguin Basements (hence 0/5 recommendation rating) unless they address their customer service/workmanship issues (and an over-reliance on the customer to do-it-myself)! That being said, all Penguin staff were friendly and efficient - but it should never come at the cost of workmanship and customer service.
We have requested to speak to Mr. Guy Solomon (President) in our August 28th letter, but to date (October 19th) we have not heard from him. We are "satisfied" in the sense that they came back to fix things, but it shouldn't have come to the point where we had to write an extensive letter to convince Penguin that the job wasn't finished to our satisfaction.
As an aside, Penguin has recently indicated that they will be taking photos of our finished basement (which we have agreed to) rather than conducting the agreed-upon showcase.
BOTTOM LINE: If I had more free time, I would have been much more satisfied trying to get the basement done myself while contacting additional subcontractors for tasks for which I had less experience and/or did not have the equipment to complete. Of course, this is coming from someone that Penguin representatives have identified as "handy".
UPDATE October 22, 2018
Reply to company response:
Let's clarify the facts: my spouse did not sign off on everything on the substantial completion list on August 3rd. This was because the fix applied to the twisted column was simply unacceptable and therefore, she intentionally did not sign off on it. Surprisingly, we received a call from the site supervisor the next day, telling us that our last cheque was to be deposited because the job was 100% complete.
We understand things go wrong/ not according to plan during construction projects - being in Civil & Environmental Engineering, I know this is the norm rather than the exception. Rather than aggressively forcing us into an immediate decision (like with the shower base the morning it needed to be installed when it was not our fault that different ones were delivered), things could be handled a little differently. (Telling us the morning after that our last cheque was to be deposited and the project was complete when we did NOT sign off on everything also really irked us....as is the case with you indicating to us that we signed off on everything, which is categorically NOT true!). All we're trying to say is, schedule extra time and do it well the first time! And if things need to be fixed, don't try to get us to sign off on something (which we didn't) that is less than what you hold your standards to be. Admit the issue up front, and takes steps to address it - no if's, or's, and's and but's!
Electrical: As we indicated in our table (and in the letter that we hope Guy has read), the site supervisor AGREED with us that the pot lights were not installed as per our instruction ("centred and evenly spaced"). We requested Penguin to rectify the locations BEFORE the drywall went up. This change in electrical location was NOT because of us changing our minds.
The jovial rapport is fine - just not at the point in time that the comments were made about using furniture to hide things when Penguin hasn't come to terms with the fact that the twisted column was unacceptable. Also, under the circumstances where electrical/HVAC needed to be adjusted, we had no "personal choice" but to DIY because otherwise we were told that multiple change orders would be added. In other words, if we didn't DIY, we would've had to pay twice to get it done right once!
Speaking of the outstanding balance, a colleague at Penguin received my payment information and should have already processed the payment earlier this afternoon. The only thing that was not accounted for is my time/materials spent on making the various adjustments and touch-ups, and drafting that extensive letter to Guy that finally convinced Penguin that the column (amongst other half-fixes) was unacceptable. For example, it was never made clear whether or not we would be reimbursed for HVAC materials to make the adjustment (an offer was never made at least as a courtesy); but then again, we also never agreed upon an hourly rate to charge for a handy engineer.
We look forward to hearing from Guy. A written response would be much appreciated.
- Company Response
Thank for taking the time to post a review. And although you posted as a Private User, we do know which project this is as it’s not yet closed in our books.
First up, to clarify. While we did indeed launch Penguin Condo-Reno and Penguin Kitchens this year in response to client requests, they are very different projects with their own dedicated teams. That aside, let's examine this build.
You indicated in your review that deficiencies were not completed until October 16. Originally however during the Substantial Completion walk-through to identify and address any build defences on August 3rd, all work was signed off. Now we know you weren’t happy with your spouse signing off this paper, but you must understand by doing so, resources were allocated elsewhere before you let us know differently. So things like the twisted column, while something we both agreed needed to be replaced, was not going to happen the next day.
As for issues you addressed on your own time and your own dime, that came down to personal choice, and you were reimbursed via account credit for the $11.27 for the white silicon, and $7.66 for the wall plate cover. Is there anything else we should be aware of? Please note it in you buildertrend account and supply a receipt, if so.
As you noted, there were some issues along the way, and that is unfortunately a possibility with any construction build as there are things that can only be known once a tear-down and build is undertaken. As we build more basements that anyone in the GTA, we’d like to think we’ve seen them all, but even we can be surprised from time-to-time. But as you, yourself noted, they were all addressed to your satisfaction by October 16. This was in spite of money still being owed on the project, as we work with our clients in good faith as they do with us.
You do have us on HVAC though, as until you brought it to our attention we did not know about that specific space saving unit. You can see where we got the idea you were handy ;-)
Finally we’d like to address the comment on electrical as we aren’t sure how this happened, as we insist our clients do a walk-through with the electrician to note where things like outlets are needed and where they can or cannot go. The reason a change order would have applied therefore is that such changes were not requested at that time. Often a client will have a change of mind, and while we will accommodate that, that will result in a modest up-charge.
As for the comments on hiding things behind furniture, or you being a a handyman that came about from the jovial rapport you had built up with out staff when you told them about your engineering background and started suppling your own charts and such, and were meant in jest to someone we though would take it that way. Lesson learned. At no point did we expect you to do the work we were paid to do. And speaking of that, there’s still the matter of an outstanding balance.
Guy generally does not get involved mid-project as it’s a case of too many chefs at the table, and he was on vacation recently, but rest assured he will be reaching out to you directly. Every project from the perfect 10, to yes, sadly a 3 is an opportunity to learn and improve our business and the customer experience.