More than a broken window

C.T. Kruger
Tom Neumann (back) and Dan Bilodeau of J&J Contractors check the installation of a flat-panel television in the living room of the Neumann home May 15.
Published on: 5/20/2014

Greendale — A broken window in the living room was the least of Julie Neumann's worries this winter.

But when J&J Contractors was asked to inspect the window, the local business had some bad news for the home owners.

'I asked if we could look up at the attic,' said Jason Cyborowski, vice president of J&J Contractors. 'We were up there for about half an hour, and we felt bad. We almost didn't want to come down to tell her.'

But they did.

'I said to Julie: 'I know you've been through a lot, but your roof is sagging, and that's why the window broke,'' Cyborowski recollected.

Julie and her husband Tom had lived in the house on Darnell Lane — in the D Section — for 16 years.

The house's deteriorating condition was just another item added to the list of the family's misfortunes that year.

Julie lost her father in the fall; and, six weeks later, her brother died. Amid the funeral services and expenses, the family did not have the time or resources to completely remodel their house, too.

'Not only was our life a hot mess, but so was our house,' Julie said as she pushed back tears. 'We had to dig really deep inside ourselves to keep our sanity.'


Because of the family's tragic circumstances, Cyborowski and his company decided to help rebuild the home at a significant discount.

'I just wanted to help them through this difficult time,' Cyborowski said. 'I tried to do as much as I could to help.'

As the contractors removed the roof, however, other structural issues arose and 'one thing led to another,' he said.

Some rafters were broken. Other parts of the house did not have support or were cracked.

'Rather than just fix the roof, (the Neumanns) just wanted everything done right this time around,' Cyborowski said.

The house was originally built in 1964 but had received repairs about 10 years ago from a contractor based out of the city of Milwaukee, Julie said.

The repairs turned out to be shoddy, she said.

Construction for a whole house makeover began in February. The goal was to complete the remodel in three months in order to showcase the house in the Milwaukee/NARI Tour of Remodeled Homes, which took place the weekend of May 17.

The job required the help of at least four or five workers a day, Cyborowski said. At times, there were more than 20 workers at the site. The Neumann home was the company's fourth house showcased for the annual NARI Tour of Remodeled Homes. The tour consisted of 21 open houses that were newly renovated by Milwaukee-area contractors.

'This is the most extensive project I've done,' he said, 'and the quality of the house is great, especially since getting a house like this done in three months is practically impossible.'

New improvements to the house included cathedral ceilings, an open living space, a new fireplace and a covered porch.

Julie, Tom and their 13-year-old son stayed with her mother in Greendale during the construction.

Coming home

The transition had been rough, Julie said, but life was beginning to get back on track again.

'Jason took us by the hand and helped us through this,' she said. 'We don't know what we'd do without him.'

Tom said his family's experience with poor house repairs could stand as cautionary tale for his neighbors.

'Beware of contractors from another area,' Tom advised. 'If you want something done right, hire locally. Jason is our neighbor (as a Greendale resident), and you always want to hire a neighbor because they care about you, about the community. They care about their reputation.'

The Neumann's new home received favorable reviews during the NARI tour, Cyborowski said.

'Probably 300 people toured the house,' he said. 'The best part was watching people walk in and seeing their mouths drop. They were awe-struck.'

And after three months away from home, the Neumanns were able to move back in on May 19.

'It's been a journey,' Julie said with a sigh of relief, 'but I'm excited now. I'm ready to come home.'