San Francisco

Bay Area Entertainer's ‘Illegal' Windows Bring the Pain (and Panes)

When a former America's Got Talent contestant asked for our help, the NBC Bay Area Responds team snapped into action.

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NBC Bay Area viewers with problematic home improvement projects frequently ask us for a helping hand all the time -- and we snap to it.

In this case, we did so quite literally for a San Francisco Bay Area homeowner and entertainer -- whom you might remember from the first season of America's Got Talent on NBC.

That's Bobby "Badfingers" Von Merta, in 2006. Thirteen years later, he's still drumming with his digits.

"I'm a professional finger-snapper," Bobby told us. "I do it in a different way than anybody else does. It's a musical instrument. You name it -- rhythms, songs -- I play 'em."

Though he lives in Campbell, Bobby still owns the San Francisco house he grew up in, a short walk from both Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. His parents lived most of their lives there, and he kept it perfectly maintained after they were gone.

"My parents bought it brand-new in 1967," he said. "It has a lot of memories. Good memories, here."

He's good with his hands -- but not a professional window installer. When the San Francisco house needed new windows, he hired the pros at Lowe's, and paid them about $20,000.

It should have been an open-and-shut job, until a follow-up visit years later. One of the window installers shuddered.

"The Lowe's representative told me that the windows were illegal," Bobby said. "I said, 'Well, that's funny, because you guys installed them.'"

They aren't exactly "illegal", but there was a serious problem with the windows - vinyl frames. San Francisco's strict planning code forbids the use of vinyl frame windows in most cases, and code violations can be punished by fines of at least $200 per day.

Bobby bought the windows and their installation from Lowe's, and he says the contractors should have known better. He says he demanded answers.

"I said, 'What's going to happen with the other windows that are illegal?'" Bobby said. "I didn't want [the city] to come out and red tag my house, or make me take out the windows and not have a solution."

Bobby asked Lowe's to replace the windows. When it didn't, he asked NBC Bay Area Responds for help.

It wasn't exactly a snap.

Bobby says Lowe's took care of the permit for the window replacement work. The California Contractors State License Board told us that means the Lowe's contractors would be responsible for making sure everything was up to code.

We spent months going back-and-forth with Lowe's headquarters in North Carolina. Ultimately, Bobby got $20,000 worth of new, "legal" windows.

"You helped me out a little bit on this situation," Bobby said. "A lot a bit!"

But Bobby's glass pains didn't end there. He says the new set of windows didn't have all the right parts or paint.

"These little side things are very sharp," Bobby said, referring to the corners of the window's interior frames. "They're made out of fiberglass, on the end of the windows, and they were unfinished."

So, we asked Lowe's to clear things up again. About six weeks later, Bobby's windows were fully installed and finished to his satisfaction -- more than a year after work started.

"It looks very good," he said.

We asked Lowe's for details about what happened. A spokesperson told us:

We are truly sorry for Mr. Von Merta’s experience and have replaced his windows, as he requested. Because of the time that’s elapsed, we are unable to share details from the original installation.

As for Bobby, he managed to keep his trademark humor sharp throughout the window ordeal.

"Thanks to NBC," he said. "Without you, this probably never would have happened. I would have had to buy some more blood pressure pills."

What to Know Before You Hire a Contractor

Sometimes, contractor disputes don't end so well. That's where a contractor bond can help. The State of California requires contractors to carry a $15,000 bond. That's money essentially set aside to protect you if they make errors or omissions.

Before you hire a contractor, make sure they're properly licensed and bonded. You can do that, as well as file a complaint about a contractor, via the Contractors State License Board website.

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