Friday, June 14, 2019

“Bringing High-End Homes Back From the Brink - The Wall Street Journal” plus 1 more

“Bringing High-End Homes Back From the Brink - The Wall Street Journal” plus 1 more


Bringing High-End Homes Back From the Brink - The Wall Street Journal

Posted: 12 Jun 2019 07:47 AM PDT

All manner of calamity can befall a home. Cleaning up after can be both expensive and stressful. Illustration: Julia Yellow

Donald Drapkin, the late deal-making hedge fund manager and a close associate of financier Ron Perelman, had a mansion to make a billionaire drool. It was 40,000-square-feet in Alpine, New Jersey, filled with treasures including a Picasso painting, Chagall tapestries, a $2.5 million wardrobe, Elvis's and Eric Clapton's guitars and Joe Louis's boxing gloves.

One day in 1995, every inch of it stunk of smoke.

Howard White and Jeff Gross, top executives at Maxons Restorations, a Manhattan-based company that mitigates damage after calamities like fires and floods, showed up and took in the largest private home they had ever seen, said Mr. White. A roughly 12,000-square-foot wing of the house had burned to the ground, leaving the remainder of the mansion in need of a top-to-bottom cleaning to rid it of smoke odor. Messrs. White and Gross stayed on site for 45 days, overseeing a team of up to 20 people who wiped down "every square inch, every ketchup bottle, every ceiling, even the custom 'Captain America' Harley Davidson," Mr. Gross said. The final bill to the insurance company: $250,000 in 1995 dollars (about $420,000 today), Mr. White said.

"I felt relieved when it was all over," said Mr. Gross. Matthew Drapkin, one of Donald Drapkin's sons, said the family declined to comment on the event they recall as "traumatic." Mr. Drapkin died in 2016.

Jeff Gross, left, and Howard White of Maxons Restorations at the site of a 2019 fire in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Photo: Matt Furman for The Wall Street Journal

For over 25 years, Messrs. Gross and White have been masters of post-disaster recovery. Maxons Restorations is called in by homeowners and insurance companies when fires, floods, and other disasters fill properties with smoke, soot, water damage or mold. Their job is to recover valuables, farm out restoration work to art and antique experts, and deploy specialized cleaning crews to erase all traces of the catastrophe.

It's not a glamorous field, yet Maxons could fill a tabloid with celebrity anecdotes. They've worked for a gaggle of Big Apple billionaires, movie stars and politicians. Here are five tales of home disaster, in Messrs. Gross's and White's own words, followed by a look at why these disasters are so damaging, the costs to repair, and advice on avoiding it all in the first place.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

MOLLY RINGWALD
HOME DISASTER: SMOKE

Mr. Gross: "The term "working fireplace" is used to sell a lot of apartments in New York, but it's kind of a joke. I would not light a fire in most older buildings in New York City. Take Molly Ringwald. Quite a while back, she lived in a duplex in the Village, and she lit the fireplace in her apartment and it burned through the floor from her bedroom to her living room. The whole apartment was sooty and dirty and we had to clean her huge vintage clothing collection. The place took a year to restore."

Ms. Ringwald responded: "Huge? I think it's relative. We aren't talking Kardashian closets, but yeah, I have some clothes." She remembered being out of the apartment for less than a year.

Mr. Gross: "In our business, you often get what's called a `two-party check' from insurance companies. They are made out to us and to the homeowner, and we both have to sign. Getting these checks signed by celebrities can take us to some odd places. Robert De Niro had a pretty devastating fire in his duplex on Central Park West. My project manager got instructions from his team to meet him at a location. It turned out to be a dentist's office, and he was in the dentist chair with the bib on. He signed the check in that chair."

A Maxons employee cleans up soot and charring after a fire in an apartment at 740 Park Ave. in New York City. Photo: Howard White

A representative for Mr. De Niro said he rarely comments on personal matters.

COST: Removing fire-damaged items, gutting an apartment and putting down a layer of "white encapsulate" to cover all smells costs between $25,000 and $75,000 for 1,000 square feet.

DAMAGE: Smoke damage must be immediately cleaned, because as it sits, acidic particles can etch, stain or discolor a surface and the odor becomes more embedded into fabrics.

ADVICE: In older buildings, don't buy the hype when the real estate agent exclaims "this is a working fireplace!" Get a fireplace expert to do an inspection on the chimney. Also, go through your home and check all the power strips. Overloaded power strips are a common cause of fires, Mr. Gross said, because too many devices plugged into one can cause them to overheat. People tend not to check whether they are overloading a circuit, because they assume it will trip—"but the truth is that if you are coming close to max amperage, you are risking damage," he said.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

LAUREN BACALL
HOME DISASTER: SOOT

Mr. White: "Lauren Bacall's huge apartment in the Dakota filled up with soot when jackhammering on the roof caused soot to dump into her apartment through the chimney. We cleaned the entire apartment—every piece of china, every picture, every cushion. The first time I went over there, she was charming and showed me old pictures of her and Bogart. The next time, her staff warned me not to make eye contact."

Ms. Bacall's son, Steven Bogart, confirms White's story but doubts he was told not to make eye contact. "If she saw you, she'd look you in the eye," he said.

COST: To remove soot from a 1,000-square-foot apartment: anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on how it is furnished. Ms. Bacall's property cost about $25,000 to clean, because her 4,000-square-foot apartment was packed with artwork, china, antiques and memorabilia, Mr. Gross said.

DAMAGE: When an oil-burning furnace or boiler fails to ignite properly, partially burned oil can be vaporized and spread throughout a property in a "puffback." Puffbacks can cover homes with thick, visible oily residue. Other sources of soot: A "protein fire" (usually food burning) causes strong noxious odor but light residue. A "plastics fire" may have less odor but heavy residue. Cleaning crews use vulcanized rubber sponges, specialized degreasers, dry fabric cleaners and deodorizers.

ADVICE: Regular maintenance is key; have a technician examine oil burners about once a year, Mr. Gross said. Plastics fires are usually "freak accidents" and thus hard to avoid, he said. He said he recently reviewed a plastics fire situation where someone "stored an old telephone in his broiler and accidentally turned it on." More advice: Don't do that.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

MICHAEL COHEN
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "In January of 2018, Michael Cohen had a leak from above that affected his apartment in a Trump building, on 59th and Park Avenue. We did a mold remediation on the apartment. A friend of mine was the general contractor who was doing the repairs, and he was working on the apartment on April 9th, the day the Feds raided. They threw my friend out and they went after the documents in the apartment. The good news for my friend? Michael Cohen had paid him in advance in full."

A spokesperson for Davis Goldberg & Galper, a Washington D.C. law firm that represents Mr. Cohen, said that he is currently in federal prison and could not be reached.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "In 2017, Michael Bloomberg's brownstone had a leak in it. On 79th Street, he has two brownstones connected to each other, gorgeous and tasteful. There was a bad leak from a pipe break that affected the upstairs bedroom and the dining room ceiling below it. It had ornate plaster medallions and as I recall he had a dinner party scheduled in that room in about nine days time. So we had to rip up the floors in the room above it and then dry this ceiling, all without scraping it or touching it."

Bloomberg Philanthropies did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment.

GLENN CLOSE
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "I get a call from an insurance company at 3:45 in the afternoon asking can I personally go at 5 p.m. to Glenn Close's apartment. I'm sitting in the lobby and she comes in and says, "I'm so sorry, I'm late, and I have a dinner party!" She runs into the kitchen and starts making a cheese plate while I inspected the damage in her bathroom from a leak above from another bathroom.

I come back into the kitchen to tell her that nothing needs to be done tonight. We can work on it the next day. I'm watching her cutting cheese with this huge knife, and suddenly the scene in "Fatal Attraction" where she is scraping her leg with the knife is front-and-center in my mind. I actually stammer and turn bright red, and she stops for a beat, looks at the big knife, and smiles. I try to be unaffected by celebrities, but that image was just too powerful."

Ms. Close confirmed this story.

COST: Typical cost to open ceiling or walls, dry it with specialized equipment and mitigate mold with antimicrobial treatments is around $1,200. Ms. Close's problem was more complex and cost roughly $12,000.

DAMAGE: The most common water damage comes from frozen, cracked pipes, followed by leaks caused by HVAC systems, Mr. Gross said. Any water damage must be managed within three days, or mold will start to form.

ADVICE: Where frozen pipes are a possibility, prepare the house for winter: Shut off the main water valve, drain pipes and pour anti-freeze into the toilets. A shorter-term solution is to let the water run on a slight drip, which will prevent it from freezing in the pipes.

Quick action prevented worse flood damage at Emmaus High School - Allentown Morning Call

Posted: 13 Nov 2018 12:00 AM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Quick action prevented worse flood damage at Emmaus High School  Allentown Morning Call

If not for the quick thinking of the Emmaus High School maintenance staff, the flooding that damaged 40 classrooms and other areas and closed school for a ...

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