Crumbling balconies boon for restoration firm

The sun is shining, the sea is a tranquil turquoise, and Atlantic breezes are taking the edge off summertime heat at the oceanfront Barclay condominium in South Palm Beach.

But all is not well this June day at the eight-story building. For nearly 40 years, saltwater and sea air have seeped into the pores of its concrete construction. The extreme elements grew a rusty crust around the steel skeleton reinforcing the structure, loosening bonds between the metal and cement mixture and causing the most vulnerable areas _ balconies _ to crumble.

Alan Mosher, president of the Custom Group, a company that specializes in concrete restoration, stands on his tip toes at the edge of The Barclay’s 90,000-square-foot pool deck, stretching to reach the corner of a second-floor lanai.

With his bare hands, he pulls out a chunk of concrete the size of a pie slice. With the tap of a hammer, the rest of the pie comes down.

Mosher, 57,estimates that restoring and fortifying the balconies on the 208-unit complex is a $1.6 million job _ a loud $1.6 million job.

“When we start a project we give the building manager two boxes of earplugs,” said Mosher, who lives in Delray Beach and has his business based in Deerfield Beach. “They know we’re here, and they know we’re serious.”

Including the Barclay, Custom Group has about $15 million worth of jobs going this summer with the biggest being a $3 million project in Sunny Isles Beach. Up and down A1A, aging condos are suffering the downside of oceanfront living as their concrete deteriorates and restoration is required.

Summer is prime time to do the dusty, deafening work because so many beachfront condo residents are snowbirds. At the Barclay, just 52 of the 208 units have homestead exemptions, meaning the owner considers it a primary residence.

It was a little more than two years ago that Mosher bought Custom Group from its retiring owner for $65,000. The purchase was made with Mosher’s partner Jack DiGiacomo, a Wellington resident and a vice president with the company.

The duo opened a bank account for their new venture with $22 _ all the cash in their pockets. They had two employees.

Today they have 150.

“We’ve been so successful because we try to be 150 percent honest,” Mosher said. “We’ve learned over the years the faster we’re in, the faster we’re out, and the happier everyone is.”

Although Mosher and DiGiacomo have decades of construction experience under their belt, neither thought their careers would one day be based on chloride ions penetrating concrete and corroding the hidden steel inside.

Mosher, an athlete in high school, became a golf pro for a Long Island country club. He was good, but winning tournaments back then meant a $60 prize, not enough to support a family. He soon started working in construction, including concrete restoration in Manhattan. He went to New York University at night for construction management and in 1999 he came to South Florida to visit his son, who was attending the University of Miami.

“I saw all these buildings with damage and I said, ‘I could live a different life down here,’” said Mosher, who has two sons and a daughter, all adults. “One day, I just thought, ‘I’m sick of traffic. I’m moving.’”

Mosher’s daughter, Heather Mosher, does website design and marketing for the company. His son, Ryan Mosher, also works for the firm as president of its power washing division. About a year ago, Mosher brought in Ryan Cauble as a vice president and minority partner. Cauble, who holds a general contractor’s license, is being groomed to take over the company when Mosher retires.

DiGiacomo, 47, moved to South Florida in 2004 from Brooklyn. He was an auto mechanic by trade but got into the construction business with his father-in-law more than 20 years ago. He met Mosher when the two worked together at another South Florida construction company.

“I love putting buildings back together and redesigning stuff for people to give them a beautiful end product,” DiGiacomo said. “It’s here, it’s broken, we fix it.”

The Custom Group’s list of references runs three pages long with projects ranging in price from $187,000 to $4.4 million.

At The Terraces at Turnberry in Aventura, the company tackled a 30-story building with 295 units.

The Terraces’ general manager Cettie Bodner said balcony repair is “noisy and messy.”

“They are drilling all day and we had complaints coming in morning, noon and night,” she said.

But Bodner said the Custom Group is the best contractor she’s ever worked with.

“Everything they said they were going to do, they did,” she said. “They left the job site clean at night, which is so unusual, and if we had any issues, they came and took care of it right away.”

Mosher is a stickler for cleanliness. He also strives to keep everyone happy. He’s bought $1,000 in car wash vouchers when unit owners have complained about dust-caked cars. When a resident of the Barclay said he got a nail in his tire, Mosher said he’d pay the repair bill, even though his crew wasn’t using nails. He bought $5,000 worth of carpet to protect the Barclay’s pool deck.

“When we do a building, we don’t have one customer, we have hundreds,” Mosher said. “We try to do things differently.”

The work at the Barclay involves chiseling back the crumbling concrete around the fingers of steel reinforcement until beefier metal with no deterioration is exposed. New steel is then added and the concrete restored. Mosher said the repairs will last 10 to 15 years, although Custom Group’s warranty is for five years. The company will also waterproof the balconies and paint the building after the balcony repair is finished.

In the time since work began at the Barclay in June, Custom Group picked up three new jobs, maxing out the company’s resources, Mosher said. He’d like to scale back to doing $7 million to $8 million in work at a time, instead of $15 million.

“If I get too big, then I’m stretched too thin,” Mosher said. “I like to keep the company like a family and I don’t like families when they are fighting because everyone’s too stressed.”

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