Financial woes catch up with Tandi Haas
Amy Clifton Keely wasn’t asking for much. Being a wedding photographer, she knew how wedding days worked, and what pitfalls to look out for.
She didn’t expect the perfect wedding, or dream of making the cover of Southern Living’s bridal edition. She was prepared to overlook a few hiccups — it was, after all, an outdoor wedding in a mountain pasture.
But she wasn’t expecting her idyllic countryside wedding at Apple Hill Farms in Waynesville to take so many wrong turns. Her big day was disastrous enough that she sued the owner of the venue and has been on a mission to warn other brides to stay away.
Now, Apple Hill Farm’s days of hosting weddings appear to be numbered.
Festering financial trouble finally caught up with owner Tandi Haas last week. Haas lost the property in foreclosure after repeatedly failing to make monthly payments.
It’s not the first blemish on Haas’s financial track record, though. In five years, Hass has racked up two bankruptcies, three failed business ventures, real estate troubles, and a trail of people claiming she owes them money, including two lawsuits by people alleging Haas financially wronged them.
Despite a protracted fight to stave off the imminent foreclosure, Haas has now not only lost Apple Hill Farms but her livelihood.
For three years, Haas staged weddings and receptions in the pasture beside her country farmhouse, billing it as a picture-perfect event venue. She hosted up to 30 events a year — mostly catering to brides with a penchant for countryside quaintness — at the 5-acre property just outside Waynesville on Plott Valley Road.
Haas bought the property in an owner-financed transaction five years ago, promising to pay $3,000 a month. In the beginning, she paid regularly. But then her payments became spotty, and she fell behind substantially 16 months ago, prompting the former owner to initiate foreclosure.
Haas tried to forestall the foreclosure by filing bankruptcy, sometimes used as a last resort to buy time against bill collectors. She even tried a less conventional strategy: asking others to file lawsuits against her. While not obvious on the surface, an outstanding legal claim against her by a third party could complicate and throw a wrench in foreclosure — at least buying Haas time.
During that time, brides planning their weddings at Apple Hill Farms found out about Haas’ financial troubles and complained about problems they experienced with her — including not receiving their refundable deposit, lack of communication and breach of contract.
Meanwhile, the former property owner has faced an uphill battle trying to foreclose on Haas, who threw up roadblock after roadblock to try to keep Apple Hill.
“This woman has put us through hell,” said Debra Consigli, daughter of the former owner. “It has just been a nightmare.”
Consigli’s family will walk with a nice chunk of change from Hass, however, plus having reclaimed title to the farm to once again put on the market.
Haas sunk nearly $200,000 in to Apple Hill Farms but will be evicted with nothing to show for her investment.
The following account of how Haas literally lost the farm is based on interviews and public records.
No money, more problems
Haas bought Apple Hill Farms on Plott Valley Road in late 2008 for $695,000 from Joan Chapman.
Chapman was 70 at the time and had just lost her husband. They’d moved to Waynesville 25 years prior from South Florida after falling in love with the Plott Valley farm.
But when her husband died in 2008, Chapman decided to move to California to be closer to her children.
Unlike Haas, Chapman did not operate the property as an event venue.
Chapman agreed to owner-finance the transaction. Rather than getting a traditional mortgage through a bank and buying the property outright, Haas was supposed to pay Chapman $3,000 a month for 30 months, and then pay a balloon payment before she owned the property outright.
“There was no credit check done either, by anyone, which was a big mistake,” Consigli said.
There were no problems — until there were. Haas put down a sizeable down payment of $150,000. She made her monthly payments diligently at first, but then her payments became more sporadic.
By early 2010, Haas’ payments became random — $750 here, $1,500 there. Some months, the payments didn’t added up to $3,000; other times, she paid more than the requisite monthly amount.
“I might not have been on time all the time, but I paid,” Haas said.
Haas had moved to Waynesville from Atlanta in the fall of 2008. She was looking for a new start, as her life wasn’t going well in Atlanta. She was in the middle of what would become a protracted divorce and had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Georgia, according to court documents.
In Georgia, at least six different banks claimed Haas owed them money, as well as the Fulton County tax office, the Internal Revenue Service and a smattering of businesses and people, according to the bankruptcy filings.
After buying the Plott Valley Road property, Haas began renting her home back in Atlanta to vacationers for a source of income. But her neighbors in Atlanta complained about Haas marketing her home as a vacation rental, claiming it was against zoning regulations, according to Haas.
In early 2012, she lost that income when she had to short sell her Atlanta home, she said. With no more rental income to cover her expenses, Haas said she decided to start a wedding venue business at Apple Hill Farms, even though she had no prior experience.
“I started Apple Hill Farms because I needed income,” Haas said, who has a school-aged son she provides for.
Down the rabbit hole
Meanwhile back on the farm, Haas was getting worse and worse about paying on time and in full each month. Consigli took over dealings with Haas on her mother’s behalf. Consigli made a deal with Haas to switch from a single payment each month to two installments — one due the first of the month and one on the 15th.
But payments were still touch and go, Consigli said, adding that Haas always had an excuse when they weren’t on time.
“I was just trying to get the monthly payment,” she said. “It was always some big deal or something happened.”
Not only was Haas still going through bankruptcy proceedings in Georgia, but she was also divorcing her husband — a reason she listed for not being able to make mortgage payments or, in at least one case, return a bride’s deposit.
By 2012, Haas was in a full-on downward spiral — the loss of rental income off her Atlanta home, her divorce, the bankruptcy and the impending foreclosure of Apple Hill Farms. Her world was crashing down.
Eva Ritchey, owner of The Trolley Company that briefly rented trolleys to Haas, said Haas was simply a victim of circumstance.
“I don’t think it was any lack of effort on her part,” Ritchey said. “It was just that she didn’t have the funding.”
Not all those who crossed paths with Haas are so sympathetic, however.
Haas blamed a lack of money as the reason Apple Hill Farms and two other business ventures went south. And with a bankruptcy on her financial record, no bank was going to lend Haas money.
“I was under-capitalized. I have tried to do it completely on my own,” Haas said.
In addition to Apple Hill Farms, Haas tried to start a trolley service that would transport visitors around the greater downtown Waynesville area, but it never went anywhere. It operated for about a month, but Haas did not have enough income to sustain it.
She also opened Apple Blossoms, a (shabby chic décor) store on Main Street in Waynesville, but the business is now closed, and a woman who sold items at the store is suing Haas.
Wendy Lee Wright said she helped Haas set up the store and found vendors to sell trinkets and furniture at Apple Blossoms. She even sold some of her own merchandise. But Wright said she never got the cut of the profits she was promised, and she has subsequently filed a lawsuit asking for about $1,200 from Haas.
“She refused to pay me,” Wright said. “She just thinks that she doesn’t have to pay people.”
But Haas contended that she is the one who lost out on Apple Blossoms, partly because she closed the store for two months to help Wright with personal problems.
“I don’t owe her a damn dime,” Haas said.
According to both Consigli and Haas, she quit making her monthly payments in January 2012. So in September, Consigli and her mother filed foreclosure.
Two months later, Haas filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in North Carolina. Listed among her debtors in the bankruptcy records are BB&T, her sister, the Haywood County Tax Collector, the Internal Revenue Service and of course, Joan Chapman, Apple Hill Farms’ former owner.
According to foreclosure filings, Haas was 16 payments behind and owed about $570,000.
By now, Haas was supposed to have paid off the sale price on the property in full. The monthly payments weren’t intended to drag on forever. She was supposed to have made a large balloon payment back in 2011 to close out the purchase. But she never came up with the balloon payment.
That’s not to say Haas didn’t plunk down a big chunk of change on Apple Hill Farm. She paid Chapman and Consigli at least $197,000 over the course of four years — between her initial $150,000 down payment and monthly checks.
Haas admitted that she was not always diligent in her payments but that she tried to make up for it by making a payment in January 2013 — her last payment. Although the foreclosure stated that Haas is 16 months behind on payments, Haas said it was not as bad as it looked.
When the foreclosure started, “I was only 9 months behind. I made a payment in January 2013, but they continued with the foreclosure. If I continued to make payments, the money would have gone into a black hole,” Haas said.
Haas said that Consigli and Chapman would not give her a chance.
“They were mean-spirited. They called me every name in the book,” Haas said.
But Consigli said Haas had used all her chances up.
“She made a deal not in good faith with my mom,” Consigli said. “She is very good at what she does — lying.”
Haas offered Consigli a bulk payment of $60,000 to help catch back up with the mortgage after her divorce went through, but Consigli and Chapman declined. Haas’ divorce has dragged out for years, and after dealing with Haas’ continued excuses as to why she could not pay, Consigli said, they chose not to take the proposition.
“We made our decisions to not take the couple ‘pie in the sky’ offers based on her willingness and ability to pay,” Consigli said.
Consigli and Chapman proceeded with the foreclosure instead. But they hit a roadblock when Haas filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in North Carolina.
“I was hoping that would put a stay on the foreclosure,” Haas said.
When her Chapter 13 bankruptcy claim was dismissed, Haas had her sister, a co-owner of Apple Hill Farms, file for bankruptcy in Atlanta.
Consigli, who lives in Colorado, said she and her mother flew to Asheville and Atlanta to fight the bankruptcy filings, so that they could regain ownership of Apple Hill Farms. She estimated that they paid out about $40,000 during the foreclosure.
Haas went as far as to ask a former wedding client with grievances again her to file a lawsuit. While it seems odd, Haas hoped a lien against the property by a third-party would place the foreclosure on the backburner, buying her more time to come up with a solution.
“I was trying to stop the foreclosure,” Haas said. “Why wouldn’t I?”
In the end, none of Haas’ contingency plans worked out. Consigli and her mom reclaimed the property on June 18.
Still Haas wasn’t ready to accept defeat. She continued to claim she was looking for an investor or backer to help her keep Apple Hill Farms.
“Someone to carry me for a year,” she said.
Haas claimed she “had a lead on an investor” and hoped to keep the property. But that dream never materialized, no big surprise to Consigli.
“She is delusional in her mind if she thinks she is going to keep the farm,” Consigli said.
The upset bid period has even come and gone now — Haas’ last chance to make a counter offer to keep the property. So Consigli and her mother officially hold the deed to the property once again — after years of a rollercoaster ride with Haas.
Yet Haas still thinks she has a chance to keep Apple Hill Farms, and even plans to host an already-booked wedding there on July 13.
“It ain’t over til the fat lady sings,” Haas said.
Although she reportedly has a back plan, Haas would not go into details, saying she did not want to show her hand.
“I have certain actions I am going to be taking,” Haas said, citing debtors protection laws.
As of mid-week, Haas had 10 calendar days to legally get off the property — until July 13.
But Consigli said she thinks it will be a battle to kick Haas out.
“She still says she is not leaving,” Consigli said.
Haas echoed that, saying she will have to be forcibly removed of the Plott Valley home.
“They are going to have to drag me out of here,” Haas said.
Although Apple Hill Farms has been in foreclosure since last year, Haas continued to host and book weddings.
She said she could not recall how many are on the calendar for this year and next year. But since she said she is still looking for ways to keep the farm, Haas has not cancelled any of the scheduled weddings.
“As long as I have possession of the property, I will continue to have my weddings,” Haas said.
However, she does not have legal possession of the property anymore, and Consigli has no plans to honor the already scheduled weddings. Her family plans to put the property on the market immediately.
As for the security deposits brides have put down for their upcoming weddings, Haas said that she has the money to reimburse them, but she would not say whether it is tucked away in a bank account or buried in a box in the backyard.
Haas also said brides-to-be were aware of the foreclosure.
“They all know the situation, and they are waiting,” Haas said.
However, at least a few brides were in the dark about Haas’ financial situation while they were working with her.
Jennifer Kelley of Roxboro planned to wed at Apple Hill Farms this August but became worried.
“I hadn’t heard from her in a while and did some research,” Kelley said.
Kelley said Haas denied the foreclosure when confronted about it, while Haas claims she told Kelley.
When Kelley tried to get her deposit back, Haas instead offered to buy her cake or provide the flowers. The thing Haas won’t do, however, is return the $2,500 Kelley had already paid her.
“I can do flowers cheaper,” Haas said. “I am trying to do what I can do, but I can’t shell out the money.”
Kelley was not the only bride to come forward. After Consigli filed for foreclosure, she began hearing from brides who had their weddings at Apple Hill Farms or were planning to hold them there later this year.
“They all started contacting me and my lawyer. It was really interesting,” Consigli said. “The mothers were like, ‘She really deceived me.’”
In fact, another bride sued Haas for breach of contract after holding her wedding at Apple Hill Farms last year. But the experience didn’t start out bad.
The brides initially believed it was the dream location for their perfect weddings.
“Our first impression when we went the farm was that is it was beautiful; it was peaceful,” said Amy Clifton Keely, a South Carolina wedding photographer who held her rehearsal dinner and wedding at the farm just more than a year ago. “From the start, Tandi was very personable.”
Another bride, Jill Talevski of Charlotte, said the same.
“We thought it was actually the perfect place for us,” Talevski said. “It seemed like Tandi was really able to meet our needs.”
But the fairy tale did not last long, according to both. Keely said she had trouble communicating with Haas and became weary when Apple Hills Farm’s wedding planner, who was supposed to act as a go-between with brides, left just a month before her wedding.
“It was a month before our wedding. We actually had to hire an outside planner,” Keely said. Then, Haas suddenly “became very unprofessional and very argumentative.”
According to Keely, Apple Hill Farms was supposed to supply plates for the wedding reception, but they were not up to par.
“She brought them to us dirty like two hours before our wedding,” Keely said.
The lawsuit that Keely and her husband filed also alleged that Haas only secured one working tap for the parties’ two kegs, did not return some personal and rented items to the family, and the bathrooms provided had no toilet paper, hand soap or lighting.
“There are lots and lots of little things,” Keely said. But “If those were isolated incidents, it’s not worth ruining your wedding. It was her general attitude.”
Keely also stated that the tables were not set up correctly, and the DJ had to help set up.
“We spent a good chunk of money there, and we were happy to do that if it had been a pleasant experience,” she said.
Haas disagreed with Keely’s retelling of what happened. Although there was a malfunction with one of the keg taps, Haas denied everything else and said she went above and beyond her agreement with the bride.
“I let her use a lot of things that were not in the contract,” Haas said, including her computer.
Because of the inconvenience of having to hire their own planner, Haas said she tried to make up for it by offering her free things such as the plates.
“I gave her so much free stuff,” Haas said.
Haas said it was in fact she who was treated poorly by the family and with condescension.
“She treated me like hired help,” Haas said, of the bride’s mother. “I don’t do well with that.”
After the wedding, Haas did not return the couple’s security deposit and said they owed her $900 for various services. In an email conversation with Keely, Haas said she would return the personal and rented items left by the wedding party after the couple paid the additional $900.
“I will leave your things in the corncrib once I have received a cashier’s check for the balance that you owe,” Haas wrote.
Although she denied Keely’s accusations, when sued, Haas did not appear in a S.C. court to respond to them, and the judge ruled in favor of Keely, saying she and her husband were entitled to nearly $20,000 from Haas. The restitution has not been paid.
Unlike Keely, Talevski did not end up getting married at Apple Hill Farms. She had planned to rent the venue for Memorial Day weekend this year for a mini-destination wedding. Her family planned to travel up from Charlotte and her fiancée’s family would come down from Ohio for the event.
“It was actually going to be perfect we thought,” Talevski said.
However, in December, she heard about a bad experience someone had there.
“We got a little bit concerned,” Talevski said, adding that they decided to cancel the reservation at Apple Hill Farms even before they found out about the foreclosure. “It was too big of a risk to pay her any more money.”
She contacted Haas, who said she would be willing to refund Talevski’s $4,850 security deposit.
“I do not want you to have concerns about your wedding. That would not be fair to you,” Haas wrote in a Dec. 2 email to Talevski. “I will refund your money as promised. However, I will not be able to pay you until January.”
Haas said she would not have the money until her divorce went through. It was supposed to end in January, Haas said. However, it is still ongoing.
When Talevski did not hear from Haas in January, both she and her fiancée contacted Haas repeatedly about the refund, and conversations grew heated.
“All I wanted was my money back as she promised,” Talevski said.
Haas said she did not have the money because her divorce negotiations were at an impasse.
“That’s unacceptable and preposterous,” Talevski said in a January email. “You have taken advantage of the most sacred time in our life. We have absolutely no credibility in your words or intent.”
Haas replied with similar fervor.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. I never did anything to hurt you. You never even gave me a chance to let you talk to all the brides that have loved getting married at my home,” Haas wrote. “I told you that I had to wait until I could get money from my divorce to pay you. No other facility owner would have been nearly as kind as me. … You are not just hurting me but my son. I am his sole provider. I work seven days a week to put food on the table. I hope you can live with yourself.”
Haas concluded the email by saying she would pay Talevski back, but she has not to date. Haas said she did not receive a written request from the couple asking for their deposit back but was going to give it to them before they started a “smear campaign.”
“I out of the kindness of my heart tried to do that for them,” Haas said. “Why would I be kind to you when all you want to do is ruin me?”
Talevski has tried placing complaints on wedding websites to warn other brides, only to have them challenged by Haas and taken down. The couple was upset with Haas for not telling them about the foreclosure.
“That is my worry that other people are investing their money,” Talevski said.
Not all bad
The strain of going through bankruptcy, foreclosure and a divorce affected her wedding business last year, Haas said.
“Some of the things did slip through the cracks last year,” she said. “But I tried to make up for it.”
However, not every bride has walked away with a bad taste after dealing with Haas.
“We couldn’t have been more happy with the day or Tandi’s help,” said Celeste Selwyn, a Georgia resident whose daughter got married at Apple Hill Farms on June 1. “She certainly lived up to her contract.”
Neither Selwyn nor her daughter heard any of the allegations other bridal parties had levied against Haas nor did they know about Haas’ financial struggles.
“We had a very good experience. I don’t know about other allegations,” Selwyn said, adding that she was very involved in the planning process and kept “total and thorough account” of what was spent.
Unlike other families, she received the security deposit back.
“I experienced none of that,” Selwyn said. “Our experience was everything we hoped it would be.”
During the interview with Haas, Apple Hill Farms employee Tina Anderson showed off a couple of the “Thank You” cards Haas has received and said that Haas works hard to prepare for weddings and events.
“I wish you would’ve come here on Saturday because you would have seen us running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” Anderson said. “(Haas) is such a perfectionist. She goes above and beyond to be that perfectionist.”
Anderson has worked at Apple Hill Farms since January and said she and Haas have the same philosophy — they will do anything to make the day perfect.
“Our ultimate goal is to make this the most perfect wedding. Period,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen Tandi (Haas) go out of her way to make sure people don’t leave dissatisfied,” she later added.
Anderson said she is frustrated that since Haas fell into financial trouble, that people have suddenly started lodging complaints.
“It seems like people are coming out of the woodwork to throw mud,” Anderson said.
There are also several only-positive reviews of Apple Hill Farms on the Wedding Wire, a niche website where brides can plan their weddings and search for vendors.