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Real Estate

“At that moment, we knew we were screwed”: The case of the cottage country renovation scammer

When a mother and daughter hired contractor Scottie Eisemann to work on their cottages, they had no clue what they were signing up for

By Mathew Silver, with additional research by Alex Cyr and Charlotte Genest| Illustrations by Kagan McLeod
“At that moment, we knew we were screwed”: The case of the cottage country renovation scammer

Grant Brammer could fix anything: cars, plumbing, electrical. So, when he bought a 20,000-square-foot plot of land in the Kawarthas in 1963, he couldn’t wait to start building the cottage he’d long dreamed of for his wife, Donna, and their three young children, Daniel, Laurie and Diane. Most weekends, Grant drove the two and a half hours north from the family’s home on the Scarborough Bluffs to their property in Highland Grove. After six years of hard work, the cozy three-bedroom, one-bathroom wooden bungalow was finally finished.

Over the next two decades, the Brammers spent every summer at the cottage, playing badminton on the front lawn, boating on nearby Hudson Lake and going to festivals in town. Eventually, Daniel, Laurie and Diane had their own kids, expanding the family. In 1990, Laurie bought a cottage next door to her parents’ place. An aunt, uncle and grandparents also had properties in the area. At any given time, there might be four generations of Brammers on Meteorite Lake Road, more than 20 people in total, spread across five cottages.

When Grant died of cancer in 2017, the family decided to fix up the main cottage, both to preserve his legacy and to make the property livable for another 50 years. By then, the building was in rough shape: it needed a new roof, windows and plumbing, and the entire structure—which was sinking into the ground—had to be raised onto concrete pillars.

Daniel scoured the internet for a reliable contractor. Eventually, he came across a company called Cottage Life Construction, run by a man named Scottie. His last name wasn’t listed anywhere on the website, but there were several gleaming pictures of previous projects and glowing client testimonials. It all seemed legitimate.

In the fall of 2017, the Brammers met with Scottie at the family home in Scarborough, where Donna was still living. In his early 50s, with broad shoulders and a deep voice, Scottie talked a big game. He insisted that Donna would love the place when it was finished. He claimed that he’d never had a dissatisfied client. Sitting across from Scottie at her dining room table, Donna grew convinced that he was the right person for the job. Faced with a crumbling foundation on her cottage, Laurie—now Laurie Brammer Baker—decided to hire him too. Scottie visited the sites that same day, signing contracts for both projects.

He set a two-month timeline to complete the work, promising that the renovations would begin in March of 2018 and be finished by the May long weekend. Donna’s project would cost an estimated $50,000, which she would pull from Grant’s estate. When Scottie asked for $25,000 upfront for labour and materials, she handed it over. Laurie’s bill was estimated at $64,000, including a $14,000 deposit.

Despite his assurances, work began more than two months after the agreed-upon start date, in the summer of 2018. Scottie and his crew focused on replacing Donna’s roof and gutting Laurie’s place. Then, just two weeks later, the workers suddenly packed up and left. Scottie explained that he would be gone for a few days on another job, an emergency situation that simply couldn’t wait. Convinced of his sincerity, the mother and daughter didn’t think much of the unexpected change in plans.

From that point on, however, getting Scottie’s attention became increasingly difficult. When he did occasionally show up on Meteorite Lake Road, he apologized profusely for the setbacks and claimed that he didn’t have enough money to pay his crew. He would ask for $5,000 here, $10,000 there, assuring the families that a bit more cash would get their projects back on track. Hoping that he would finish the jobs before winter set in, the families handed over the funds.

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After each influx of cash, Scottie would return to the sites for brief periods before vanishing again. The delays stretched into the summer of 2019, until one day, the Brammers and Bakers heard from the township: stop-work orders had been issued on both properties. Apparently, Scottie had never applied for building permits, and the families now had no choice but to wait for those permits before continuing the work.

Adding to her stress, Donna started getting calls from the plumber, who threatened to put a lien on her cottage—Scottie hadn’t paid him the roughly $5,000 that he was owed. In the spring of 2020, almost a year since work on her family’s properties had stopped entirely, Laurie noticed Scottie posting photos on Facebook, showing off a new snow­mobile. We bought that Ski-Doo, she thought.

When he did answer the families’ frantic calls, Scottie continued to make excuses—and promises. The Brammers and Bakers were suspicious, but fearing that Scottie could abandon the projects at any time and take their money with him, they were reluctant to push back.

Then, in November of 2020, came a possible explanation for the troubles of the past two years: Laurie’s stepson found a CBC article about someone named Scottie Eisemann—who looked like the man they knew. The piece reported that, in 2014, Eisemann was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding a 92-year-old Toronto woman out of more than $130,000. He had convinced the woman, who was legally blind, that her home needed urgent repairs, most of which were unnecessary.

“At that moment, we knew we were screwed,” says Daniel. “He had seemed genuine, but looking back, it was an Oscar-worthy performance.”

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The CBC article also mentioned a Bracebridge cottager named Liz Saunders, who had been bilked out of $64,000. Daniel and Laurie reached out to Saunders, who was a founding member of a Facebook group called Northern Survivors. The group had brought together roughly 30 people targeted by Eisemann in towns across cottage country, including Orillia, Huntsville and Parry Sound. His methods were similar with every client. He went by Scottie Evan or Scott Daniels, never revealing the last name that would expose him with a simple Google search. He presented himself as a friendly, capable contractor. He showed up in the early weeks, did some work and then ghosted.

By that point, Eisemann had squeezed Donna for $80,000 and Laurie and her husband for $44,000. The families decided to take action. The following week, armed with contracts, receipts and pictures of unfinished work, they went to the Bancroft OPP to press charges against Eisemann. Donna and Laurie had to hire other companies, not just to finish Eisemann’s work but to redo parts of it that weren’t up to snuff.

Donna has spent an additional $60,000 to rebuild her cottage’s walls, floors and front porch and to replace furniture. Because Eisemann abandoned Laurie’s cottage on pillars exposed to the elements, it sustained significant damage, with an expected price tag of more than $250,000.

The families went on to discover that Eisemann’s company, Cottage Life Construction, had declared bankruptcy in early March of 2020, at which point it owed clients and subcontractors more than $316,000. Although charges have yet to be laid in the Brammers’ and Bakers’ cases, Eisemann is facing one count of mischief, three counts of theft by false pretense and nine counts of fraud against other members of the Northern Survivors group. A multi-day trial at the courthouse in Orillia has been set for January of next year.

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