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gertie2u2July 29, 2007

We are about to embark on remodeling the kitchen of our house. This house was built in 1916, the kitchen used to be a back porch, and it was taken in probably about 1950. For whatever reason, probably financial, they just made the walls out of this weird material such that the walls are about 1 inch thick, and then the doors and windows are framed such that they stick into the room.

We had a lot of trouble finding a contractor. We got names from friends, from adverts in the newspaper, and from the phone book. After we called them all - about 25 - two actually showed up. One gave us a price of 20k, and can't start til project October, but it may be later. Oh and that's just a round figure, we'd do a full pricing out closer to. The other spent a lot of time going over what type of doors, flooring, cabinets, etc, and then said it will be $10,500 plus cost of cabinets, countertops, flooring, and fixtures except hardware on one pocket door as that is a package deal. He provides all labor to install everything, does the framing, drywall, tape, mud, paint, trim, the works plus a galvalume metal roof on the kitchen as when the wind blows a certain way there have been very minor leaks and it's thought lack of proper slope to roof is the issue, but a metal roof needs less slope so that takes care of it.

It may be just me, but I see this as a disaster in the making. We have tried every way we know to make sure everyone is on the right page here. We bought a program and generated detailed drawings of exactly what we want and provided copies of everything to the contractor. My husband keeps coming up with questions I can't answer and I finally said well, I'm sure the contractor knows. He has the drawings of what we want. He will make it work I guess. But I do wonder, is this all normal?

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I'm not really clear about what is bothering you - what part doesn't seem normal, and/or a recipe for disaster?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 6:11AM
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You mean the price difference between the two seems odd?
Get a third quote, just start calling everybody again until you get someone.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 9:48AM
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I'd ask both contractors for references. Call them and ask how the jobs turned out and what they would do differently if they had it to do again.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 11:00AM
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Sorry I think I was unclear, possbily because of how much I left out. Pretty much everything about this seems odd. Why didn't they other 23 show up? Why, when I said we have this work, here are detailed drawings, I want a price quote, would you not work up a reasonable proximity of a quote? I made it clear we have cash in hand and are ready to sign a contract, and the first guy just pretty much blew that off. Came by three times, then called me and said oh about twenty grand, I'll give you something more detailed closer to if you are serious. What part of have cash in hand, want to sign contract and begin as soon as possible does not sound serious?

And this contractor seems never to have seen a contract. He's done work all over town, surely someone wanted a contract or at least a written estimate? My husband flat refused to do it on a handshake alone, not because of doubts about the man's ability, but because we want what we want. We have done a great deal of work ourselves on the house, from rewiring everything from 60 amp to 100 amp service, to installing gas lines and replumbing entire house, to gutting five rooms and totally redoing them. We do have a pretty good handle on what can be done and what can't. The house is almost 100 years old, it's never going to be perfectly square, but you can make reasonable approaches where required as a for instance. I would think there would be some areas it's required in a kitchen, but the man would have to know where we plan to put cabinets and things to know where they are. He was prepared to start without more than a cursory glance at the plans, saying well the cabinet guy worries about that. WHAT?!!

As for a third quote, lots of luck. We called every contractor and handyman in the phone book, the newspaper, advertising online, and known by friends and said hi, we have cash and are ready to start, we'd like a quote. Only two showed up.

My husband keeps asking things like what is he going to do about that corner with the low spot? I don't know dear, I gave him drawings of what is required, and he's supposed to make that happen. Please ask him. But it seems like we should know at least the basic plan of attack. When my husband and I do a project in a room, we first make detailed drawings of what we are going to do. Then we list out what steps are required to do that so we don't end up doing something twice to get it right. Ok, a seasoned contractor might be able to just have the list in his head, but you'd think when we asked about things like what is the projected date you want us to have the selections of paint and flooring picked out, he'd have a rough answer, instead of I will call you when I need them.

In addition to all the work on this house, I was around when my parents built one house and renovated another, and they had printed lists. By the time X is done, I need the paint color. By the time y is done, projected to be x day, I need the cabinet stain, countertop, and flooring selected. This was in two different cities, two different contractors.

And this isn't the only time we've had these troubles. I'm wondering is it just this town is like this or what? We had central A/C installed. Half the contractors we called for bids never showed up. Half those that showed up never called us back with a bid. I called one and asked why and he said oh...I was going to call you today. That seems to be the pat answer. I was going to call you today.

Bottom line, I will not at all be surprised if a month from now I have some half baked kitchen and am about mad enough to spit nails.

Today the contractors did show 9 am with some excuse the metal roofing they ordered for our new roof the truck isn't in. They've known for three weeks it was needed today. Why would it just now be coming in on a truck at the wholesale lumber yard? And they forgot the drawings I gave them and asked me for another copy.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 11:11AM
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Hi there
Okay, don't take this the wrong way, but is it possible that, through your concern to have things done correctly, you might be coming across as overly demanding or even nit-picky?
Is there something that you are bringing across in your initial conversation with your contractors that might raise flags with them that you're a "client from heck"?

While you're certainly correct in wanting the job done right and at the right price, contractors really don't like constant second-guessing, clients hanging around to make sure the nails go in straight, and itemized lists complete with flow chart of how they think the job ought to be done.
Maybe you are sounding like "one of those" when you first call them.

Sometimes a job just isn't worth the hassle and I've even heard of contractors quoting high to add a little "pain-in-the-butt-tax".

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 1:33PM
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I know remodeling can be very frustrating. Have you posted your problem(s) on the Remodeling and/or Kitchen Forums of "The Home Site."?
I think you might find some good suggestions there. You may even find some good leads as far as contractors.
With the home selling market as slow as it has been, perhaps a lot of would-be buyers are staying put and remodeling. Maybe contractors arent as hungry as we Remodelers are anxious.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 1:49PM
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Have you considered that, your house being as old as it is and a little wonky, the people you're calling in are afraid to do much for fear of ending up in a situation they're not equipped to deal with? Maybe you first need an architect, engineer or at least a home inspector to really look over the scene and tell you what the consequences might be if you start messing with walls, etc. The one man was sort of right when he said the cabinet guy (kitchen installer guy) was the one to talk to - they're specially trained in getting things to all fit in together perfectly smoothly and are not just handymen, not by a long shot, and they have to assess the area separately from the others. But you're not alone otherwise - contractors (handy or otherwise) are very hard to find these days for anything other than big commercial (apts., stores) jobs that pay a lot more than (to them) little personal jobs. I do also wonder though if in fact you're not asking their opinions about things before laying down just what you want, and not taking into acct. that they may well have some good ideas (not decorative) about the structure and how to approach it, etc.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 3:12PM
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I appreciate the suggestions. While I certainly sound cranky now, I wasn't when the project started. And that doesn't begin to explain why we called over twenty contractors, and in our best polite business voices said "Hi, this is , we live at , we want to remodel our kitchen. We'd like you to come by and give us an estimate. When can you do that? and they said ok we will be by x day and never showed up.

As far as fear of doing anything to the house goes, it's been inspected, it's structurally sound in every way. Even the "wonky" kitchen walls are structurally sound. Apparently it is a way they build even entire houses in the way back when. It works, it's sound, but you can't insulate at all.

As far as the cabinet guy is the one to talk to, this guy is my contractor. If the cabinet guy is who I need to talk to, and he is bringing in "his" cabinet guy, isn't it his job to bring him in and have him talked to?

This is our first time hiring work done. We have done a lot of work on the house ourselves and it looks and is fine. The city inspector we have been working with sang our praises every time he was here, and said we did everything exactly by the book right, which of course we knew because my father in law showed us how. He worked his way through college to be an electrical engineer doing construction and remodeling.

I know the A/C guys were weird with us because they felt it was "odd" to want to do the downstairs ductwork in firdowns vs placing ductwork under the house and having floor vents, though I can't see how it was different from common new construction. We built the firdowns for them, and the guy that finally did the work had zero issues, he even said he wished everyone would let him run it like that as no crawling around under a house.

I have no intention whatsoever of second guessing every nail they nail, in fact, I want nothing so much as to have someone do it and let me know when it is done. I've done my best to make this abundantly clear. However, I want it done to my specifications. To that end, I provided detailed drawings of the layout I want. These are architectural quality drawings, I know, I used to be married to one. I did them using a computer program he suggested, and he checked them over for me, made a few very minor corrections, and I printed them. I made it clear I understand there might be some variations required in some things due to practicalities, for example, we already had to change the location of a light switch because instead of a two by at the edge of the doorway, there is a big post. House is post and beam vs the newer construction style. If we put the switch over, it's behind the fridge, so it's going to be placed other side of the doorway. I guess if it's bad to expect contractors to build what you've had designed I'll just be bad.

On a good note, the contractor started today. They put in the new metal roof, installed because we had some leaks when the wind blew rain up and over the top of that roof (kitchen one story and apparently not enough slope to roof, house two story and it seemed to come in where they meet). The guys did a great job, the roof looks excellent. I walked out and saw immediately everything is well caulked, flashed, sealed, and they went ahead and flashed the sill of the window overlooking that roof to ensure no leaks. They also gutted the entire kitchen, and they cleaned up when done - not an easy matter as they pulled out an old chimney full of ash. I wrote out a check for the roof and I tipped all the guys $20. If it continues this well, I'll tip the contractor 10% when it's done.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 7:22PM
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"And this isn't the only time we've had these troubles. I'm wondering is it just this town is like this or what? We had central A/C installed. Half the contractors we called for bids never showed up. Half those that showed up never called us back with a bid. I called one and asked why and he said oh...I was going to call you today."

LOL. That's pretty much universal. Some contractors are overbooked, don't want the job, book a better job(s) or change their mind, so they don't bother returning calls, blow off appointments, delay projects etc. Many contractors scatter like cockroaches when you mention licenses, insurance, permits, inspections, payment schedules, time frames and ask for references plus examples of their previous work.

Most homeowners know little about proper construction practices, materials and codes. As long as it *looks good* they're happy.

I tell many of our customers to watch every episode of Holmes On Homes to see what happens when you don't hire professionals, or hire unqualified low bid contractors that work without licenses, insurance, contracts, permits and inspections.

Most of the decent contractors I know aren't cheap, they're usually pretty busy and don't mess with small low profit jobs.

Sounds like you're off to a good start, so good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 12:12PM
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Our friends at the code office sang the praises of this contractor as one who "does it right". Now it is day two and the predicted disastor has started. I specified on MANY occassions and it was written that the window over the sink could be with our without mulions (I think that is the name for looking like made with many small panes such as our other new windows) I did not care, but it had to match our other windows in that it needed to be the same color. We put new double pane windows which look to be mullioned but are not - the lines between panels are between the two panes of the double pane. The new window is white. Since they are also between the panes of glass, they can't be painted so there is no remedy but to pull the window, and I've actually had to try to remove a window after it was sealed in. We ended up deciding it was fine as it was because to pull it you'd have to destroy the window. The back door was specified as solid and preference for solid wood and the new door has a VERY large window (about 55% of the door), also mullioned, also white. Also it is 1 inch too far east. This won't do, when the cupboards and stove are placed as indicated on the very detailed drawings you won't be able to open the back door.

I realize we are not "most" homeowners. If we were, we'd have some new house constructed out of pixie stix like all our friends. And our contractor is lucky we aren't, because it is only because the inspector knows and likes us we aren't having to redo the roof. They didn't tear off the old shingles before putting it up there and apparently that is code here. It wasn't code when I redid my house in another city five years ago, but apparently it is now.

I just can't see me paying for this, I'm sorry, and I can't see letting it go. I'm paying this guy over ten grand to have the kitchen I want. But I sure do dread calling him and telling him about all this. This is why I insisted on detailed drawings in the first place, not just oh I want a window here and a door there.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 10:05PM
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Day three and we realized the framer failed to place proper headers above the windows and doors. The boards are turned flat instead of up on end as they should be. The inspector will not approve drywalling until that is fixed.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2007 at 9:05PM
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