Renovation from the dark side (long)

gertie2u2August 25, 2007

Hi, I am a normal, reasonable person, or at least I was. Then we embarked on remodeling our home using a contractor. In the course of my work, I regularly contract various professionals to handle work, so we thought I would be competent to hire a contractor.

Prior to starting the kitchen project, we completed five rooms of our circa 1916 house ourselves, including completely replumbing the bathroom, and completely rewiring the house because it had all of 60 amps for the whole house when we started. I will grant you, we started out complete idiots. Now we are just certifiable. Thankfully our building inspector has been very kind, and we learned along the way.

We saved up and also got some money, and decided to treat ourselves to having the kitchen done by professionals. I guess hope springs eternal in the minds of nitwits. It was originally a porch and was taken in probably during the depression, so the walls are about an inch thick with the doors and windows protruding into the room. The plan called for reframing within, treating the walls as the outer layer, and everything from there in new. It's been a nightmare from beginning to now and no end in sight. First off, we called about 25 contractors asking for bids. Two showed up.

One gave us an astronomical price and told us he couldn't even start for five months, if then. The other gave us a price only slightly higher than we'd guessed, and he came very highly recommended whereas we knew nearly nada about the other guy. We were a bit uncomfortable with the guy doing it on a drawing on a napkin and a handshake, and insisted on a fairly detailed contract and set of drawings. We carefully specified everything important to us in this.

Im sure you know where this is going. From day one things went south. Windows and doors were very clearly specified, and what we got was nothing like what was specified, and in several cases no way to fix save replace them. He was unhappy with us for this, and he hid out for days apparently hoping weÂd decide to drop it. The framers didn't put headers over windows and doors. They mumbled something about it being "non-load bearing" when we politely mentioned hey the inspectors will never pass that, we think you'll have to fix it and left. After we spent four days repeatedly calling the contractor and not getting any answer he finally showed up wanting a check for the framing. Naturally they wanted us to pay for the time spent fixing.

We have the money right now to hire the rest of the work done but I can't see doing it. We are pretty sure this contractor has no more desire to work with us anymore than we want to see him in future. I'm sorry, but I can't see we are unreasonable. We expect the contractor to know the code, see that everything is done to meet it, and do exactly what was specified in the original contract, unless there is some specific reason it can't be so. In that case come to us immediately and say why, so that a solution can be arrived at, not let his people leave and hide out from our calls until he wants money. Every problem we have had would have been a non-issue if the contractor had just lived up to those simple expectations.

My questions are: Does everyone go through this much garbage for a simple renovation? How exactly do you not end up like this? I've posted along as this was going on, and people laughed and said oh this is how it goes with small jobs. Is this serious? No wonder diy is such a popular thing now. We would really like to just give someone the specs for the new bath addition and say call us when it's done, but we have no confidence we can get there from here. I guess the reason things go so well on TV is they know the whole world will be watching.

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I have done many renovations to investment properties that I buy and sell (Its a hobby for me, not a profession). I have done it with GC's and without and I would say everyone of the reno's have their share of issues. On a small job I would never use a GC. There just isn't enough money in it to keep them interested. The good GC's will not take small jobs or will give you a price that is insane rather then say no thank you. Renovation work is always going to have issues that are going to come up, because you are working with a big unknown.

As for shoddy workmanship by subs, that is unacceptable. If you see that a sub is doing something that you know is wrong call your GC immediately and tell the sub to stop. So many people let these morons with hammers and power tools destroy their homes hoping that things will come out ok in the end. If I go on-site and see crappy work being done by a sub I get them to stop and call their boss to send me another crew. Remember this about the construction trades, there are more bad people then good, so the risk is high for hiring a bad person. That's why you have to check references and actually see their work before you hire an unknown. But, when you do find a good sub, expect to pay better then average rates and pay them promptly.

As for finishing up the job yourself, that depends on your contract. If that is the direction you want to go, and it sounds like it makes sense, then you need to follow your contracts rules for breaking the contract. Usually their is a section in there for breech of contract that calls for a notice and period for cure. There also should be a mutual clause that allows for the contract to be broken mutually by both parties. Regardless, you need to follow the contract before you do anything on your own.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2007 at 11:24PM
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Thank you for the very good advice. Since our contract specified completion date now long past, extensions at our pleasure, we have an easy out. I rather think the mutual agreement clause would also work since the contractor is as fed up with us as we are with him - we actually expect him to oversee his people! Imagine! And answer the phone when we call...on a 9:30 am! I know...we are slave drivers! hehehe

Also, my husband has had a word with the inspector from the permit office, and they've volunteered to change our permit to homeowner - pays to be good little homeowners and permit absolutely everthing and do exactly what the inspector tells you to do I guess!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 12:07AM
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Ah, welcome to our world. My husband and I just remarked on virtually the same situation. We've done so much ourselves, including building a barn with just one carpenter to assist us, (after the excavation and concrete were poured, mind you), that we thought we'd give ourselves the luxury of having someone else bring hydro and water to the barn. The electrician (a neighbour) didn't show up month after month after month. Our daughters attended school together, so we were treading carefully before saying "no more". The backhoe operator dumped rocks on our conduit and smashed them so that lines could not be pulled. We repaired that ourselves in ice cold pouring rain. The electrician, when he did show up, said he was shortchanged by the wholesaler on wire, and would have to move the entire system he'd just installed to accomodate the new barn. Guess who paid for that time? We then discovered he failed to obtain the permit he assured us he would look after. The "plumber" did such a bad soldering job in our basement that our daughter came home to find it flooded one evening. When we inspected the blown joint, the pipe had not even been fitted properly down over the shoulder of the joint, let alone adequately soldered. He also brought the water conduit to the barn and said "you can put the frost free hydrant in yourselves" The deep pit required for safe (ie wintertime) operation of the hydrant is exactly the work we had said we were going to pay someone else to do! The second electrician kept saying he wanted the job, but failed to show up for two months. The third electrician believes the workday starts at noon. We can't call him on it, as he is a volunteer firefighter in our rural region, but really...calls every morning???? We just can't contemplate finding another electrician at this point, so we humbly accept what help we get! However, we know the rest of the work lies with us. I wish I understood why it has to be like this.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 12:34PM
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Yes, we put a second story addition on using a general contractor. This guy was such a bad project manager. He knew the trades like no tomorrow, but an awful businessman, turns out when we put the deposit down for him to start our job. He took it, left for 3 months, used it to pay someone for some other thing.

Finally after 3 months they started the job. But we had "stalls" where he would disappear for a week or two with no getting in touch with him. We finally threatened a lawyer. Then we finally ended up having to sign our last check for $25,000 over to his drywaller sub because he owed him that much money.

Entire job took 10 months, it was supposed to be 3.

And we insisted on a release of lien, good because no doubt this guy was in debt to everybody.

DH ended up GCing the most of the project this contractor was so ineffectual. I think next time we could try and do it ourselves. As well as the second story, over the 15 years we owned this home, we have remodeled every single room.

Showing up that late - Noon - is unacceptable. A reliable trademan as well as a good businessman is worth his weight in gold. They are THAT much in demand. We all could write a book about our experiences remodeling that's for sure.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 2:48PM
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