Frustration with builder's cabinetmaker-Do we just give up?

nhbasketsFebruary 19, 2014

We are under contract to purchase a spec home that we're able to modify to meet our needs. Our current home is under contract and we should be closing on both homes in mid-May. The whole process has been a whirl wind and we've been busy over the past three weeks making decisions on countertops, appliances, lighting, tile, and paint colors to name a few.

The house is located in a 55+ development. There are 27 houses in our phase of the development with five in various stages of construction (including ours) and the rest already occupied. Another phase has just been approved and construction has begun on several of those.

Our one stumbling block has been the kitchen. After going through a kitchen remodel in our current home 5 years ago, I have a good idea of what I like and what quality I expect in a kitchen. The builder has a cabinetmaker that he has contracted with to build the kitchen and bathroom vanities for the development. I have seen several of the kitchens and they just are not my style nor was I impressed with the quality. When we seriously started looking at this development I asked if we could look at other options. We were told sure, but only one house has gone with something different. It just so happens that that one house was done by the kitchen designer we used for our current house.

As I saw it we had three options to explore: (1) contact our previous KD and see if she could give me a sweetheart deal to come somewhere close to the allowance the builder was providing, (2) contact a custom cabinetmaker, and (3) use the builder's cabinetmaker and hope for the best.

Our current kitchen is natural cherry shaker Plain & Fancy inset cabinets. For the new kitchen I wanted to go with painted cabs, preferably inset, but would consider full overlay depending on the pricing.

Our KD priced out full overlay cabs a bit higher than the allowance. Installation was not included.

I contacted the cabinetmaker that a fellow GW member from NH used. We went and visited his shop and were very impressed with his work. He priced out at our allowance including installation for inset cabs. The only issue with him was timing as we've been told that installation needs to occur in mid-April.

While we were dealing with the above two options, we asked to also meet with the builder's guy. After one cancelled appointment, one snow storm, one total miscommunication where we went to his shop and he came to the house (1 hour apart), we finally met with him 10 days ago. I had previously provided a layout (as I had done with the other two). We spent 2 hours in a very cold house under construction going over everything. Three days later we visited his shop and spent another 2 hours basically looking at his equipment. Have I mentioned that this cabinetmaker is in his 80's and draws everything out on 8.5"x11" paper in pencil? Today my DH was in the vicinity of his shop for a medical appointment so stopped by. Since we had yet to receive a quote (even after numerous request by numerous people) he thought he'd ask again. All my DH was told is, this is going to be expensive. We've found out through our realtor that this cabinetmaker does not like doing inset cabs (he calls them 'built-in') nor does he like painted cabinets. I'm guessing that is one reason why he is dragging his feet with a price...either he thinks we'll say, oh, just build them they way you want to, or we'll walk away.

We have emailed our realtor tonight indicating that we need a price by Friday, otherwise we need to look at other options. I so want to use the other cabinetmaker we met with, but I'm afraid that at this point we've lost that opportunity due to timing.

Sorry to rant, but we are at our breaking point. DH has heart issues and this is not helping matters. I'm having nightmares of walking into a kitchen with stained cabinets with partial overlay raised panel doors.

Time for a glass of wine.

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I would work on the timing issue or research other cabinet makers to get the cabinets you want. I would avoid the one who doesn't do inset or like to do painted finishes. That sounds like a recipe for trouble. Find someone who loves their work and you their cabinetry.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:27PM
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Drink more wine.

You're not out of line.

I rhymed.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:43PM
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Thanks snookums. Good to hear a voice of reason. I have emailed the cabinetmaker I would like to go with to see if he's still available in his original timeframe, which is about 3 weeks after our target date. If we have to be homeless for a month or so I order for me to get the kitchen I want, that's okay with me.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:46PM
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I agree. Don't sign any paperwork with the 80 year old. Perhaps he only knows one way to fabricate. If he can't built to YOUR specs., where is the "custom"?.
And, in this day and age, many cabinet makers use lasers and/or computers to be absolutely of measurements. (Many can show you your finished cabinets in 3D beforehand to be sure that's what you want.)
IMHO, I'm not sure paper and pencil are sufficient anymore. We are adding many more appliances and specialty cabinets now that take pretty accurate measurements.
Perhaps this gentleman is very accurate in his measurements, but what good is it if he can only build one type of cabinet..which isn't the style you want?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:12PM
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Sorry, forgot to ask, is this cabinet maker related to the builder? Since the builder offered you options to modify the cabinetry, why would he utilize a cabinetmaker that doesn't modify?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:15PM
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Canuck, I think you are correct that he only knows one style. Unfortunately, age is a factor and we're even wondering if he has the capacity to build something different. Actually, he doesn't do the fabrication, only the layout, but has a shop full of workers.

I don't know if he is related to the developer. Good question. I'll look into that.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:41PM
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Definitely don't give up. Too many red flags with the builder's cabinet maker. Besides your concerns about his ability to design & build the style & quality of cabinets you want, It doesn't sound like he could meet your target installation date either. It's mid-Feb & he can't even given you a price. It sounds like working with him & going outside of his norm would be extremely frustrating & stressful.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:39AM
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Go with your gut. My guess is that typing out this post crystallized for you the issues you'll likely face down the road with the builder's cabinet maker. Building is stressful under even the best circumstances when sub contractors share your vision.

I agree with the advice above that you should take the long range view. Making accommodations for a 3-week(ish) delayed completion to get what you'll be happy with in the long run is worth the expense and effort, IMO.

I say this with no disrespect to the older gentleman. When we built our lake house several years ago some of the younger guys accustomed to churning out familiar plans initially balked at any deviation in layout, finishes or materials from those they were comfortable and accustomed to working with.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:02AM
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We had a similar set of frustrations with the cabinet maker our architect recommended. They didn't use wood, but mdf faces, not inset, etc. The straw that broke the camel's back was a visit to their factory. It was a dump and the displays were in disrepair. Our builder suggested an alternate company and we have been thrilled. They were easy to work with, are fully custom, use real wood, even used the Farrow and Ball paint I wanted, and worked through all kinds of changes in design I brought to the table.

I think you should look until you find an outfit you are comfortable with and that offers all you want.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:40AM
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The first thing to check with the builder of the spec home is how much he charges for a change order. And will he charge a markup on top of the price difference as well. That's VERY common, in order to keep customers from making changes that impact the builder's timeline. A month later in closing with you homeless may not sound great to you, but that means a month (or two) extra of interest payment that the builder has to absorb. It costs him money to not hit the original timeline. And I wouldn't expect that he would absorb that without passing that along to you. You need to add up all of the costs associated with making this change, and that means ALL of the costs, including the "hidden" ones.

You wouldn't be the first person who took delivery of a brand new house and then did a kitchen remodel before they moved in because it was just cheaper to do it that way than to pay all of the builder's upcharges. If it comes down to that, to get a CO usually requires a functional sink, some type of counter, and a cooking appliance. That could just be 2x4 frames holding a piece of plywood with a sink dropped into it and a Craigslist range. As long as that doesn't affect the appraisal at the end for your mortgage, then that might be an option for you to consider.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:49AM
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Have you considered a semi-custom line? What did your KD design and price for you? P&F? Showplace offers inset quite a bit less than P&F and they have very nice painted finish. They recently came out with a MATTE finish paint option. I looked up a Manchester zip and there are 7 dealers in New Hampshire. Their lead times are 4-6 weeks.

I agree with LWO on the change order fees from the builder. You really need to check in to that. And her advice on getting a "functioning" kitchen just to pass inspection and to be able to close on the loan is good idea. Jut check with the bank and housing inspector on what they would require. If you're able to do that, then you can take your time in getting exactly what you want.

I'm curious about the installation of the cabinets, usually that is included in the price of the house. Maybe you could ask the dealer if his trim carpenter could do that for you? If not, ask him if you can hire out the trim carpenter yourself?

Here is a link that might be useful: Showplace Dealers in NH

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:34AM
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This was my story exactly. Exactly. Except the cabinet guy the builder used was not 80.

Every single thing I wanted was replied to with the word(s)
"cha-ching". Not kidding. Totally condescending, wanted nothing to do with my ridiculous ideas which included taking cabinets to the ceiling....

Took my business away from him, went with a fab custom kitchen cabinet maker.

Get the cabinets you want. That guy is not being helpful because he has enough business even without your kitchen.

Make the dates work somehow. Tell your builder this is what you want. And hurry, time is getting away from you!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:43AM
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Where abouts in NH are you? I know of a great little two man shop on the seacoast that I have used many times in the past....very nice work, pleasure to work with and can usually make things happen pretty quickly. If you want his contact info let me know

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 12:13PM
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cha-ching??? Really? So cocky and condescending! Wow.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 12:16PM
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Thank you everyone for your input. It's very comforting to have this amazing community to bounce ideas off of as well as providing a shoulder (or many shoulders) to lean on when you are at wits end.

To give you an update on what has occurred today, we received an email from our realtor this morning advising that a quote would be received today. It's 8:30 p.m. and again, crickets. We just sent an email to the realtor advising that we are through with dealing with the builders cabinetmaker. I have been in contact with another cabinetmaker who I have total confidence in and plan to proceed in that direction. We have asked to meet with the realtor tomorrow to discuss how we can make all of this work out. While it would have been nice to move only once, I'm totally okay with being a nomad for 3-4 weeks in order to get the kitchen I want.

Thank you again for the encouragement. You guys are priceless.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 8:41PM
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Great! This is really progress. When you don't have to wait for someone to do their part and you can at least get to decision making!

I applaud your determination to work for what you want. If you compromised, you'd always look at things and say, "We were gonna...."

Please post progress eye candy pictures? I live vicariously.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:45PM
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request a dollar amount back and ask to have the kitchen left as a shell.

move on.

when a craftsman of any kind says he 'doesn't usually do that kind' it means you need to find someone who does.

the age of the cabinetmaker, and missing appointments, while raising concerns, does not bother me as much if you know what their work looks like. In this case, it does not sound like they can do what you want and that is the most important issue.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:29AM
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Even if the new one can't meet the allowance price can you just pay the difference?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 2:39PM
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Today's update...
We had asked our realtor to meet with us today. Received an email this morning giving a time then advising that the builders guy had a quote and wanted to meet with us. DH didn't want to bother, but I said we would listen, however, did not believe it would change our decision. 45 minutes before the meeting (I'm still at work) I received an email with the quote. What a joke. It starts off with "cherry cabinets" when in fact they would be painted maple. Numerous items were not included and the price still came out at $10K higher than the quote we had received by another cabinetmaker.

I called the realtor and said there was no reason to meet with him. The builder would like for our proposed cabinetmaker to commit to a date. I've contacted him and he's looking at his schedule.

DH blood pressure is sky high over all this. I have a feeling we'll be visiting the ER at some point over the weekend.

Lydia, we would be paying the difference between the allowance and actual cost.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 3:37PM
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Here's today chapter in the ongoing saga of the kitchen that may never be built.

The cabinetmaker we want to go with has committed to installing the first week of May, which is 3 weeks behind the timeline. He requires a 50% deposit with the balance when complete. Normal, right? I've been told that the builder would not pay him until the work is complete. Sounds like he's playing hardball.

We recontacted our KD from our current kitchen whom we have a great relationship with. She advised that if ordered this week, cabinets would take 5 weeks for delivery. That would then allow for installation to be done within the original timeline.

The major difference between going with the cabinetmaker and my KD is we'd be getting full overlay cabs with the KD versus inset. DH is leaning toward wanting to use our KD, as we know her well and are very comfortable with her installer.

Since I began writing this post I've received a call that our meeting is occurring tomorrow rather than today. I've told them that they better bring decision makers to the table as we are not leaving without knowing who and how my kitchen will be going in.

My brain is dead.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 2:48PM
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Perhaps you could pay the 50% and have the builder reimburse you at completion. This way everyone gets what they want. If I were a cabinetmaker, I wouldn't start a job without a large deposit. If I were a builder, I wouldn't pay a sub before completion. Maybe your cabinetmaker doesn't know he has lien rights.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 3:00PM
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50% sounds reasonable. He has to buy materials, and will be investing his time.

Get what you want!! You might never get another chance. Having your kitchen be "you" is very rewarding! It's a wonderful feeling every time you go in there.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 3:18PM
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Good luck with the meeting. But I think you need to enter it with the perspective that *you* are the one who needs to work this out with them. The builder views this situation as precipitated by you when you chose to go with another cabinetmaker. And the cabinetmaker views you as the customer, not the builder, if he has no contract with the builder. Whether or not either should take some initiative and be flexible isn't the point. You'll need to be the proactive one in this case, if this is the path you're taking. And I mean this with encouragement, because I, too, would want the kitchen that I want.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 3:27PM
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I am a little confused with the builder`s NO payment until completion. Your cabinetmaker has the right to ask for 50% upfront, but it my understanding that the builder should pay you 50% of his allotment when 50% is done.

I worked in a construction industry business for a few years and when we were the subs, we requested payment when the work was 50% complete. When we had subs, we paid when they were 50% complete. Granted, this was commercial construction, not residential, but I would have thought the rules would be the same. If so, the builder should pay YOU at the 50% mark (you are now the GC for the cabinets, with your CM being your sub).

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 4:09PM
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Good advice Peony!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 4:24PM
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Sometimes builders are on a draw system with the bank
And they can't release funds until materials are
Delivered or installed. In the past, I would order without
A deposit, but I needed contact info from the bank or loan
Officer and a letter stating funds will be supplied.

However after getting burned for $15K a few years ago,
We now tell builders we need a deposit.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 5:49PM
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