How do you know whether to give up on your contractor

dreamojeanJune 23, 2013

I'm not happy with our contractor but not sure whether to give up on him or work it through. This is a kitchen/deck+stairs+patio/window-door conversion job and the deck is up and kitchen walls are closed but the patio isn't built, deck isn't painted and window isn't converted. The deck is fantastic but a sub we hired directly built it and I knew it would be good. I'm very unhappy with our general contractor because he told us he could keep the kitchen wall depth a certain depth and isn't delivering, so the cabinets and stove will be in the aisle basically, and in the way of the door we will be creating. He originally said he didn't need to build out the wall by the stove+dishwasher near the door and now the wall is 3 inches deep or more and he used 5/8" sheetrock throughout - is this needed for a kitchen job? I have no idea- He isn't communicating well with us and is making what I consider mistakes in the process. Like kitchen wall depth for example. And laundry area depth - turns out he built a laundry area for a non-full size stackable despite that I told him all along I would be buying a full size, not compact. Does this mean he doesn't know what full size washers measure at?

Also, when changes come up he charges us extra but when we cut corners he doesn't credit us. We can't afford the renovation under those circumstances and won't be able to afford cabinets or countertops until after a temp kitchen is in and we bring in a tenant and maybe get a heloc, anyway.

He hasn't ordered pavers yet or painted the deck and I've lost confidence in him. We signed a contract and the scope included a patio and painting the deck. When I look at the price for the terrace and painting the deck, I realize that not having this guy I've lost confidence in do it, could make or break our being able to afford to finish our kitchen. I really wanted this bluestone paver terrace but is $5500 for that for a tiny backyard overpriced? Does painting a small deck and stairs with weatherproofing paint really cost $3700 or so? Can I pull that part of the job from him before he orders pavers and/or buys paint for the deck? It seems overpriced and I was willing to play along when I trusted he would do a good job. Now I don't.

Thoughts? I'd welcome any feedback. I'm a newbie to bigger contracting jobs and based on this I want to stick with my mostly awesome time and materials guy from hereon in. I have no idea if this is all par for the course. I don't think my contractor is a bad guy or dishonest but I do feel overcharged and like he might be prioritizing a different job.

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Ditch him. I had several red flags and let them go because I'm a wimp and they're nice guys. As a result, I'm now really upset by the job they've done and the amount it's cost. I would have done far better to GC it myself, and I know nothing.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 7:38PM
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Oh and by the way--I'd be more than happy to paint the deck and stairs for that! We have a really huge deck and stairs and had both cleaned and sealed, plus had the back patio and stairway pressure washed, for $650 last year. Assuming it won't need cleaning but will need several coats, and assuming that you live in an expensive area, $1500 should be ample. Heck, even $2000. $3700? No way, unless you're having Michelangelo teleported in.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 8:06PM
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You haven't been in the middle of this project very long for all of that work to be completed. And I'm not sure why you want to paint your deck. That does nothing but create a lifetime of maintenance issues for you. Decks should be stained, not painted. And that should wait about 6 months for the pressure treated lumber to dry out enough for the stain to stick. Stain it too soon, and it will all come off. Combine paint, and doing that too soon, and you'll be painting it every year rather than staining it every couple of years.

Did you have the structural engineer's report about redoing all of those window openings and wall openings? That should have told you what wall depth was possible and wasn't. If the wall needs to be reinforced for support, that will add depth to it. If it didn't need to be reinforced, then that should have been spelled out as well. Did the contractor talk with the engineer directly about the requirements?

Lots of contractors have poor communication skills. That's not unusual. It would be unusual to have poor construction skills and poor communication skills and still be a licensed and insured contractor who gets decent references from people who've used him before.

What does your written contract say about parting of the ways? The written word rules. Did he pull the permits? Or did you? If he pulled the permits, you need to talk to your local codes office and see if it's possible to transfer them to a new contractor or if you will have to apply for entirely new ones. If you aren't careful, you can have a lien placed on your home by the contractor. Getting someone new may be difficult. Most contractors do not like to come in in the middle of another's job, so you may find it difficult to find someone to pick up the pieces here. They don't know if the homeowner or the contractor was a problem, and they'd rather not take the chance that it was you. Checking out a contractor's license, insurance and references and past work does help to prevent getting the duds. Not always though.

I'd recommend trying to communicate with him about your expectations as the first solution. However, some of those expectations are a tad unrealistic, so I'd also recommend that you talk to some other neighbors who've had renovation work done to be able to get some perspective on exactly how long things take and how expensive it is. You are in one of the most expensive locations in the country, with some of the most difficult to access property which makes it hard for contractors to get work done. It takes twice as long, and twice as much money to do the same project in NYC as it would in a suburb with plenty of parking and plenty of room for materials to be delivered, etc.

And if it does come down to a parting of the ways, you will want to be sure you do it correctly so that you don't create more problems for yourself. It might be worth it to consult a construction attorney before you go down that path...

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Livewireoak, To clarify re the deck - it is a steel deck, red primed for paint but not painted yet and red wont work long term for us. We have an architect who is going to sign off on the structural aspects of the job

I would've loved to have GCd the deal except that it was a permitted job and needed a contractor sign off - plus I wasn't confident about GCing the kitchen part of the job . I gave the cement footings work to the general contractor even though he charged more than the steel guy would have so he could be part of the permitted deck job. I'm sure that if I hire the steel guy to paint the steel deck it would be less money and a good job. I think I need to stick with this GC as to just the permitted items and make nice with him - he is a good guy I just lost confidence - and close out the permitted part of the job. That does not include painting the deck or adding a terrace

I expect the GC to be done with the temporary kitchen within about a week so we're really almost done with the permitted part of the job. I'm less sure about the timing of converting the window into a door. But I have to make these last pieces work with him - just not the more optional part I think

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 8:46PM
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