Kitchen contractor dramas (before project start!)
Long-time lurker here with a question (note this is my first time signing on under this user name because I'm so anxious about the implications - just explaining that I'm not a troll):
We have a small old house in a very pricey metro area, the kitchen is tiny but needs major-league work on electrical, plumbing, load-bearing walls, etc. to improve it even slightly. We signed a contract with a reno firm about 2 weeks ago; gave them a 1/3 deposit as part of the deal, another 1/3 when the work begins, another 1/3 at the end. The firm had a hundred-plus great reviews (with a few exceptions), no complaints or other issues on record with state or local agencies, etc. It was a hard sell but having interviewed a bunch of contractors I wasn't totally shocked.
All seemed well - they began mobilizing to get the cabinets ordered, do electrical upgrades, etc. Then last week the sales person I dealt with told me that he had left the firm and warned me that the owner is a bad guy who does bad work. And that he only was trying to start a piece of project to force us to pay the next 1/3 installment.
Great. One of their only negative reviews involved a similar story (sales guy goes missing; owner is wacky; etc.) The sales guy himself is obviously wacky too, but that's not reassuring really. I've been hyperventilating all weekend.
The owner came out today to reassure me and discuss the project. He reviews the work that's supposed to be done, and then tells me that the sales guy should never have offered to do the project at the cost in the contract. He announces that he wants to make me happy, etc etc, and that he'll start from scratch, send me an email that converts the contract to a planning agreement, with the money we've already paid refundable if we don't like the plan (which he strongly implies will cost at least $10-15k more than what we agreed to, which would be way beyond what we want to spend.) Then he actually offered to refund all but $1k of our deposit on the same basis.
There's a lot of sales BS - he wants everyone to be happy and he wants the job done right etc etc. I'm not sure if he's really trying to cut his ties b/c he can tell I'm going to be a PITA client, or if he thinks he can get us to sign for a bigger/more expensive project, or if it's all just a scam to string me along. Or all three. Both the firm owner and the sales guy seem to be in some dispute over commissions, etc., so that may also work to the owner's benefit if he ditches the original contract.
I really wanted to get the project done ASAP, but now I'm totally freaked out. I'd be just as happy to walk away, but I have signed a contract and I can't afford to throw away money.
What advice would the experts on both ends (homeowners and kitchen pros) have for someone in my shoes? Thanks.