On Contractors, Coughs, and Headaches

Please forgive me for not blogging in awhile. I’ve been a bit distracted by my life in contractor hell.

Or purgatory is more like it, because it’s still ongoing as I write this, after week four of what was first quoted as a “five-day” project. Let me explain how you can learn from my mistakes as a consumer with the wisdom of hindsight.

My project is not all that complicated – I wanted to change one level of my house from carpet and tile to hardwood floors. I researched the various types, colors, and textures of hardwoods with eager diligence. Asked a lot of questions.Compared materials and labor costs with several retailers. Finally, I selected a multi-colored maple offered by a large flooring chain, and they provided me with the recommendation of a contractor who they heard did “good work.” I contacted him and he visited my house to provide a quote, on time and quite polite (he’s young, so I got my share of “yes, Ma’am’s”), and at a lower cost and allegedly quicker time frame. So I did what probably most hapless homeowners would in my situation – I hired him.

It went steadily downhill from there. For starters, I asked if he and his crew could schedule the demolition stage for when I, my son, and two dogs were out of the house for a few days starting on Thursday. Sure, no problem, Contractor Dude assures. So imagine our surprise on Monday morning at 7:30 am (as my son is still in his pj’s getting ready for school) when a demolition crew (minus Dude) shows up at our door stating that they were ready to start the project early. Mistake #1 – don’t do this while you’re still living in the house, and Mistake #2 – insist they tarp your furniture. The clouds of dust were unreal (and still are), and we lived in literally a construction zone coughing and sneezing until we left for our trip. Oh, and they couldn’t start working on the floors for three days after doing this because the wood had to “breathe” in my house before installing, so we were left without a bathroom and having to eat our meals standing up at a very dusty kitchen counter.

While we were out of town, I’ll give them some credit – the floors were installed and look nice. I was scheduled to come home on Monday night, and Contractor Dude assured me the house would be finished and cleaned up for my return (I laugh at this now, but believed him at the time). That entire week, nothing was done – my bathroom still unassembled with parts sitting in my living room, huge piles of wood stacked in boxes in my dining room (because he greatly overestimated my square footage), baseboards unnailed and upright against the walls, stair railings taking up most of my garage. And clouds of dust now settling on everything, especially in my upper level and bedroom because it apparently rises. Let me add, too, that I have an elderly blind dog who could have easily fallen down the stairs without the railing (I had to insist they come back to install that). And if it wasn’t for me cleaning up all the nails and staples scattered across my garage floor and outside, I would have surely gotten a flat tire or my dogs would have cut paws.

Week three, the baseboards were finally installed – with the nails showing and some crooked. And where they gouged big holes in my wall, they “touched it up” with the wrong paint color so there are splotches of dark throughout the downstairs. I have a big scratch in the front of my stainless fridge that Contractor Dude tried to scrub out, stripped the finish, and is trying to somehow blame on me that it was there before they started (not).  Another highlight was when one guy who laid the floors appeared at my door at 8:00 pm on night to get his tools because Contractor Dude didn’t pay him – and they are roommates! The list goes on – yet we’re still living without a front step or railings and a list of unfinished tasks. I was finally sick of coughing and had the ducts and house cleaned as this project stretches into infinity.

I’ve tried every approach I can think of to escape contractor limbo. I’ve tried being nice and understanding. I’ve used the “squeaky wheel” approach and called daily to ask when they’re coming and what will be worked on (because as a single woman, having a crew of men show up as early or late as they want without warning is very stressful). I’ve tried sternly setting expectations that are always unmet (i.e. many days of not showing after promising to be there the next day by a certain time). I’ve even tried the brutally direct approach and asked, “Don’t you want to finish this project, get paid, and move on?” You would think he’s as sick of me as I am of him, yet the job remains an open book. I’m beginning to wonder if his strategy is stringing the homeowner along so she just can’t take it anymore and ends up cleaning, touching up, moving furniture, and all the things he promised for him (sneaky, yet effective).

The irony that has not escaped me is that over the course of my 20-year career, I’ve been consistently professional, customer-centric, and communicative on project expectations, budgets, and results. Yet, here I remain unemployed and am paying an individual who is the opposite of all those – to semi-work when he feels like showing up. It’s interesting, yet a sad reflection on the state of the work”ethic” in the younger generation or in some industries.

The moral of my story: go with a company you know and can trust – even if they’re referred by a seemingly reputable source. I had my kitchen cabinets refaced by Home Depot last spring and, by comparison, it was a walk in the park. Four days from start to finish, as communicated to me up front with a realistic timeline. A Home Depot representative called daily to ask if the contractor showed up, cleaned up at the end of each day, and met my expectations. I had no idea how good I had it! Another option is to use a service like HomeAdvisor that prescreens its contractors and provides reviews from other homeowners on their experiences. Between these two options, there is definitely a better way and could help you avoid weeks of emotional and mental duress (not to mention coughing – hack!). Even if you carefully research materials, don’t go rogue when it comes to choosing who does the work for you.

And you’d better believe there will be a scathing, in-person Boomer Review coming to this flooring store when/if Contractor Dude finally finishes this project. They have lost me as a customer for life!

Anyone else have contractor-from-hell stories? How did you handle it?

Karen Lambert

Karen Lambert

Karen Lambert has over 25 years of marketing communications, brand strategy, and overall marketing management experience, primarily in technology (although early-career industries included such "related" areas as produce and golf!). She is relatively new at this 50+ thing, but is trying to embrace it with a positive outlook and humor. Karen lives in Golden, CO, with her 11-year-old son. She loves hiking, running, yoga, and snowshoeing - and her claim to fame is having summitted all of Colorado's 54 fourteeners.
Karen Lambert
Karen Lambert

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  1. interesting article

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