Construction Horror Stories – Hard Learned Lessons
Construction Horror Stories – think only Customers have them? You may want to read further.
For most of us our home is our most valuable asset. Of course, in today’s real estate market that may be an issue at the moment, but if you can’t sell your house and move, or don’t want to leave, then you should develop the right remodeling project and enjoy your home.
So – if your home is your most valuable asset, why would you possibly take the chance of messing it up. You wouldn’t consider cutting your own hair, and even if we ramp up the anxiety level and challenge you to build your own car, almost none of you would ever consider doing this. But for some primal reason you would consider DIY (do-it-yourself), and jump into tearing your house apart with little to no knowledge, usually because the idea of buying cool power tools and doing demolition is soooo appealling. After all, the “Big Box” stores have told you they have everything for your project. TV “designers” offer videos on adding a room addition, redesigning your kitchen or a bathroom remodel and they show you how to do it in a weekend! How could you possibly screw this up? Plus, you have seen the real guys working on projects and they certainly don’t look or sound like rocket scientists.You’re educated, you have the internet, you have a friend who’s a mechanical engineer – if you plan this all out correctly, what could possible go wrong. You can even buy a 3D Design program for your computer that prints out pictures for home additions or remodeling kitchens just like the Pros. Sounds like this could be great!
Then we have another foolproof scenario destined to go horrible wrong. Hiring the cheapest Contractor with no license and no office. Granted, some of you don’t even know to look for these things, or the many other qualifiers Contractors should have – that you can learn about here. But usually the deciding factor is money. By the time you get to the stage in life where you are remodeling a home, you should know that “you get what you pay for”.
So here are a couple of our real Construction Horror stories, (names changed for obvious reasons), that we thought you might like to read ..
A Fishy Story
Do unto others or yikes…
There are many ways of “collections and paybacks” in our industry. Some of them, a little nasty. There was a drywall contractor that kept getting called backed by an Owner to go over and over and over different spots the Owner perceived as rough. The drywall Contractor thought and others thought they were obsessive. Apparently, the drywall contractor was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be paid by these people, so he took out insurance. What could that be you ask? He put a dead fish he caught inside the wall, behind his drywall and sealed it up. If he was paid, he would come back and take out the fish and repair the wall. If there was no payment, the fish stays and decays and the sweet smell of revenge stays for a very long time.
Now, I have never been able to figure out if this is an urban legend, but I do know every crew has a story to top it!
Buffy and Buddy’s Story
So what really can happen to a very nice young couple with their own remodeling plan….
One of our clients,”Buffy”, had grand plans of being the Designer and General Contractor to remodel their newly purchased home while Hubby worked to pay for it all. It was a large house, that had to be completely remodeled to their tastes and standards.
Buffy spent the first six months of construction loan interest playing with her own design program. After finally realizing you don’t spend that kind of remodeling money on something you designed yourself, (when you were educated to be a lawyer), they found us. We designed modifications and additions that made the house work properly for their family, and increased the value of the home with proper layouts, budget conscious parameters, quality construction techniques, and architectural interest. We gave them everything they insisted on with a full written proposal for all the work, (labor and materials), which came out to be much higher in costs than Buffy and Buddy wanted to spend.
They insisted on keeping everything for the project per our proposal, but believed they could save mega bucks by being their own General Contractor using our Design but having us only do framing to be ready for Buffy’s subcontractors. (We will always work with Owners to accommodate their needs, but we sincerely tell them to hire us or someone on as remodeling consultants when they are planning to be a General Contractor, for good reasons…)
Things started to hit snags pretty quickly. Buffy selected exquisite, expensive plumbing fixtures& fittings, on her own. When her plumbers roughed in according to the plan, Buffy found out the non-refundable materials she ordered on her own were not going to fit. Buffy did not count on all the existing electrical that had to be updated. Poor Buffy thought they would be fine with the existing HVAC system. Not a chance! Replacement windows were ordered incorrectly, lighting fixture metals did not match, the list went on…
We got a call from Buddy to please take over the whole remodeling project, all the subcontractors are annoyed and charging by the hour now to work with not only these materials, but with Buffy. Bills are skyrocketing and the job is crawling along at a snails pace. There is no Critical Path because Buffy didn’t know what that is, and both money and time are out of control. It is a difficult position for us to now be responsible for what Buffy has put in place. We agree that there are gray areas to be dealt with, and there is one exception. Buffy wants to do the tile installation Herself! She is going to a one day tiling school! Buddy apparently can’t refuse her since her pride has been damaged. We advise, but in remodeling, we know to tread gently between spouses. There is already plenty of stress. Tiling installation comes, and stays for a verrryyy long time. When tiling was complete, Buddy gave Buffy a vacation to Europe for her efforts. We ripped up all her tiling and reinstalled all new tile in her absence. In the end, with their mishaps and loan delays, they spent almost twice as much as our original proposal. But Buffy and Buddy wound up not only happy with their home, but happy with us for accommodating them by saving the remodeling project, and maybe a marriage.
Willa & Fred
A Story of frustration for everyone…
Willa and Fred want a gourmet kitchen. Fred, apparently a great cook, wants every high end appliance that’s made. Fred also wants a baking station, prep station, serving station, eating bar, wine bar, and of course chopping block island.
Great! A designers dream to create, but the kitchen is 12 feet by 12 feet and they don’t want to open up or add on! They also tell us they are on a budget, but will not reveal the dollar number. We enter into a kitchen design for months, and Fred changes his mind every meeting about inches, appliances, custom cabinet sizes. Every cabinet is now customized for specific purposes Fred wants, and we discuss how this will skyrocket costs. They will still not reveal the budget even though at this point I have been pretty blunt about it.
There is some kind of backwards idea going around that if you tell your Designer/Contractor what your budget is that they will charge you that amount to get the job and give you a product you’re not happy with. You need to be in control of your Kitchen Remodeling Project. If you feel you have to keep secrets, you are not in Control. You must have by this point researched the Designer/Contractor enough to ask for a Design/Bid, therefore you should trust them enough to tell them your real Budget. You are only hindering your own Remodeling Project when you are not up-front with things.
Note*****Never sign any Proposal or Contract without all Materials and Specifications, that you have selected, along with their product names, in writing. If you follow along, especially for Proposals and Contracts, you should not have any fears that you will not get the product you expect.
So the custom kitchen design is finished, all the materials they want are selected, th
e estimate is done, the proposal is written, and the money meeting is scheduled. Then comes the “bomb”. They tell us they were never going to sign a Construction contract with us, but they will take the kitchen design and the info we provided within the proposal and try and duplicate it as best they can from the “Big Box” stores. What!!! Talk about not trusting Contractors…what about not trusting clients! This was absolutely stupid silly – we charge a design fee up front anyway, so had they told us this in the beginning, we could have designed in a way to give them an alternate to convert to Big Box cabinets and alternate materials. They explained that our quality work, materials, all products, and finished kitchens of ours always looked so great they just knew they could not afford us, but they would not sacrifice one of our designs. Had they been truthful up front, we would have told them how they can have the “high end look” for a kitchen without breaking the bank.
Be up front with your designer, contractor, or whatever remodeling professional you are dealing with. Of course we are in this business to make a profit. But there are no obscene profits being made off you on remodeling projects. Look to your bank or health insurance companies for that. If you work together with your professional, the 10% net profit they typically make will seem nominal compared with all the headaches, time, and money you will spend spinning your wheels. No one smart in this business will put themselves out of business by charging too much for their market, the competition is too steep. But what does happen, is the non-professionals, (or what we lovingly call the truck and dog guys), will price a job just for their hourly labor costs and are soon out of business, (hopefully not in the middle of your job), because they can’t pay their truck bills, insurance, etc. Times are tough right now, and some of these guys are great and deserve a break, but you need to know what you’re getting into. Professional’s Maintenance is a must chapter of this website.
We all know someone like this…
There’s always an ugly side to every industry. This seems especially true in remodeling because we are involved in your personal space, personal cash, and usually your most valuable asset. We have had a few experiences over the years where jobs went horribly wrong for issues we could not seem to get under control. These issues were always emotionally driven. Thank goodness nail guns have good safety features.
Retired Mr. Knoital, decided that after he designed his home Addition himself, his age forced him to hire someone else to build it. We reviewed his plans and suggested some changes to improve traffic patter, symmetry, function, and future resale, but our valid changes were promptly dismissed.
During our contract discussions, we knew Mr. Knoital was going to be a difficult client. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do better than anyone if he had the time. As the job progressed, nothing was ever quite good enough for Mr. Knoital. There was always one more thing we had to give him to appease him throughout the job. Of course he thought he was manipulating us and getting “extras” for free, but we had built in extra dollars for “contingency” costs, (sometimes referred to as “aggravating clients fee”). We obviously knew we were being used and abused, but we just wanted to be done and gone. Then came the time for the final payment, which was fairly substantial. Instead, we got a letter of complaint from the Home Improvement Commission with a list of bogus complaint items, and a statement he was not going to pay. Now most people think Contractors can just file a Mechanic’s Lien against your property to hold you hostage for their money. Not that easy. Again it all depends on your area, and in ours, there are time constraints, and the monies due have to be a certain percentage of the total value of the property. Apparently, Mr. Knoital knew this, but curiously, did not pay enough attention during our Contract review – where all parties are bound to Arbitration. Which also means the Home Improvement Commission will dismiss the complaint when we informed them of this clause.
We file paper work and go to Arbitration. The biggest reason we have this in our Contracts is
to avoid costly legal fees, and because most Arbitrators have experience in the construction industry and understand these situations more so than any judge or jury.
So in the end we got our monies due plus interest, and Mr Knoital got his odd addition, while making his own life even more miserable.
Remodeling can be as easy or as difficult as you make it. So the moral of this story is twofold. If you see a large dollar Contingency Fee in your Contract, that means either your project is difficult, or you are difficult. There’s nothing wrong with being “particular” or a “detail merchant”. But when you pull up a lawn chair with a spotlight and make nasty comments about someone’s work – and that you could do it better, you are DIFFICULT. The other thing to be learned from this story is to understand your contract. Most Homeowners and Contractors enter into agreements with good intentions, but always make sure protections are in place and fair for all involved.
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