Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Master Bathroom Small Bathroom Remodel Part Deux and It is a Deuxsie!

Before I launch my next post to update you on our master bathroom remodel, I want to share this open letter to everyone that has asked about this project, (thank you) and those that haven't but might be curious as to why the remodeling updates stopped since my last post. So let's call this a public service announcement or better yet, what not to do when hiring a contractor to remodel your bathroom.

For those of you that know me, you know I generally keep my social media presence pretty positive - Aside from the occasional snark and sarcasm delivered with love and respect, of course. I believe that whining on-line makes one common; something people lacking common sense and/or the ability to problem-solve engage in for sympathy, validation or as a rallying cry. Fact is, complaining publicly about brands, retailers and contractors (even spouses) is too easy; especially today, when so few people take pride in their work and so many others just don’t care about the way they treat you. I know negativity does nothing to move us forward so I go out of my way to avoid it.

Fact is, I have always had a keen sense of perspective. After all, I watched Ranger go off to war in Afghanistan five times and before that, I can remember being only four years old when the Captain marched off to a war in Vietnam and seeing my mom cry every day until he came home. So, while I can get keyed up with the best of them and never quit until I get my way; I also know what’s truly important, what’s worth knocking off a few blood pressure points for and what’s not.


All that being said, I don't mind telling you, especially now that these guys have been problem-solved out of my life... This whole experience of hiring and working with two contractors hired to remodel my master bathroom has SUCKED!

Honestly, I’m still processing whether I’m more upset with him or myself for hiring guy #1. From calling an hour after he was to come to give me an estimate to say he had been down all weekend with a stomach bug (cost me two weeks) to calling an hour before he was scheduled to start to say he "forgot" that his mother-in-law died and he was in West Virginia so he wouldn't make it back in time, (delayed another week) to his wife calling to say he had a kidney stone, (another 12 days) to his wife calling again last Saturday to say he's still sick and may need surgery (I finally hired contractor #2 that afternoon but he didn't start until last Thursday).

And then, we had the whole "I'm still too sick to work" at 6:15AM last Monday before he butt-dialed me three times at 11:35AM so I could hear him laughing, joking and working away at some construction site…

Which brings me to the first important point I want to make to anyone considering hiring a contractor to remodel a bathroom or to do anything else in their home: Get it in writing.

Not just the cost and who is responsible for providing which materials, but get the timeline in writing. That way, you will know exactly how long your job will take and when your contractor will show up. Doing so will give you grounds to fire him when he fails to show up.

Through hiring this guy, I learned many valuable lessons... The biggest lesson I learned is to skip hiring a contractor altogether if the work is something you can either do or learn to do yourself! Especially for small jobs like this one. Even if you don't believe you have the time, make the time. Because the frustration you save will be worth the time you make to see your project through on your own.

Contractor contacted June 8th. Began work
on July 6th. Left at a standstill since July 10th...

Bottom line, if you believe that paying someone guarantees that they will do better work than you or your husband/relative/friend will do, you may find yourself as disappointed as I am. 

That said, you should certainly hire a professional to do any/all structural work and any electrical and/or plumbing work you yourself are not licensed to perform; but I am telling you, none of the four contractors I interviewed offered any different advice or plan than we'd already figured out on our own and, neither of the two contractors I hired to tile this bathroom demonstrated and better level of skill than my sweet husband. On top of that, I found our that it is a whole lot easier to ask my husband to rip out something he's done when a mistake gets noticed than it is to ask a paid contractor... Because what I just heard from two highly paid contractors was that their mistakes were either, "not that bad" or that they wouldn't fix them, "no matter what." But more about that in my next post...

Back to the lessons I learned from hiring contractor #1. I learned that his installation of the vinyl pan liner and the shower floor required a permit, which he did not pull for my job. And, I learned that it is my responsibility as the homeowner to know these things. 

Now, I went into this already knowing from a painter situation gone wrong the first week after we moved here, that in North Carolina, all licensed and unlicensed contractors are required to have a signed contract for any work they do that requires payment.

If a contractor does work in your home without a signed contract, you are not obligated to pay them, even if they threaten to sue you. Because the first thing the judge or magistrate will ask the contractor is to produce their signed contract. No contract, no agreement, no agreement, no case, no case, no recourse. Which is exactly what the magistrate hearing the painter's case against us told him after he quit and then sued us for the other half of the $3,000 he bid to remove the wallpaper in this house. He quit after the person he hired to repair all the drywall he damaged removing the wallpaper incorrectly blew drywall dust all throughout the house when he sanded the walls down while the air conditioner ran all day. It literally looked like it was snowing in our home for days! When we got home from work and found the disaster, we called him. The painter told us he quit and since he felt he had actually done $3,000 worth of work because he underestimated the job, he demanded we pay him the balance of $1,500. When we refused, he said he would see us in court. And, he did. In the end, it cost us every bit of what we paid him upfront ($1,500) and more to replace the new carpeting just installed in our den and to have our ductwork cleaned to remove all the drywall dust that was sucked into it. But even after the magistrate let us know that we could turn around and sue him for our damages, we didn't... It was September 13th, two days after the attacks in New York, DC and Pennsylvania so we just rolled on.

You should also know that unless you get proof that your contractor is properly insured, any damage he does to your home and refuses to fix or pay for, you pay for! Worse, if he gets injured or dies as a result of the job or his equipment/tools are stolen from your front porch, where he left them, you and/or your homeowner's insurance could be responsible.

Oh! And, before I forget, paying anyone in advance of work being done is a no-no. If a contractor asks you to pay them for labor in advance, slam the door on their face. If a contractor asks for money to buy materials, have the agreement to pay for materials be part of your signed contract, ask for receipts and take inventory of everything delivered for the job to ensure every nickel is accounted for.

In terms of what constitutes as a contract... First, an estimate is not a contract to do work. An estimate is a proposal for work that can and should be negotiated. A signed contract to do work comes after estimates is agreed upon. A performance contract is a legally binding document that spells out specifics of the project, meaning, what you will receive upon completion and the monetary terms agreed upon for labor and materials and who is responsible for providing materials. All that being said, I strongly recommend you go a step further to outline the timeline for the project to prevent what happened to me from happening to you. Because in the end, I found out this guy was squeezing my smaller and therefore less lucrative project, into free time he anticipated having between his other jobs. When that free time was munched up by illness, a death in the family or other things he wanted to do more, my job kept getting pushed off. Finally, after being confronted about it, this contractor admitted, by screaming at me, that he had another job that not only paid more, it also required him, by contract, to show up!

Looking back, I'm astonished and embarrassed that I put up with ANY of this. Especially since I have plenty of experience working with contracts and people that have tried to break them. I am waaaaaay smarter than this. However, in my defense, I wouldn't want to be the kind of person that doesn't first feel compassion when someone calls to say they've suffered a death in the family or don't feel well. 

Also, around the time this contractor told us that his mother-in-law died, I was in the process of placing the order for my tile and marble at Floor and Decor.  And, after the woman I was working with failed to call me back for three days to finalize the order, I happened to mention it to her manager when I called to follow-up myself. Well, upon letting him know that I had been waiting for a call, this manager got all puffed up and said, "The reason Traycee didn't follow up with you is because thirty minutes after she promised to check our stock and call you back for payment, is when she received the call letting her know that her 15-year old son had just drown in their neighborhood pool."

Frankly, despite expressing my deepest sympathies for this poor woman (I still feel sick thinking about it) this manager made me feel like shit. In fact, after I was told my order was ready for pick-up, I actually waited almost a week to settle my nerves and get past what I was told. After all, something so tragically sad isn't what any customer wants to associate with their project. 

Anyway... Also around this time, my brother had heart surgery, (he's great) a friend's cancer came back, (he's fighting like hell) and another friend lost her father. So, more compassionate Janet came out to play. The Janet grateful for every good thing in her life and the Janet that knows there are more important things in life than her silly bathroom model took over... That Janet rolled with her contractor's delays and lies. She expressed heartfelt concern for his pain, offered to deliver meals to him and his wife and ignored her instincts all the way around. And, for her efforts, that Janet got walked on and her bathroom remodel has been delayed for nearly two months by a contractor that promised to have it finished in a week with a crew of four other men she never saw!

Whatever you do, do not assume that just because your project is small you can or should relax the requirement for a contract and that you're not entitled to a clear understanding of what to expect from your contractor.

Now, I initially hired a contractor because my husband said someone paid to do it would be a better job. I also wanted to spare him the aggravation of doing it himself. Why? Well, he's already remodeled this whole house once... The kitchen has been refreshed with new counter tops three times, new appliances twice and new flooring twice. The kitchen was also painted five times, until I achieved the perfect shade of white. The powder room and hall bathroom have been gutted and remodeled twice and we are on the second round of hardwood flooring downstairs too. So asking him to remodel the master bathroom a second time, just because I wanted to add back a vanity and storage cabinet like the ones I asked him to rip out the first time seemed a bit excessive... Even to me. But honestly, having gone through this BS over the past seven weeks with this guy that has turned out to be a total weasel... I can't even imagine anything my husband would say or do that could be any worse!

Oh! Before you assume this was some Facebook lead or Craigslist dude I called to ask to work for peanuts... No. This guy works as a sub-contractor for one of the top custom home builders in the Triad and his estimate for labor only was $5,000, a full $2k over his closest competitor. And yet, he wouldn't show up or didn't realize or want to admit that my job couldn't be squeezed in between his other jobs. Finally, to add insult to injury, the work he did (5 hours over two and a half days) was subpar. By his own admission, the shower wall is slightly crooked. My marble guy says the wall niches the contractor built are not 90 degrees (straight) at the corners so the marble shelves won't lay flat until they are fixed. And, there is concrete he allowed to get into the shower drain because he couldn't be bothered to take five seconds to stuff a rag into it before he laid the shower floor.

The good news is that I told him last Monday, after hearing him at work elsewhere via his butt-dials, is that we are done. So it's over with contractor #1. I also encouraged him, after letting him know I knew he failed to pull a permit, to come up with a number out of the $1,100 he was paid upfront, to compensate us for the mistakes in his work that now must be corrected. So, because he's still sick, (meaning he's working elsewhere) he agreed to send a guy over the next day with $500 to refund and pick up all the tools he left in our bedroom.

In the end, the second contractor asked for $600 more than the first guy. However, he said his work would be far superior and that he could start on Thursday and have my bathroom completed in a week. Therefore, if he actually does cross the finish line, all of this might have been worth it. 

It's a good thing this is the last major remodeling project on my list for this house; because unless my husband volunteers his services again, I may have to learn to love what I have. Which might just be the lesson in this exercise anyway.

It's not all bad news though... Remember that vanity I loved on
this website and the custom cabinet builder it belongs to? The
one that bid $5,000 just to build it and wanted even more to
paint it, add hardware, a sink, counter top and to deliver it?
Well, the craftsman I hired to replace those people stopped by this Monday
to install the vanity and storage cabinet he built for me using those photos. He
only charged me $1,700.00 and both pieces fit my space like a glove! Everything
is solid maple and Chris even offered to deliver both pieces to a local finisher
he works with who painted them in a color I picked out! The cost for this
high-end finish... Just $800 for both pieces and worth every penny!
Before he started, Chris presented a contact for me to sign that
outlined every detail, including price and timeline. In the end, he
even provided a copy of the bill he paid on my behalf to the finisher...
Thereby restoring my faith in all contractors and,
proving once and for all that perfection does exist...
And, that it's okay to insist you get exactly what you ask and pay for!
If you live in the Winston-Salem/Greensboro North Carolina area and
need a whole house full of cabinetry or just one vanity custom built to
fit your spot, let me know because I am happy to recommend him to you!

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