Volume 46, Issue 7 - September 2007

Secret Shopper
Shelter Goes Undercover
by Dawn Campbell, an art director for Shelter magazine

Our Remodeling Nightmare
Don’t Just Get Referrals, Call References

In the spring of 2006 my husband, Tommy, and I decided to remodel our home. Every-one thought we were nuts; the house was only four years old, and we had only lived in it for only a year. But the floor plan just did not work for us as we had hoped it would. So we took the plunge into our own personal remodeling hell. 

While our project was large, it was not overly complicated. We wanted to reorganize spaces to add a half-bath and closets and relocate the laundry room to create a dining room. At first we were going to do it ourselves. We had handled remodels like this before, but with full-time jobs, we did not want to prolong the project. The real deciding factor was our lack of desire to do drywall work. So we decided to hire a contractor to do the bulk of the project, and we would do the purchasing and finishing details, such as painting, tiling, etc. We never dreamed we would encounter so many problems.

On with the Search
Like most, we started our search for a contractor by asking family and friends we received only two suggestions, but both were unavailable. Next we called the original builder of our home who recommended John Skinner of All Trades and Carpentry. Looking for a credible source of options, we pulled the county’s list of registered contractors, which gave us a little more insurance than just picking someone random out of the phone book. Appointments were made with five contractors; two contractors said the job was too big and also recommended Skinner. The other two said the job was too small and had no suggestions. 

Skinner was the next at the house. On his first visit, he was really on the ball, listening to the project details and adding his own suggestions. He seemed to understand our various concerns, telling us how he would remedy them and inspired our confidence in him. The time frame of three to four weeks and cost estimate also fit our needs. We did ourselves a mental favor by adding a couple weeks and more money to the budget, as you always should. 

But we also made a mistake. We should have called references and not based this decision on the contractor referrals we received. And so, our remodeling hell began. 

Skinner’s start date came and went, but he didn't, with the excuse that he needed to finish a roofing job, we agreed to let him finish the job with a delay of one week. Three weeks later, he showed up ready to work (that day, anyway).

He and his crew of one eagerly started the demo work. We were impressed at his accomplishments before we left for work, only to be disappointed when we returned. One wall had been torn down before we had left, and it appeared that was all that was accomplished. A neighbor, told us he left around 11 a.m. with no explanation of why. 

After we left him several phone messages, he returned our calls, saying there was a problem at the previous job and he had to go back. “I thought that’s why we waited three weeks so he could finish it,” I said to my husband. I guess not. 

Problems escalated from there. Days would pass where he would not show. When he did, he avoided face-to-face contact by arriving late and leaving early. Our only contact was through phone messages, scribbled notes on the counter and, eventually, through his wife.

The Crew on Board
His “crew” consisted of one helper and two subcontractors, a plumber and an electrician—not the impression of the crew we were given to expedite this project. He hired and fired several helpers during the process, stating to us they were stealing from him. This excuse was one of many that were causing him to delay our job. We wondered how his plumber got his license, or why he even came to our jobsite; he could not figure out how to install our Jacuzzi tub. My husband had to explain how to do it. And there was a similar problem with the tub’s faucet. 

We figured out it was a missing washer after a simple call to Kohler. 

Next, the plumber installed the vanity faucets incorrectly, stating they were built that way. Again, Tommy explained how to do it correctly. Also, in the half bath the faucet was installed backwards—cold to hot and hot to cold. My husband has since fixed this as well.

Then there was Skinner’s electrician. He installed recessed lighting but couldn’t get them lined up. We demanded this problem be corrected. Then, he installed two sets of light switches in the wall instead of hanging them in one box, stating there was a stud in the way. We knew better, so this was also fixed after the crew left. We asked for a phone jack to be next to a doorway, but instead it was placed in the middle of the wall. We were left with outlets that were wired incorrectly, causing them to work only partially or not at all. We have since fixed this, too.

Problems and delays continued. Materials were not ordered when we were told they would be. The hardwood floors arrived late, were installed in a hurry and were not given the appropriate time to acclimate to their surroundings as we had requested repeatedly before the job began. The contractor’s lack of concern also showed in many places. Two vanity backsplashes were broken, the vanity itself was scratched, paint spilled on new flooring and a new laundry tub, all due to his carelessness. 

Alas, the Drywall
Remember how our deciding factor to hire Skinner was the drywall work? He led us to believe he was well-experienced, even bragging that he had been doing it since he was 11. Ironically, this is what brought our relationship to an end. We felt his drywall work was horrible. He left lumps and seams everywhere, and one wall was even crooked. 

After 13 weeks of being told not to worry, he suddenly told us he just couldn’t do it and as far as he was concerned he was done. We refused to pay him “in full,” knowing we had to hire another contractor to finish the job. We wanted a new estimate to know what to deduct from his final payment. But soon after he left, he once again had his wife call, demanding to be paid. We ended up settling on a price after we subtracted damages, errors and incomplete work that ended up being only half of his original estimate.

Even with our full schedules, my husband and I are now still finishing our three-to-four week remodeling project—more than a year later. Not only are we finishing, but we also are still correcting, and still finding mistakes that Skinner caused. We have had to hire two other contractors to finish and repair the drywall. 

© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.