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When Remodeling Projects Go Wrong

Identifying the Red Flags

Everyone's heard horror stories about remodeling projects that go wrong.  The stories range from complaints about how a contractor installed new windows that leaked to much more serious situations, such as a contractor building a big deck that collapses within weeks. Even worse: Contractors can get halfway through the job then stop showing up. The truth is that even if you’ve hired a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor, there is no guarantee that your project will go as planned.

Well before the project is over you may start to notice little things that don’t seem right. The new counter in the kitchen doesn’t look like what you and the contractor agreed on. The shower door is hinged on the wrong side. If the contractor is ethical, these kinds of problems and larger ones should be easy and quick to fix. Everyone makes mistakes. He might have been having a bad day or didn’t supervise a sub contractor closely enough. But if there are too many red flags, this may be a sign that the project is heading downhill.

Red flags:

  • Your contractor is hard to reach by phone and doesn’t return calls.
  • He and his subs fail to show up when they’re supposed to.
  • They arrive, but without the materials or tools they need. So they spend a lot of time off site rounding up materials and tools.
  • Your contractor says “problems” will be fixed later, at the end of the project.
  • Your contractor tells you that he’s substituted one type of material for another, but it doesn’t matter. They’re the same, he says. 
  • He needs money at odd times and frequently, even though the terms of your contract say he gets paid every other Monday. 
  • He wants you to sign completion orders or other official forms before the work is actually finished. 
  • He asks you to be a reference for another project he’s bidding on, even though he hasn’t finished yours.
  • He advertises heavily and touts extremely low prices.

What to Do

Obviously the first step is to discuss your concerns with the contractor.  (Be courteous and professional.) If he doesn’t fix the problems immediately you should speak to him again and send him a certified letter in the mail spelling out the problems and how and when you expect them be fixed. Also, always take notes when you talk with the contractor noting what was discussed and when he said he would fix the shower door or the leaking windows. This is so you can remind him of what he’s promised to do. Also, if you end up having to go to court, these notes will be invaluable.

If he still “doesn’t have time” to fix whatever is wrong, or if he continues to “forget,” you will unfortunately have to make a formal complaint to your state’s contractor’s licensing board and possibly to your state attorney general’s office of consumer affairs. As a last resort you may also need to consult an attorney and consider suing him.

The worst scenarios occur when a contractor simply stops showing up to the worksite. Assuming you have a contract with him, this is a breach of contract and you can bring legal action, meaning a lawsuit. If the contractor really is a fly-by-night operator, even a lawsuit may not make things right. For one thing, he may have left town. And if he has no assets himself, winning a lawsuit against him may make you feel better but it does not mean that you’ll recover enough money from him to have someone else redo the damage he’s done to your home.

As always, the very best way to avoid having anything major go wrong is to hire an ethical, reputable contractor with a track record in your community.


Next article: Do You Need an Architect?

Previous article: The Hidden Costs of Remodeling

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