Notice I didn't say anything about the quality of the work.
I deliberately left that descriptor out as it turns out my contractor was closer to the “should never be allowed to work on a home improvement project for money ever again” side of the scale than the “wow this contractor knows their stuff and did a fantastic job!” side.
Much to my chagrin.
It started off innocently enough. She was hungry for the work and painted a beautiful vision of restoring the work. Sadly for me and the house, it turned out to be the only thing she knew how to paint. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the price was right, as well. She beat out every single quote.
The fact she did it with just a quick look around, no time to research prices or materials, and without batting an eye should’ve been a red flag.
The work took forever to start, and then was continuously delayed due to a variety of factors. We got over 4 inches of rain during that time, which does make it difficult to work on the exterior of a house. Supplies weren’t coming in on time. Workers didn’t show up. Always excuses. More red flags.
The work started and I was less than impressed. I don’t know much about home improvement (hence the reason I hired a contractor in the first place!) but what I could see it did not look good. My neighbors, both the one across the street who bid on the project and the one behind me, walked me around the house and pointed out everything being done wrong.
Gutters not hung correctly.
Garbage strewn all over the yard.
Supplies left out in the open.
The porch power washed, then not sanded, and then stained before it dried completely.
Paint being applied incorrectly and without the proper prep process.
2 completely different shades of blue paint.
Wood shingles replaced with the wrong kind of shakes.
Wood siding replaced with wood shingles shoved in the open space.
Damaged wood not replaced at all or incorrectly.
As you can see, there was A LOT not getting done correctly.
I came home from vacation and fired her. Needless to say, she was incredibly unhappy. I was upset. I hate telling people bad news. This ranks right up there with breaking up with a boyfriend, kicking out my tenant, and quitting a terrible job.
She said a lot of things to me I didn't appreciate but understood where she was coming from. She asked me to text her why I was firing her and got even angrier when I refused to put anything in writing.
At this point, I'd paid her $5,275 out of our originally agreed upon $6,500 and was willing to just end things right then and there. She was not. She threatened to put a lien on my property if I didn't pay her the rest of the money owed by Sunday evening. I don't know much about that whole process, but I was pretty sure it didn't work that way.
(Spoiler alert: I was right.)
Come Monday morning I get an email from her at 4:57 am that contains an invoice. If she were to file for a lien, she'd need an invoice. I open it up and immediately start angry laughing. She was invoicing me for an additional $8,745.92. ON TOP OF THE MONEY I'D ALREADY PAID.
Oh brother was I mad. I spent a fair portion of my childhood being bullied, so I can easily recognize one now. She hoped by sending me an official looking invoice that I would get scared and pay up.
Well she was wrong. I might be new at this, but I'm not stupid and I'm a very quick study. I spent some time looking over the legal statutes with my work wife (a formal legal admin) and came to the conclusion she had no legal leg to stand on.
This conclusion was further cemented when I chatted with a lawyer. I love my job, because I work with some very sharp, talented, and connected people. It's not every day you get access to the head counsel of a Fortune 500 company and are able to ask them for recommendations. I got hooked up with a fabulous lawyer who told me I was going to be just fine.
We didn't sign a contract, so she couldn't file a lien. She didn't file a commencement of work notice, so she couldn't file a lien. (The law changed July 1st. Guess she should've kept up with that!) I'd also paid her for work already done, so she couldn't file a lien.
She couldn't come after me for breach of contract, because we didn't sign a contract.
She couldn't come after me in small claims court, because the amount she pulled out of her butt was over the limit of $5,000.
I sent her an email informing her I didn't want work to continue on the property, I was happy to have paid for the work already done (lies), and that I was going to use the rest of the money owed on a different contractor who could complete the work to my satisfaction.
She sent back another nasty email that more or less said PAY UP OR ELSE. I ignored it and haven't heard from her since!
Needless to say, I learned a TON from this experience. Please, don't do what I did. Follow the basic guidelines below and you'll more than likely have a better outcome than me.
- Ask for recommendations from trusted family and friends.
- Sign a contract.
- Get a bunch of bids from various contractors. Do not go with whoever responded first.
- Sign a contract.
- Ask for a detailed scope of work from them. Have them list out exactly what they're going to do so you're on the exact same page. It might be a pain but better to do it at the beginning than find out halfway through you had different ideas.
- Ask for references and examples of previous jobs. You want to know what kind of work they've done in the past.
- SIGN A CONTRACT.
- Familiarize yourself with the work that needs to be done. You need to be able to tell if they're doing a good job or not.
I learned all this on the very first project. I'm happy I learned it now and for the relatively low cost of $5k. It could've been a major overhaul project that got messed up instead of just some paint and a new porch. Don't get me wrong, I'd be way happier if I hadn't lost the $5k or had proper work done, but you live and you learn.
I took my lessons learned and immediately applied it to a new project: replacing the front porch. I went with the guy who built my friend's deck. I liked the deck and my friend had nothing but good things to say about him. He was professional, gave me a scope of work, provided a contract to sign, communicated with me through the project, updated me on surprises (bad joist repair work), and had it done in less than one week. My new front porch looks amazing! The neighbors have given me a ton of compliments and enjoy the house looking nice instead of run down.
Now all that's left is some sanding, staining, painting, and front-porch-swing-building!
Did I miss anything about the contractor finding process? Have any other advice? Contractor horror stories? Share in the comments!!
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