From Bad-Ass to…… Bad

This is done. Paint bubbles and drips galore.

As chronicled in my 3 Month Update and Bugs, Thugs, and Hugs posts, I had some work done on my house this summer.

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.

  1. Ask for recommendations from trusted family and friends.
  2. Sign a contract.
  3. Get a bunch of bids from various contractors. Do not go with whoever responded first.
  4. Sign a contract.
  5. 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.
  6. Ask for references and examples of previous jobs. You want to know what kind of work they've done in the past.
  8. 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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50 thoughts on “From Bad-Ass to…… Bad

  1. Darn girl, are you every going to just get a break? At least you are wiser now and learned quite a bit, which will make you smarter and stronger in the long run. Good luck cleaning up the mess.
    Team CF recently posted…Holiday on FIREMy Profile

    • I hope I’m through the worst of it! Either that, and I’m in the eye of the storm with more bad news to come. I’m prepared, but also hopefui that’s not the case. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Way to stick up for yourself, Gwen! I’m similar in that I don’t love confrontation and I generally try to appease rather than cause a scuffle. But when there is that much money on the line and it has to do with your place of residence, you have to do what you did!!

  3. An additional $8k+?!? Daaaamn, that is insane! I’m so glad you had the backup who could confirm that you were right… there was no way that was legal or right!

    I work with contracts as part of my job and I had to smile reading your take-aways… you are spot on! That is a very familiar checklist that I employ when I am looking for vendors to do work for my employer 🙂

    And the house looks beautiful now! Nice job, I love the blue and the beautiful porch!!!

    • Yeah she was cray-cray. I wish I could post all the pictures. The house looks awesome until you get up close and then you’re like, wtffffff?? I’m sad the house will need properly painted in the spring, but at least I’ll have time to save up the money this time!

  4. This person was UPSET! Sucks you had to learn this way, with so much cash out the door already, but many times experience is the best lesson. Way to hold your ground and not let them intimidate you.

    And thanks for sharing your story! This is the type of experience that we can all learn from.

    • I really considered posting the screen shots of her texts but decided against it. She was livid and blew up my phone for awhile after I fired her. I’m happy to share my experience and help people learn from my mistakes!

  5. Wow, sorry you had to go through all that. That’s awesome that you could talk to a head counsel just like that. I am glad you stuck to your ground and didn’t let that horrible contractor take advantage of you.

    I am on the board of my HOA, and we made sure that we get at least three bids for every project. We would give new contractors a small job to start to see if they can do what we wanted, then move on to bigger projects. It really is a relationship building process with contractors. Especially during the housing boom right now, good contractors are not that easy to find.
    Mao recently posted…Housing Affordability for Millennials Between the US and AsiaMy Profile

    • My job can be kinda boring, but it does come with a pretty sick set of benefits! The small job idea is fabulous! I definitely will incorporate that into my future plans.

  6. Your Victorian house looks charming. You’ll probably look back on these hiccups with poor vendors as just that hiccups. Restoring your house seem to me as a labor of love, which I am looking forward to seeing more updates.

    • Hi Nevada! Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to restore her to her full glory. The ROI just isn’t worth it as a rental property. I could definitely see someone converting it back into a SFH though and taking the time to restore it properly.

  7. Yikes. I know it’s not exactly a consolation, but… thanks for taking one for the team so the rest of us noobs can learn from your experience! And great job not backing down and letting her bully you!

  8. I am so sorry that you’re dealing with this. That work is terrible! We are currently dealing with a similar situation, but from the contractor side. Basically, we signed a lease to move into another apartment at the end of this month, with the new owner stipulating what work they’ll do before we move in (new laminate floors, fix windows and doors) in the lease. My husband has a lot of contracting experience from working for his family’s business over the years, and was asked by the owner to give him a price for the work. Long story short, after going back and forth with this guy (who did not want to pay a fair wage), we finally agreed to do the work in exchange for one month free rent. The whole situation is so ridiculous. We would have been just as happy if he found another contractor to do the job and just move in after, but it seems like he doesn’t want to pay for anything. We drafted a bid proposal laying out exactly what we’ll do in exchange for free rent for the first month, and brought it to him to sign. He has gone back on so many things that he verbally agreed on (and shook hands on), that we have learned our lesson and will not do anything else for him unless we have something in writing. Unfortunately we’re stuck with him as a landlord for the next year.

    • Oh man, what a bummer! You’re so right tho…. you live and learn, and in the big picture $5,000 is nothing for the learning opportunity you just had. This is what helps me guide my decisions: I consider myself frugal. But not cheap. I love to save money, but never at the cost of quality. That’s my definition of being frugal that helps me at least. Great job on the remodel and we plan on seeing you tomorrow and catching up.

      • Bill I’m so glad we got to chat yesterday! Yes, cheap is not the way to go in home renovations. It’ll just need to be redone again in a little while, costing even more money!

    • Lameeee! I know how you feel. The previous owner put as little as possible into maintaining this property and now I’m the one paying for it 🙁

  9. Reading your post I was feeling like you should have seen this coming but you know what? I’m just getting out of a similarly disastrous situation that I should have seen coming too. I tried to rent an apartment that ended up being infested with cockroaches. I should have googled the property management company and done my research on them but I didn’t. I should have known that this deal was just too good to be true despite the high vacancy rate in this city. I was too focused on how much money I’d be able to put away into savings. It’s been a pretty terrible situation and I’ve ended up having to pay so much more than I had wanted to during this transition and I’m staying in somewhat uncomfortable temporary housing for a few weeks. I saw an amazing place last night that I’m hoping will be my new home so I have faith that things will work out eventually. The only thing to do is live and learn I suppose. I’ll likely screw up just as bad again at some point in my life!

  10. Good for you for standing your ground. Everyone makes mistakes, and it sucks when they cost money, but ultimately mistakes can be great learning experiences. The house is looking good and it sounds like things are starting to turn around for you.

    • I am learning tons! Wish I could say I’m having fun. It’s not in my nature to be a doormat. I’m going to use everything I can to fight back. She needs to learn bullying isn’t the way to live life.

  11. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that Gwen. I must say you are a lot braver than what I would have been. Real estate is not for the faint of heart and the money makes people so ugly. I can’t believe the contractor’s character. It’s like she doesn’t know she’s bad at her job! Don’t they have license required for that? I was told to never accept the lowest bid. I’m hoping to never have to deal with someone the likes of her, wow. Wow.

    • She is licensed, but no one ever complained about her yet? Hard to believe. Maybe that’s why she has no web presence…….. so many red flags I ignored.

  12. Wow so sorry you learned this one the hard way! I’d like to add to the SIGN A CONTRACT and say also READ THE CONTRACT and ask for changes or additions! We’re still fighting a 9mo+ legal battle over old issues… nonetheless you’re now wiser and the lessons will serve you well in the future I’m sure 🙂 the porch looks beautiful and the bold blue is a great color choice.

    • I’m sorry, did you say anything about signing a contract? Because I think people should sign a contract! haha sorry to hear about your legal batter. Hope it clears up soon!

  13. This is tuition at the school of hard knocks. Better to make this sort of mistake now when the numbers are smaller. Beat yourself up with “what I should have dones,” to guarantee the lessons stick. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.

    • I like that! “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” It’s catchy and true.

  14. Nice job, Gwen. Way to extract some good out of a bad situation. Contractors are tough. We needed some work on our front porch and we got estimates from $2,500 to $15,000. Ugh! It was so frustrating. Since we really didn’t trust any of them, we decided to do the repairs ourselves.

    • Thanks Mr. Groovy! The paint project ranged from $6500 to $61,000. So frustrating. If I could’ve done the work myself, I would have!

  15. All my friends’ preferred contractors are always busy, so I found my own subs via Angie’s List. That helped a lot.

  16. I admire your fortitude! Despite a lack of serious disasters (luck), I found landlording was not for me. More power to you, but if it doesn’t turn profitable soon, and the nabe doesn’t begin to look up, don’t feel badly if you decide it’s not for you! Many other wasy to reach FI.

    But best of luck with this one- I hope it turns out to be the goose that laid the golden egg.

    • I’m giving it at least two years- one in the place and one living somewhere else. I’ll re-evaluate after that! Thanks for the happy thoughts!

  17. I had to laugh, that contractor really seemed to have thought she’d get away with demanding for more money. It’s so sad you have to cry at her hopefulness. Perhaps she needs to go back to Business 101. Or building 101 even, before business.

    I was in a somewhat similar situation too but with not quite as dire results. I know there’s a heap of flaws, and I know I paid 12k, but I also know that it was worth the money for both the education and also the manual labor he did actually do well. It was a shit job that my contractor had to do, and anybody else would have charged me twice that, so sucks to be him.

    Your house is gorgeous!

  18. Contractors are tough! I recently had one hang kitchen cabinets for me in a renovations project and he hung them at EXACTLY 68 inches, which was the fridge height. Obviously the fridge didn’t fit. Boy was that a big ordeal.

    Glad you cut the contractor off, though, and didn’t take any of the bullying. Construction is a ruthless business and people get nasty often.

    My advice for the future – drive around and find a house that is being worked on. Walk right in and ask for the GC or guy in charge. It feels ballsy but that’s the best way to find good people. Plus you can review what they’ve done on the spot. I’ve found two great GC’s that way and their work spoke for itself. I didn’t need a recommendation.

    • The amount of work needed around here is offset by the amount of charm it’s got. You should see the baseboards! They’re 18″ wide!

      Speaking of pieces of work…. she was just crazy, I think. Some of the stories she told me while she was working were like ermmmmm I’m pretty sure that’s not something to brag about…

  19. Another guideline might be “always throw out unreasonably low quotes,” even if it’s against our frugal natures.

    I’m a lawyer and when I see work that was done by “cheap” lawyers or *wince* well-intentioned people on LegalZoom, often the result is that something has gone terribly wrong. For anything requiring more than a modicum of skill something is going to get messed up, and it’s going to cost more time and money to fix it than it would have cost to do it right the first time by a professional who can justify a higher rate.

    I only hire someone to work on my house if it’s something that benefits from a skill level I don’t have. And if someone has that skill level/experience, they should be paid a decent amount for it, too.

    • It goes against everything in my nature, you’re right….. I would probably have been better off going with the $17k quote. It would’ve been done right, that’s for sure.

  20. What a horror story! She’s insane. At least it’s done now. And your house is so gorgeous! I need to keep this example in mind when we remodel our house in the next few years!

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