Home Life Avoid a contractor horror story

Avoid a contractor horror story

All I have to do is mention to someone that I work as a home remodeler and designer, and I hear a horror story.

It seems like anyone who owns a home and has ever hired a contractor to work on it has a terrifying tale to tell about the experience.

I’ve heard of a contractor who promised to convert the attic of a garage into a home office while the owner—who has to work in that office every day—was on a three-week trip out of town. When the homeowner returned, the office was torn apart, but not put back together. It took a full three months before she could get back in there to work.

Homeowners have told me about dishonest contractors who charged them for high-end materials but installed cheaper brands; about guys who seemed to pull cost estimates out of thin air and then charged triple or quadruple that price at the end of the job; and about remodelers who agreed to follow design instructions from the homeowner but then went about the job as if the owner had never made her preferences known.

However, there’s a silver lining here.

The worse your last experience was, the better your next one is likely to be.

That’s because you know a little bit more than you did before about what can go wrong, what to expect and how to go about “managing” your project so the same thing doesn’t happen to you again.

It all starts with your hiring process.

Many homeowners who have survived a contractor crisis admit later that they rushed into the project. They hired the first and only guy they interviewed about their job. They didn’t call his references. They didn’t insist on a firm estimate in writing. They didn’t sign a contract. Or they hired the cheapest guy because he said he could deliver the same quality for way less without cutting any corners. (Big red flag. Get a list of what’s included and what’s not. “What’s not” is going to cost you.)

Often, homeowners rush to hire because they feel like they don’t have time to find the best contractor. They don’t want to bother calling friends and neighbors for recommendations, checking that the guy they like has a valid contractor’s license from the state, sitting down with the remodeler to really talk things through, and getting a sense of whether they can trust him to do what he promised and to be alone in their home.

The result: cost overruns and time delays. A stove in the living room. No home office to work in. Hard feelings. Paying more than you can afford.

My advice: Hire a remodeling firm you can trust. You’ll know it when you meet the company. Here’s the remodeler who wants to hear your horror story because it will help him/her tailor your remodeling experience to your specific needs. Here’s the remodeler who will listen to what you want—and to what you don’t—and will customize your job so you’re happy not only with how your kitchen or home office or addition or master bathroom looks when it’s finished, but so you’re happy with the way it got there.

So change your hiring criteria. You have more than a job for hire. You have an experience ahead of you, and it can be a good one or a horror story.You choose which one the day you hire the contractor.

Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting  www.jebdesignbuild.com.

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