Thrifty Retirement: Choosing a Remodeling Contractor

You’ve lived in your home for many years now. It’s beginning to show its age or perhaps its configuration no longer fits your needs, but you really don’t want to move, to leave your convenient neighborhood, or to be farther from your friends or family. You decide instead to remodel. Finding a reliable, trustworthy contractor is the first thing you must do. The second is to pay attention to what the contractor is doing. This is your home and your money: stay on top of the project.
I learned this lesson the hard way.
Our kitchen had an odd layout and some of the appliances needed to be replaced. I went to an annual remodeling show held in our town and spoke with several of the companies there. I told them all what I wanted, which was to save most of the cabinets, which were in good condition, but to replace just a few to fit the new floor plan I had in mind. I wanted to be able to reuse those we would tear out. I easily dismissed several contractors, as they weren’t interested in a project that wasn’t all new, and I narrowed the selection down to just a couple.
I called one and talked with him. I liked him immediately, but asked for references. I phoned all the references, and to a person, they all had glowing reports. I hired him to do the work in the kitchen and I couldn’t have been happier. He was able to preserve more of the cabinets than I had planned on and had to make only one new cabinet door. I was impressed with his reasonable cost, his excellent workmanship, and his clear concern for the environment, as well as with his pleasant return to fix a couple small blips.
A couple years later when we decided to do a major remodel of our master bathroom, he was the obvious choice. He even used the same crew boss as had worked on the kitchen. I had high hopes and no reservations. However, as the work progressed, I found questions popping up. The crew boss was showing up later in the day, or some days not at all. The job was taking longer than I expected. This wasn’t quite right; that had to be redone. We had ordered a custom-made vanity that was delivered and installed while we were gone for a long weekend.
When I first saw the cabinet, I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It took two weeks for me to pinpoint the problem. The style wasn’t what I had ordered. Where did this go wrong? The estimator blamed the cabinetmaker, and the cabinetmaker said he made what the estimator ordered. Meanwhile, my contractor was left holding the bag, as he was financially responsible for getting me the right vanity cabinet.
My contractor returned several times to fix small things the crew boss had messed up, but it’s been a year now and I still don’t have the vanity I ordered. The contractor is still the nicest guy in the world, but he has already lost money on this job and he still owes me a vanity. Will I ever get it? I don’t know.
The bottom line is that you must stay on top of the workers and the job, even if you know them. Check every day. If you don’t like a specific detail, speak up right away. In my case, it turned out the crew boss was having family problems he hadn’t mentioned to the contractor. His mind was somewhere else while he was working, and my contractor and I both paid for it. When the wallpaper was stripped, instead of washing the old glue off the walls, they painted over it. The floor tiles are not level and have created an uneven floor. The towel racks were mounted too high and had to be removed and remounted. The toilet was not level. And of course, the vanity is still wrong.
I keep hoping to hear from the contractor. I call every couple of months and he always says he’ll get to it. Maybe I’ll be lucky: maybe he will.

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