In short, I don’t know. The one we hired was mediocre at best. But maybe, just maybe, our experience taught us enough to point out potential pitfalls to watch out for.
Towards the end of our We bought a farm post, it’s mentioned that we bought an older farmhouse. What wasn’t said is that it was (and still is) a bit of a fixer upper. When we first started looking to move we wanted to buy land and build, but for reasons I won’t go into now, we ended up changing our mind and instead started searching for a nice house with a bit of land.
We found a few places that looked like they met the bill but they either had too many issues, were outside the budget, were in the wrong location, or were snatched up before we could blink. When we saw the listing for our house, we dismissed it at first as it didn’t initially stand out. Part of that was a poor listing and another part was that it would require some work. Regardless, we put an offer that was contingent on inspection and it was accepted. Some will call us crazy, but we did this without having seen the house in person. The perils of cross state purchasing… However, we figured anything that was a huge deal breaker would come up in inspection and worst case, we’d be out some earnest money.
A few days later we flew down for the home inspection and there wasn’t anything majorly wrong with the house. The 2nd floor needed renovating and there were a bunch of more minor things that needed work (as identified at that time…), but overall it seemed good. Thus, we decided to go ahead and purchase.
Moving is always stressful, but our move was one of the worst we had ever experienced. My daughter was sick, we were moving a 10 hours drive away, the house was an absolute mess when we arrived, the water had been turned off, we didn’t know anybody… In short it was a rough couple of days. Couple that with a sudden feeling of buyer’s remorse… You see we were immediately struck by how much work the house actually needed. The 2nd floor suddenly seemed much worse and with only one bedroom on the first floor, we were feeling a bit homeless.
Normally, I’m quite the DIY type of guy, but this was a large job and I was working full time. Additionally, we felt the need/desire to get the upstairs into a livable condition sooner rather then later. So it was decided to hire someone and that began the search for a contractor.
I more or less grew up using the internet to research items and services before buying. Reviews have always been quite important to me and I have been known to shell out a bit more in order to get a better quality item.
However, I have learned that many small businesses, or businesses that primarily serve other businesses, frequently have little online presence and in fact may have little to no advertising or listing anywhere. This makes it difficult to find a business to work with, let alone discover if it is a well liked company that does good work.
You may be asking, where am I going with this? Well, we discovered that finding a contractor in this area was difficult, finding one on short notice was even harder and finding one with reasonable pricing even more so. We contacted at least 10 different contractors and most didn’t return our calls. Of those that did only two showed up to discuss in person the work we wanted done. One of those ended up deciding he didn’t have the capacity to fit us in before the end of the year. That more or less left us with the final contractor as what we felt like our only option.
Now, I should mention that we heard about this guy from people in our town. He had good recommendations from at least two different people. When we met him in person, he seemed like a nice guy who knew his stuff… Given all that we ended up hiring him.
As I mentioned earlier, most of the upper floor needed a remodel. The worst was the bathroom and what would become our daughter’s bedroom.
At the onset, our contractor was fine. He seemed to understand what we wanted and his team got to work pretty quickly. However, we started to run into issues within days. Despite carefully explaining what we wanted from him, it seemed like every portion of the remodel that was started was news to him. For instance, we wanted the bathroom gutted and expanded slightly into the next room. It was going to need a new floor and a bathtub. He told his team that they were only going to put in a bathtub, but the floor and ceiling were going to stay the same. We ended up having to have yet another discussion about this in order to get the work back on track. Of course it wasn’t included in the original quote either…
From this point on we felt that we were babysitters, constantly having to monitor their day to day work in order to catch them before they did something wrong or didn’t follow what we wanted. It might have been better if the contractor actually came by every so often instead of just sending his team with vague ideas. It also would have helped if he actually took notes or used the examples and notes we gave him, but he didn’t do either.
However, generally speaking, the first few weeks went pretty well. It was mainly demolition work and then framing; none of that was difficult to communicate, I suppose.
A Few Weeks In
One of the big reasons for this remodel was to add insulation. Our house is rather old and the upper level had nearly no insulation anywhere. There were several spots where you could see/touch the wood on the underside of the roof. We asked our contractor to add as much insulation as possible. He subcontracted it out to another company and they blew in insulation anywhere they couldn’t add batts. This actually went quite well except for yet another communication issue.
We told the contractor several times that we wanted the ceiling in the bedroom to have the cross beams exposed. They are nice looking, old, rough cut boards and we thought it would look great and really open the room up. Despite showing pictures, and endlessly explaining what we wanted, our contractor consistently got it wrong and at one point was even planning on cutting the beams out! When the insulation was put in, they added it between those beams, which would have necessitated sheetrock being placed over the beams, instead of behind them.
Thankfully, we were around and noticed the issue and explained, yet again, what we wanted. They finally managed to get it right, but wasted several hours of everyone’s time.
This next part remains one of the biggest issues… Our contractor did not do sheetrock hanging so he decided to subcontract it out. As he explained it, he had a few people he works with but the one he ended up using wasn’t his favorite and it sounded like he only picked them because the others were busy.
Having experienced their work, I can see why they aren’t his first choice. First off, they didn’t show up when they should have; when they finally did show up, they didn’t have their whole crew and just left after 30 minutes, claiming they would come back tomorrow. Tomorrow came and they didn’t show… They finally start work about 5 days late and while they completed the project pretty fast (it was only 2.5 rooms) they did a pretty poor job. They were also quite rude…
Unfortunately, we forgot to take pictures of the poor job they did, but the gist of it is, walls that were previously squared up, didn’t end up that way after the sheetrock was up. There were rather large gaps in some areas and in other spots the sheetrock didn’t meet up with room features, such as the woodwork. Our biggest complaint is in the bedroom where the upslope is noticeably bowed out, right as you walk into the room…
When we brought this up to our contractor, he just brushed it off, telling me that he warned me they weren’t the best… We seriously considered telling them to tear it down and do it right, but I think we just were getting fed up and left it.. Looking back we feel like we really should have pushed to have the issues fixed. His poor subcontracting was hardly our fault after all.
Our contractor was quite good and fast at the mudding process and it ended up decent when he finished. However, Brittany is still angry that brand new walls are crooked and bowed out. Not something you want or expect when you pay a substantial sum of money for someone to do work.
With the sheetrock up and the mudding done we were now to the finish work. This is the point where we went from merely frustrated to frequently angry… The reason being that the finish work is what is visible and thus is even more important to get right. But the theme of not listening properly to our wants, continued. We asked for shelves to be built in the new walk in closet; example pictures were provided. Yet they went ahead and built something quite different than what we wanted.
Rooms were painted the wrong color, outlets put at odd heights or not properly attached, shelves put in without asking us if we even wanted them. Baseboard was put on without enough nails to secure it. They cracked the glass on a window and never repaired it. When installing the vanity, they removed the baseboard to fit it, but didn’t put anything back in, thus there is a gap that leads directly to an attic space (hot/cold drafts, bugs etc..).
There was one bright spot around this time. Our contractor knew a guy who did tiling and after meeting him we had him install the bathroom floor and bathtub tiles. He did a extremely good job despite the brand new walls and subfloor being uneven. He was very good at listening to our needs and made sure to get our feedback before starting work.
Eventually, they “finished” the work and I stupidly gave them their last check, despite the list of about 6 things to remedy. He said he would get that taken care of soon, but of course we haven’t heard from him since. We probably would have hounded him if we weren’t so tired of the whole ordeal and if the issues were more major. Most of them I’ve already fixed by myself, but still, fit and finish was seriously lacking from them.
Our experience could have been worse, I suppose. They did largely do what we wanted, but we had to fix many things and there were frequent price overruns. Given that this is the first time we hired anyone to do remodeling or contractor work, it was quite the eye opening experience. We did learn quite a bit from it and are now better able to recognize potential pitfalls to avoid. If only it didn’t require such a frustrating and expensive experience to do so.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I’m not exactly an expert on how to find a good contractor. However, based on our experience, I have several tips and pieces of advice that should be helpful:
- Recommendations from friends is a good start, but not the end of finding a contractor
- Our contractor was recommended by several people and we largely based our decision on their recommendations, but we could and should have done more checking up, we should have asked to see examples of their work from those recommendations. I would suggest trying to see the work in person as photos can be deceiving.
- inquire about why they recommend the person/company and ask what work they have seen or had done.
- We discovered that sometimes people will recommend someone simply because they know them, or know of them, not because they think they do good work, or have had work done by them.
- Be patient and have a flexible schedule
- Being patient is hard because you simply want to hire someone and get it done. But you really need to get multiple quotes from different people and get a feel for them before deciding.
- Many contractors book out many months in advance. For instance one company we had do a quote wouldn’t have been able to start for 2-3 months.
- Our schedule wasn’t very flexible so we had a short search period and thus had very few options.
- Get a quote with a detailed schedule of work
- Our contractor gave us a quote, but it was far from detailed. A detailed quote should be several pages with drawings and outlines.
- This is of critical importance because otherwise you will end up like us, constantly monitoring their work because they aren’t doing what you want.
- Additionally we ended up spending a lot more than the quote we received. The reason was that half the work we asked for wasn’t properly detailed on the quote.
- Note the work properly. He had all the work we wanted done in broad strokes, but the devil is in the details…
- Get a concrete estimate as part of the quote
- We did a pay as you go system, but this leads to cost overruns and a contractor that may decide to cut out and leave a job unfinished.
- If you request changes, get an updated schedule of work and quote.
- Hold them to the quote! If they want to charge you more, they better have a good explanation.
- Do not pay them until the job is complete.
- If your contractor hires a subcontractor, say a “painter,” make sure they are paying for the job and not hourly.
- Our painter was being paid hourly by us based on our contractors hiring and he was the slowest painter ever costing us more money
Hopefully this advice helps you out. Let us know about your experiences in the comment section, or any additional advice or thoughts on the matter.