Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Not To Be a Contractor

I may have mentioned previously that when we bought our current house in the fall of 2012, walking through the front door was like stepping into Mr. Peabody's WAYBAC machine with the dial set to 1973. The front rooms had greenish yellow shag carpeting which amazingly looked a lot like Elvis' Jungle Room at Graceland circa 1976 (no, St. Pauli Girl would not allow me to recreate the jungle room). So for the past 18 months we have been slowly renovating and have learned the many idiosyncrasies of contractors, like how they work in their own time and space dimensions.

In February, we decided to finally tackle the kitchen, which would be our biggest and costliest renovation. We spent January getting estimates from plumbers, contractors, and electricians. It took all of January because most of them never returned our calls, the ones who did and made appointments rarely showed up, and of the final few, only two submitted an estimate. (Not to mention the tile guy "finalist" whose estimate looked good so we hired him, he said he'd start on Monday at 9:00, and we never heard from him again.) To summarize, we had to make six calls to get one estimate.

For the main project of knocking out a wall and reconfiguring a counter inot a breakfast bar, we finally settled on the bid of someone we'll call “Joe the Contractor.” Joe said it would take a week, maybe ten days. Did I mention that contractors live in their own time and space dimensions?

Day 1: Joe never showed up. He finally called and said he'd definitely be there the next day.

Day 2: Joe showed up with a helper. We were off to a good start.

Day 3: Joe's helper showed up by himself. Joe called later and explained the helper would remove the kitchen cabinets by himself. The helper successfully accomplished this task.

Day 4: Joe showed up and waited for his helper who never showed up. Joe complained to me, “I just don't know about these guys. They say they want to work and then disappear.” Hmmmm.

Day 5: Joe and another helper removed the wall and kitchen sink. The hard part was done! Or not.

Day 6: Joe started work on the new countertop which would extend out into the newly-opened space as a breakfast bar. He was very proud of his carpentry work and the new countertop looked nice, although the bar part seemed kind of small to me.

(It's important to note here that St. Pauli Girl designed the new kitchen layout and went over it detail by detail with Joe before he began. Had I been in charge, I would have said, “Well, we need a refrigerator, a microwave, and enough storage for the paper plates, cups, and sporks. That should do it.”)

When St. Pauli Girl came home that day she had a meltdown: the width of the new countertop/breakfast bar was a good 20 inches less than what she had specified. She called Joe and reminded him of the measurements they had gone over, stressing the "breakfast bar" part.

Day 7: Joe apologized, tore off the countertop and started a new one. He said, “I don't know, Dexter, maybe I should start writing stuff down.”

Day 8: While we were still waiting for the specially ordered laminate for the counter, Joe had an electrician friend come in to re-route some of the wiring from the old wall. Later that night, St. Pauli Girl noticed there was no electricity in the entire east side of the house.

Day 9: Saturday. The electrician pointed out he had disconnected the ceiling fan the previous day. I pointed out he had disconnected half of the house. “No, just the ceiling fan,” he insisted. I showed him the non-working half of the house. A few hours later, we had electricity again.

As much as we liked how hard Joe had been working, we really needed a break from him, so when he reported that he'd be back on Sunday, I said, “Oh no, take a break. Besides we'll be in church. And it's going to be a long service. Like all day.”

Day 10: The laminate for the countertop arrived. Joe carefully installed it, a beautiful faux marble. I couldn't wait for St. Pauli Girl to come home--she was going to love it!

Day 11: Time to install the new sink that had been waiting in the garage for weeks. Joe started on the cutout. After a few hours of diligence and lots of noise, I heard, “Damn!” followed by a pounding on the countertop. Joe came to my office and slammed open the door. “Dexter, you aren't going to believe this.”

He led me to the kitchen and showed the hole in the counter. “I read the sink specifications on the box and cut the hole accordingly. Maybe I should have taken the sink out and measured it.”

Yes, the hole was too big for the sink. Joe proceeded to tear off the second countertop, fresh laminate and all. We would have to order more, which meant more waiting.

The days had turned to weeks as we trudged through the project. Joe went off and worked on someone else's kitchen tasks while we continued washing dishes in the small bathroom sink. Joe hinted that he and another guy could tile the kitchen floor while we waited. Imagining what that comedy of errors might entail, we hired a third-generation tile-ist (whose five brothers also did tile/carpentry work) who showed up on time and finished the entire floor and a brick backsplash in two days.

After eleven days without a dishwasher or kitchen sink, the countertop installation was a success on the third try; the sink and the plumbing were easy after that. Later that day we let Joe know that he wouldn't be needed for the rest of the kitchen (Phases II and III). We called the tile guy to finish the rest, and he and his partner had it done in a day.

We have since scaled back our future renovation plans. If we can't do it ourselves, it's not going to happen.


  1. OMG! Unbelievable!

    My lips are sealed! I won't divulge to anyone where you buried Joe!!

    You and St. Pauli Girl deserve a medal each for your patience!

    That Joe should be reported to whomever one reports such useless tradesmen! He should never be let loose on the unsuspecting public.

    I bet you both really appreciate and enjoy your new kitchen! :)

    1. I'm not sure there's anywhere to report someone for just being stupid. In his defense, he ate the cost of the multiple counter replacements. Not sure how he made any money on this project. But yeah, we'll stick with the tile guys instead. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I am not surprised at all. I kid you not, I see this type of thing every week. As a Realtor I get a front row view of renovations and it's nearly always fumbling, bumbling, followed closely by WTF.

    I find it interesting how hard it is to get contractors to actually return a phone call. I have a friend in Dallas that had a wiring problem which required holes to be cut into the drywall. She has called dozens of drywallers and either they don't call back or they don't show up. She has decided the holes bother her less than dealing with trying to find someone to fix it.

    1. When I talk to my dad, we're always swapping contractor stories. He finally asked a friend of the family who's been a builder for 30 years on how to find good help. The builder replied, "When you find out, let me know. I can't get anyone either."
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Joe needs to get a nasty review on Yelp. What is it with these people, that they are universal flakes?

    1. I don't know, but we sure have met a lot of these flakes the past few months. Thanks for the comment!