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Death by Remodeling

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My apologies to the contractors who are honest and take pride in their work. I know a few of you personally, and unfortunately, you are in the minority. The majority of contractors—the least common denominator—have made the honest craftsperson an anomaly. The stories of over-budget and past-deadline projects far surpass in number those of positive, efficient experiences. This is the tale of a worst-case scenario.

A friend of mine decided to do some work on her house. It seemed simple enough, as the original plan for the house included the option of either a loft or another bedroom. The previous owners chose the loft. But, with a new baby on the way, Melissa and her husband decided that they needed another bedroom. The interior of the house also needed a facelift, so they decided to have the walls painted as well.

The first step was to gather quotes. Melissa received quotes for the painting and selected a contractor that could do the work for a good price. Then she thought that it would make much more sense to do the construction first. So she set out to gather bids for that work as well. The painting contractor let her know that he also had a construction arm to his business (which he didn’t market). He asked if he could also bid on the construction work.

The bids came back and the painting contractor’s was the lowest. Melissa decided to go with him, assuming his bid was low because he wanted to get both jobs. Melissa also felt it would be easier to have all the work done by the same company, as there would be no issue with sequencing the work. Another plus to the painting contractor was that he said all of the carpenters he would use were his direct employees, which meant that none of the work would be subcontracted. This was a major bonus, as the contractor seemed dependable, and would take responsibility for the work of his employees.

The contractor showed up on the first day with a random man and his wife in an unmarked car. The contractor, within earshot, began explaining what needed to be done to the couple, who were clearly subcontractors. After the contractor left, Melissa showed the random guy (and his wife) the loft. Being a typical designer, Melissa had generated drawings for the work, but the drawings were apparently MIA. She inquired about the drawings, and Random Man just shrugged. She printed out a fresh set and gave them to the man. Unfortunately, he couldn’t read the plans—and possibly, couldn’t read at all—because he asked several questions that were clearly documented on the drawings.

After a lengthy explanation and tour, Random Man (whose name is actually Rocky) estimated it would take three days—maybe five at the outside—to get the work done. The project was small and included building two walls and a closet.

The work commenced—slowly. This, roughly, was Rocky’s work schedule: work for fifteen minutes, go to Home Depot for some supplies, come back two hours later, work for another twenty minutes, smoke break, work for another fifteen, and then lunch. In total, Rocky clocked about one hour per day. And his wife, who we’ll call Stella (because I can’t remember her real name and I imagine her as a “Stella”), came along every day as Rocky’s chauffeur—not in order to work herself. Rocky had lost his license, so Stella drove him everywhere. She preferred chatting with Melissa (who works from home) instead of assisting Rocky. You can imagine Melissa’s frustration. 

On the second day, Rocky trudged down the stairs (in his muddy work boots) to Melissa’s office, to ask if he could borrow a ladder. The request was a little strange, but Melissa told him it was no problem. Then, a few days later, Rocky asked to borrow a drill. Confused on how any carpenter could plan to build an addition without owning a drill, Melissa called him out. Apparently Rocky’s drill was on “special order” and hadn’t been delivered yet. Hmmmmm…

You can guess what happened next: days stretched into weeks, which stretched into months. On several days, Rocky and Stella never bothered showing up at all. Angry phone calls to the contractor proved fruitless.

In an attempt to cut down on the two-hour lunch break ritual, Melissa told Rocky and Stella they could leave their lunches in the refrigerator in her basement. The fridge, which was stocked with microbrews, began to have more room on the shelves. Melissa found the evidence later—shoved in her rafters. The couple was shotgunning beers and shoving the bottles in the rafters on their lunch break.

Nervous, but needing to run an errand (remember, she had been home for months with these crazies), Melissa left the house. She gave Stella her cell number and said she would be gone an hour. Minutes later, Melissa received a call from Stella saying that Rocky had been hurt on the job. Stella was calling to find out where the nearest urgent care was located. When Melissa returned, Rocky’s hand was covered in thick bandages. From the way Stella had talked, and the wad of bandages, Melissa expected that Rocky had managed to cut off his finger. Rocky ceremoniously peeled off the bandages and showed her the cut, which probably really hurt, but didn’t need seventy feet of gauze. He had cut the tip of his finger with his knife when he was scoring the drywall.

Rocky said his finger was throbbing, and Stella retorted that the pain meds should work soon. Stella confessed that Rocky had taken some pain meds that morning and that she’d given him another two after the “accident.” High on prescription drugs, and recounting the story of his dependence on pain medication, Rocky fired up the next power tool. Melissa suggested they call it a day.

This story goes on and on. In the end, the room was only taped and mudded at the five-month mark. Melissa’s husband called it quits, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, and finished the work himself. The Rocky’s craftsmanship (as expected), was seen to be shoddy at best. Their home was permanently damaged.

And remember the painting? It was finished out of sequence. Melissa still has the splatters on her kitchen cabinets as a souvenir of her remodeling adventure.


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