SELECTING A CONTRACTOR
In many European Countries the contracting profession is, and more specifically the training process is much more stringent than in most municipalities the United States. They typically require years of training and supervised service before you can receive a "Shingle" and do business as a contractor. In NYS all you need is a business card and $350 and you can call yourself a contractor. Many counties don’t even require licensing. And worse yet, Home Improvement/Building contractors there are no minimum standards or testing that is required to get a license.
It is a simple trade to get into with good potential income. Certainly most contractors are trying to do the right thing but although they may be good craftsmen most failures result from poor business management rather than lack of technical skills. They don’t know how to operate a business and it fails and it is the consumer who pays the price.
In fact it has been reported that 90% of businesses in this industry fail, and most within the first five years. Additionally, as reported by the Better Business Bureau, every year the Home improvement industry is among the top three industries for consumer complaints and it is usually first.
I am sure that you have some of your own or know of at least one person that has had a terrible remodeling experience. Despite the fact that the home improvement industry is a leader in customer complaints, based on my personal survey over the years of people that have had problems with their contractors, which were often times horrendous, less than 15% tried to take any legal action and less than 2% reported their complaint to any authority.
The following are only a few of the complaints and Horror stories that I have heard over the years. Many of these complaints although only listed here once have been told to me by numerous other persons. The Owners and contractors names have been omitted for privacy concerns.
Yonkers – Hired a trim carpenter to do some molding work. He was the cheapest price and said "no problem" to everything but once the job started Everything was a problem. The carpenter claimed that the job was more time consuming and more complicated than he expected. He requested that the owner pay him the original amount for the work he finished so far and "we will call it even".
Mount Kisco – customer had a new roof installed on her home. Everything seemed great and they paid the contractor in full. A year later, a leak developed in one of the skylights, the contractor would not come back to inspect or repair. Another contractor was called in and found that not only was that skylight flashing installed incorrectly but three others were as well and also found that the entire roof was nailed incorrectly which voided any manufacturer warrantee and would cause premature failure.
Carmel – While renovating a kitchen they miscalculated the wall length for some cabinets (which he, the contractor designed) which ended up being too long so the cabinets stuck 4" into the familyroom. Without discussion with the owner they built a little wall behind the cabinets so now there is a bump in the familyroom wall which screams mistake. Not only did the contractor not agree to remedy the situation, he also wanted extra money to build the wall.
Mt Vernon - The owner contracted for some renovation work to be done while they were away. The used a contractor referred by a co-worker. They came back early to find absolute horror. – The contractor hired day labor that was actually sleeping in their house during construction and because there were no toilets they were relieving themselves in buckets (which were left in the house). The used a section of the livingroom (which had existing hardwood floors) to store material from another job they were doing, stored their equipment inside the house and ruined the wood floors because of the oil from the equipment. They left the roof only partially finished and rain water did interior damage every time it rained (no temporary protection). The work that was performed was a disaster (one example-they used interior wall spackle to fill damage to the exterior face of the front door).
Scarsdale –A couple hired a friend to do some work and half way through the job the couple went away for one week on vacation. They came back and found the house unsecured and no sign of the contractor. The contractor (friend) walked off the job.
Mahopac – Had a roof installed by a contractor who was recommended by three friends. Unfortunately she had problems with the roof soon after the work was complete. It took many weeks to even find the guy who kept promising to come back and do repairs and then would not show. The owner had to pay almost half the original cost to make the proper repairs. She subsequently learned that the her friends had problems at their homes as well.
Pelham – Roofer installed a roof over a front porch that had an exposed ceiling. He used long nails that came through the bottom of the finished wood ceiling. When confronted he insisted that you must absolutely nail through the wood for the shingles to hold. Customer paid for the job after getting what felt like a threat from the contractor.
Rye - A contractor came in to repair some smoke damage and while painting they cleaned their brushes on an upper balcony. The paint got all over the stone facing, the bushes below and the wood railings. They installed an 8in wallpaper border at the ceiling and applied the glue with a 9in roller, which ruined the walls. Ironically, it was pre-glued wallpaper.
Scarsdale – 1. During a renovation in a home they smelled a terrible odor. The homeowner had someone open up the wall and they found maggots living in the space. The contractor left food in the wall. 2. The chimney was installed incorrectly and it leaked smoke back into the house. 3. They left out a window well in the basement and backfilled the dirt up against the bottom of the window.
Pleasantville - The contractor did not test the flue pipes after the installation of a wood stove installation. It was leaking at three locations and smoke was entering the home.
Yorktown - One contractor did not properly tamp the earth when backfilling around the foundation and the new patio settled more 5 inches.
New Rochelle – Their neighbor contracted with someone who was significantly less money but when it came to start the job they kept putting off the start until finally it was too late to start the work before the winter frost.
Bedford – A painting company was hired to paint the inside of a house. Among other concerns about the quality of the work the homeowners had over $5,000 in jewelry stolen.
Pleasantville – They had work done in their bathroom and the exhaust vent that is supposed to be vented to the outside to remove humidity (avoid mold problems) was in fact left venting into the wall. They learned of this once they had another contractor investigate the problem because they felt like the fan was not working properly.
Poughkeepsie – A remodeling company was doing a large renovation and walked off the job. The amount owed to the contractor was $30,000 but there was still over $100,000 worth of work left to do to complete the job.
Stormville – A local builder walked off the job three days after collecting a big check ahead of schedule. The work went unfinished for two years while the owners tried to get their money back without success and then save enough to finish the work.
Pound Ridge - A local contractor walked off his job after working on and off for over one year (it was six months of work). The price for us to complete the work was over $85,000. The original contractor was charging $200,000 for project that should cost around $270,000 so we know why he walked off the job. The owner lost more than the $85,000 when you calculate in the money lost for uncompleted work that he paid for.
Yorktown - The contractor never told the homeowner that these certain windows had to be tempered glass and installed standard glass. The building inspector made the homeowner change the glass and the contractor charged her for the work because tempered glass was not written into the contract.
Middletown - The contractor did a very poor job of explaining how the finished product would look and when the customer was unhappy he said "Oh Well".
Carmel – A contractor was doing a renovation. The homeowners gave him a $17,000 down payment, the contractor started the work, the owners went on vacation and when they got back the contractor was gone and they could not find him. About $2000 worth of work was actually completed.
Poughkeepsie – A large window company installed some replacement windows. They promised on-site supervision. There was no supervision and subsequently some windows were not level, no insulation was installed along the edges and the caulking was sloppy. The contractor talked the homeowner out of having him come back to fix the problems! He convinced the homeowner that insulation is not needed.
Hartsdale - A franchise contractor- was hired to renovate a bathroom. The homeowner supplied the material for a new bath replacement (a two week job at worst). The labor portion was about $6,000. Four months later they still were not finished, the sinktop was 2" out of level, they ran out of grout so used caulk to fill some joints, the floor was out of level by 1", and they dented the new sheetrock walls during the subsequent work. The homeowner had to throw him off the job after 4 months of disappointment.
Pleasantville – While having their house built, the contractor charged them $20,000 extra for work that was not clearly spelled out on the plans. For example – the drawings showed a Double French door but the contractor insisted that it was a vinyl slider and that the diagram that depicts swinging doors meant the door had grills-???
Seven years later, they hired another contractor to change the countertops in the kitchen and bathroom. When they got home they found the contractor cutting the material in their livingroom with no floor or dust protection. Sawdust was embedded in the carpet and the there was a layer of dust on everything in the three rooms. The contractor removed the old sink from the bathroom and laid it on the bedroom carpet, without any protection, so he could work on it. The dirty waste water dripped onto and ruined the carpet.
Poughkeepsie - An electrician was arrested for stalking a customer. He was looking to get paid for work that he did on the home through a contractor who did not pay him so he harassed the homeowner.
Scarsdale– The carpenter did a poor job with some renovation work on their home. Years later when trying to sell their home they learned that they never received C. of O. (certificate of occupancy), and there was a lien against their home. It cost them one potential sale and $12,000 (1/4 of the contractors initial price) to fix the substandard work so they could get the C of O.
Fishkill – A plumber installed a new water heater. She was happy with work until she realized that he installed the unit so that the temperature adjusting valve was installed facing the wall making it nearly impossible to adjust the water temperature. The contractor was not willing to redo the work to turn the unit so it faced forward as it should.
Cortlandt – A homeowner gave money to an architect from a big firm to work on a design. The architect did not complete the work and when the homeowner called the firm directly to get the money back they were told that he did not work for that firm.
Mohegan Lake - A contractor took $70,000 up front for the cost of framing, roofing, siding and rough mechanicals. He only got about 2/3 finished and when he walked-off the job and did not pay any of the subs. A loss of nearly $35,000.
LaGrangeville- a local contractor contracted with them to build an oversized two car garage with a bonus room above. His was the cheapest price, but the owner looked at a previous job and was satisfied. He got close to completion with the work, convinced them to pay him the balance and then never came back to finish. They finally gave up trying to call him ad were out $16,000. Then two months later a couple of the sub contractors and the lumber yard showed up at their door looking for reimbursement for a sum total of around $36,000. The contractor did not pay the sub contractors nor the lumber yard.
Hopewell – They had a siding contractor install new siding on their home. The contractor ran out of material and purchased a different material for one section of the house. He convinced the owner to pay the balance on the contract and he would change it when the new material came in. They could not get him back. The person who came to make the repair found numerous other deficiencies that the homeowners were not aware could cause serious problems down the road.
Hyde Park – A single woman contracted with a Large sunroom outfit to build a new sunroom. She was not told of the numerous extra expenses that she would have to incur (that were not unforeseen). 1. The height of the sunroom was higher than the roofline and required a large roof cricket installation. 2. They did not discuss or include any electric or lighting that is required by code. 3. They did not discuss or include and heat or interior wall finishes which cost another $4,000 AND once the deck was built, a snow storm came and covered the deck with 3î of snow. The only access to the area was from an extension ladder. The contractor told this 60 year old woman that she must get up there and shovel the deck so they can work today or pay them to shovel it.
She hired a separate sub-contractor to complete the electrical work and 1. He left a live wire hanging in a cabinet that was to be used for a future heater instead of terminating it in a wall box (and the wire was undersized for the task) 2.He buried a junction box in the wall (it is illegal) 3. He set all the wall boxes too far off the framing so the sides of the boxes stuck out past the sheetrock (he claimed there were obstructions in the way?) 4. With no input from the homeowner he used tan switches and covers and the room was white (probably trying to use up old stock). 5. He attempted to cover over a fan switch with a blank cover so he would not have to wire it.-he later admitted that he did not know how to wire it.
Lagrangeville – A local contractor built a small addition for them and then they recommended him to her sister. He was referred by her sister to a neighbor while completing the work. Soon after completion her sister’s ceiling fell in and he was then thrown off the neighbor’s job for not wanting to fix a major flaw in the work (the building was not plumb-it was leaning to one side).
Yorktown – He contracted to have some siding done and at the end of the job received a bill for $730 for an additional weight charge on a dumpster. He was told that rubbish removal was included but the contractor said that it only included the volume not weight and that is common knowledge.
Bedford- Lady # 1 worked for a contractor and recommended him to a neighbor. Lady # 2 (the neighbor) got "raked over the coals" by the contractor and when she called lady #1 to complain, the lady # 1 was upset and crying and also upset because she had since discovered some significant defects that her boss, the contractor, did at her home and he did not want to correct the problems.
Dobbs Ferry - The customer came home to find the contractor taking a shower in her bathroom. He said he had to get cleaned up for an appointment.
Poughkeepsie – The owner contracted to have a roof replaced and the job was a disaster. They had major leaks in numerous places. The owner (a Lawyer) could not get him back to fix it and then hired another contractor to fix the work, which he did so they paid the 2nd contractor in full. A number of weeks later the subs came by looking for money because the second contractor did not pay them.
Poughkeepsie – The single woman had some foundation work completed after a severe storm and while the contractor was there he convinced her that she needed a new septic tank which he replaced incorrectly. The septic tank settled (not installed on virgin soil) which caused the pipes to snap and allowing sewage to back up into the house. It cost another $3,500 to get a reputable company to fix it. THEN another company installed a storage shed directly over the septic tank that was not discovered until the septic company came to clean the tank. The shed contractor did not move it for her.
LaGrange– A friend had problems with her electric in a part of her house. After some investigating it was determined that they would have to open up some walls to inspect and when they did they found extension cords used for wiring as well as numerous other defects.
Larchmont – They had their cousin renovate a second level bathroom for them. His guys did an awful job, did not show up on a regular basis, did not finish the job properly, but worse than that they cut through a water line and water sprayed all over and ruined the first floor ceilings and floors. They did not speak English but luckily the owner was home, realized the problem and shut the water off (ironically, just one day earlier her husband showed her where the shut off was.. just in case). It could have been so much worse. The worst part yet...her cousin was not willing to fix the damage or reimburse her for the repairs and he stated "You have to expect these things during a renovation". PS they cut another pipe the same day (still had the water on) and the plumber came back to make another repair.
2. She then hired painters to scrape and paint some window trim after she had some new windows installed. They did not install adequate protection and dust went everywhere and into everything and they were not willing to clean up the mess. they also installed some tape along some wood floors, which she specifically asked them Not to do because it will pull up the finish.. they stated "we know what we are doing don’t worryî" when they pulled up the tape it took the finish with it and.. they were not willing to fix the damaged floors. They also cracked the glass in one of the new windows and denied doing it. Of course they still insisted on getting paid in full and threatened the owner with a lawsuit.