We created this blog to share our experiences as the owners and general contractors remodeling our first home. Just because we regularly work with subcontractors on clients’ projects doesn’t mean that we didn’t run into issues at our own house. Unfortunately, not all contractors or vendors share our commitment to quality work, accurate timelines, or clear communication. We vowed to be honest about our project, but the point of this story isn’t to destroy the reputation of other small businesses — so we aren’t naming names. Our last story was about changes we made to our design plans. Here are a few examples of things that went wrong on our first full-home remodel.
Most of our renovations were inside the house, but we also wanted to extend the patio and redo a section of the driveway. A trusted client recommended a concrete company, so it was an easy decision to hire them when they also quoted us a very reasonable price for the work. One of the basement windows on the side of the house where we were adding to the patio was directly below where we would walk out of the new sliding glass door in the master bedroom. We decided to fill in that window well with cement. We talked about this plan during the site visit with the concrete company to ensure that it was included in the scope of work.
Josh removed the window, installed a grid of rebar, and sealed the hole on the inside of the house. Before the patio was poured, he pointed out the well that he prepared to be filled in. About a week after the concrete patio had cured, Josh happened to hit the board covering the hole where the window had been. He was surprised that it didn’t sound solid behind it. He was even more shocked when he removed the board and revealed what looked like an old mine shaft of dirt and rocks in the window well instead of solid concrete. If Josh hadn’t discovered their mistake before it was covered by insulation and drywall, we would have had costly, messy drainage issues later because the window well hole below the concrete was still exposed to the outside. Over time, the new patio would have fallen away from our house, especially with the extra weight of snow and our hot tub.
It took multiple phone calls to get the company to come out and check their work. Even after they agreed that it wasn’t done right, we had to argue with them about the best way to fix it that didn’t include scarring our new patio with additional seams. Then, we had to call several more times because they didn’t show up when they said they would before they finally fixed it. Ultimately, they cut the new patio about 1 foot away from the house, removed all the filler that they threw in the hole, and poured concrete to fill it in properly. They added a step to cover their repair, but the color doesn’t match the new patio and 1 corner isn’t square because they removed the forms before the concrete had set. While we fixed the construction problem, their poor customer service and sloppy repair mean we won’t subcontract with them or give referrals for future projects.
One of the trickiest parts about planning a complete remodel was coordinating the schedule for work by Josh and the different tradespeople we hired. While we shared our expectations in initial conversations and regularly checked in, there were a few times when contractors ruined our timeline. The drywall company caused the biggest delays by lying about how quickly they could complete our project and giving false status updates. While they told us it would be done in 1 week, it ended up taking them more than 3 weeks. This meant we also had to reschedule all of the finish work that happens after drywall (painting, flooring, countertops, electrical, plumbing, tile, cabinets, & doors) and we moved into our new house a month later than we had planned. Even after this and against my better judgement, I paid the full balance on the project before it was totally done. Then the owner ignored us, didn’t answer our calls, and never returned to touch up his work as he had promised to do.
Finally, we ordered some materials from the big box stores, then wasted countless hours tracking our shipments and dealing with damaged or missing parts. We knew better! After 5 years as a certified door installer for 1 of the stores and multiple issues with materials ordered by our customers, we know that these stores don’t prioritize customer service for online orders or delivery. Plus, the website descriptions were sometimes incomplete or inaccurate, so a few items were lower quality than expected, like particle board framing in a vanity that we thought was solid wood.
THINGS WE LEARNED
We empathize with other homeowners who are afraid to hire contractors or have had negative experiences like the ones we shared. In an earlier story, we shared some tips for hiring a great contractor. We should have taken our own advice.
- In the future, we’ll be sure to talk to other customers before we hire another contractor for our house or customers’ projects.
- As the contractors, we wait to get our final payment until customers are satisfied with how we completed their project, so it’s reasonable for us to do the same when we hire contractors.
- We discussed the specific scopes of work and timelines with contractors before hiring them. With most, this clear communication at the beginning led to a smooth project. When it didn’t, we persisted in asking them to fix the problem or complete the work that they agreed to do. (I’ll admit that that part was a little uncomfortable. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make the situation worse by shouting or swearing at people and I was 100% successful in that goal — and we worked out almost every issue.)
- Another tip we’ll add to this list is that local building supply stores may offer better customer service and competitive prices than the big box stores. We choose to shop at Jordan’s Building Center in Wheat Ridge for customers’ projects and have never had issues with quality or delivery. While we bought some materials for our house there, including all of our framing lumber and 3 doors, you can bet we’ll buy more from Tim, Ted, and their friendly, knowledgeable team for future projects.