I Feel Like I Am Running in Place

This is the long-promised post on contractors. It isn’t general, but my specific story, so there may come another time for a more general one. Anyway, I wrote this in November, but never published. I pick up the story to make it current.

This saga is long, and ongoing. I don’t know how it will end (I don’t even know how much I will write down) but I need to write about this, because it is slowly eating away at my insides.

I closed on the purchase of my house in mid-August. I still haven’t lived there. Between the time I signed the contract and the time we closed, the previous homeowner was exceedingly generous, and allowed me access to the house to have contractors come and give me estimates on the work that I wanted to accomplish. The general consensus was that the scope of work I was looking at was about two weeks.

My first mistake was hiring the contractor I did. I was under the impression that he knew what he was doing, that he had enough workers on enough crews to handle my job, and that he could bring in the specific workers that I needed as I needed them (ie: when it was time to do the plumbing, his plumber would come; he would bring an electrician to do the electrical work I needed, a carpenter to do the building and a painter to finish up). I even said things like, “your carpenter is free to start right when we close?” and “you can get your electrician in here to work together with the plumber to fix this together?” showing my emphasis on efficient timing. He answered “of course, of course” to anything. Those were the first of many lies he told me. When he gave me the estimate, he said that “I need two weeks. A full crew of guys there every day for two weeks, and we can finish.” That was the next lie. On several levels. First level, it’s been way more than two weeks. Second, not once, ever, did he bring a full crew of workers to my house.

The first lie became apparent when he had the one idiotic worker doing everything. This guy is not a licensed plumber, not a licensed electrician and not even a professional enough painter to use drop clothes and painter’s tape on the floors and edging. Just a solitary shmuck who does everything, and does nothing well.

I should have realized things were going wrong early on. I really beat myself up about this as every set-back happens, that I dragged this on for far too long. I should have realzed that things were wrong when the contractor insisted on painting first, before he did certain construction. He ended up painting walls that were no longer going to exist, and leaving himself new walls that would have to be repainted afterward anyway. I should have realized, after telling him clearly and in no uncertain terms that were doing no work to any bathrooms, and that he shouldn’t do anything in any bathrooms, only to come to the house to find that he’s stripped the walls in the master bathroom, that something was wrong with this guy. I should have realized, when I insisted that he paint the master bathroom at no cost to me, to remedy his mistake, and more paint ended up on the tile and the floor than on the wall, that something was wrong.

I came to the house to see what was going on. I saw one guy painting the trim on windows. He wasn’t using a dropcloth, and there was no painter’s tape on the windows. I called the contractor and asked him why he’s painting without that stuff, he’s getting drips and uneven lines all over my windows and floors. He reassured me that of course they are using painters tape, and even so, it’s no big deal, because they can easily clean all those lines with a razor. I didn’t push the issue. That was my mistake. They never did.

I used to call him to ask him what the status was at the house, and he’d always answer “they’re there now, working.” When I would have someone go over to the house to see, the answer would always be “there’s nobody here now.” I would call back. “They’re there, they told me they’re there.” “Look, I’m at the house now. Unless they’re hiding in the closet, THEY ARE NOT HERE.” “Oh, one second, let me call you back.” Then, if he ever called me back (rare), the answer was one of several from a script. Either (a) a sudden emergency came up at another job and they had to leave; (b) there was some personal emergency one guy had to tend to (and the rest of the workers, they can’t work if one has to leave; very team-oriented, evidently) or (c) (this one was the most prevalent, and the most frustrating to me) they (all of them, as a team, evidently) went to Home Depot to get materials. This was my next clue. Even if it was true that they needed to go to Home Depot to get materials, the level of ineptitude was staggering. These guys couldn’t get their act together to work in any sort of logical coherent way. Why they couldn’t look at the job, get all the materials they were going to need, and use them, was beyond me. They would start on a job, realzie “hey, we might need some screws to build this” and leave for three hours to “go to Home Depot.” This was infuriating to me.

Then there’s the contractor himself. A thief and a crook if I’ve ever met one. Like all contractors, he lied about the time it would take him to do the job. He lied about having the available workers, and he took on my job knowing full well that he never intended to devote the time and the workers to getting my job done. He was constantly shifting them to other jobs, moving them around. My house would go days at a time without having a worker come. Inevitably, after he had people there for a few days to get something done, he asked for a progress payment, and I gave it to him. Just as inevitably, for the next week after I gave him the check, there was nobody at my house. Without fail. I would try to call him, leave him repeated messages to call me back. I had his cell phone number, two home phone numbers. I called, and he dodged me all the time. I one time called from a Caller ID blocked phone, and he picked up, sounding shocked that it was me. He even let slip to ask me “you’re caller ID is blocked now?” I said was I calling from a different phone. And whenever he called me back, he made sure that his caller ID was showing, so I would know it was him. (This will come into play).

Then there was the staggeringly low quality of work. Not a single thing I asked him to do was done right. There was my master bathroom, as I described above. There was the hardwood floors that weren’t sanded before they were stained, so there were bubbles and dirt trapped under the stain. Even he noticed it, when he pointed out a piece of scotch tape on the floor, and I told him, “yeah, I know. It’s under the stain.” There was the couch that was in the house that I told him we intended to keep and use, which I found one day covered (not by a dropcloth) but with plaster drips, dust, paint and sharp tools that had torn the fabric. There was the wall that was cracked before the new paint, that he assured me had been plastered and taped before the paint went on. A month later, the crack reappeared (yet again, another lie). There were the new tile saddles in the kitchen, which I asked him 10 different time to measure and tell me what size to order. Finally, he must have just guessed, because when they came in, one was the wrong size. There was the light fixture I asked him to replace (remove an old chandelier and put in a simple fixture), that instead got removed completely and covered up. There were the hi-hats that I asked him to install on a separate switch (so that I didn’t have to turn on all the lights in the room at once) but instead still got put on a single switch. There’s the railing I had installed that is so uneven and poorly done, I don’t even want to describe it. And nothing is his fault and/or responsibility. I ordered a window, and told him exactly where it had to be installed based on the kitchen plan. It was installed off by an inch. Maybe an inch can be considered “picky” but not when the cabinets won’t fit on the wall anymore, because the plans were specific on where things needed to be. When I asked him to fix it, he said “the cabinet guy can adjust.” I said “then I will lose cabinets, and others will be off kilter” he said “the cabinet guy can add a piece, as a filler, to adjust the space.” I said, “no, re-do the window. You screwed up; fix it.” Finally, he did. When the window was first installed, he was very specific that special window installers had to do it, that’s why it was so expensive. When it had to get moved at his own cost, he had the do-it-all unqualified shmuck do it.

Once the cabinets were installed, it became apparent that one of the walls was uneven, slanted. I pointed this out to him. His response “a good cabinet guy can fill that in with a filler piece.” I asked him why every thing that got screwed up was always someone else’s responsiblity to fix. His workers built the wall. What self-respecting builder doesn’t use a level when he builds a wall? Everything had an excuse. It was nauseating.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, with mounds of garbage sitting in front of my house that he’d promised countless times he was going to remove, and progress stalled at the house, I gave him an ultimatum. This was on a Thursday. I told him he had until the end of Tuesday to finish the house, or I would find someone else to finish. I had been saying for weeks that all it would take to finish was two straight days in the house with a full crew, and they could finish up all the little things around that needed to get done. They never did.

I fired him. I began the process of replacing him. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (!) I started making calls. We discussed the amount of a final payment, including finishing up all of his work. He began to call me several times a day to find out when he could get his guys into the house to finish. I turned the tables. I ignored him. I let him go two days before taking his call. He started calling with a blocked caller ID number (trying to trick me into answering). I ignored it. Finally, Sunday morning, after six missed calls on my cell phone before lunch, I told him that he wasn’t coming back to the house. He wasn’t happy. He asked about the final payment we had agreed on (because, it’s not the unfinished work that bothers him, it’s the money). I told him I was spending that money finishing the job for him with other people and fixing his mistakes. Then he really wasn’t happy. But the shouting match the followed was good for me, because I got three months of pent up frustration and anger out. All this time, I had refrained from yelling at him, not wanting to upset him (why? I’m not sure. What would he do, stop not-working?). But I finally let it all out. And he yelled back, and that was fun, because it fed into my anger. He threatened me that he was going to get his money. I told him he couldn’t intimidate me, because I didn’t care about his threats, and it wasn’t his money. It was mine, and I needed it to correct his mistakes.

So, I called a painter, who was able to work over those three days (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday). He came in and finished up all the paint touch-ups, all the trim, fixed all the cracks, and cleaned up all the lines, windows and floors. Of course, I had to pay someone a lot of money to come and re-do what I he was supposed to have done right the first time.

I called a garbage removal company who came and removed all the garbage in a matter of hours. More money spent to do his work.

I called a plumber to come in and look. He took a look, and right away said that the plumbing work was sub-par and needed to be redone. Another cost to me to re-do work that was supposed to have been right the first time.

I had an electrician come to look around. I’m still waiting for that estimate. I can only imagine.

Today’s set-back, that prompted this long overdue post, was a call from the plumber. It seems I don’t have the required permits for him to work. I should have realized. Of course the cheap, lying, stealing, cheating contractor didn’t get permits for the plumbing work. He didn’t even tell me I needed one. He couldn’t. He didn’t have a licensed plumber doing the work. He’d never get a permit from the Town.

So now I’m stuck. I don’t know what permits I need. The plumber is saying I need a building permit to get a plumbing permit, but I didn’t do any building. Nothing in the work I did (remove wallpaper, paint, get new kitchen cabinets) required plans or a building permit. Only having a gas line installed (which I got a permit for, that much I knew) and the kitchen plumbing (which I don’t have). I have no idea if I am going to get a permit, or how long it will take.

All I know now, is that everytime I see a light that I think is the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be just another road sign saying “You’re still in the Tunnel. Please stay in your lane.”

Ok, so the update: The electrician, of course, told me that the wiring in the kitchen needed to be (come on, guess) “completely redone.” Turns out the thief wanted to install all my new appliances on 50-year-old electrical lines that weren’t grounded. I asked the electrician how important that was. His answer: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting you live in the house like that.” Good to know that wasn’t an issue for The Crook.

Anyway, the work got done, and once I took over, things got done quickly and well. I figured out what I needed for the permit (turns out in Town of Hempstead, you have to get a Rabbi’s letter before they’ll allow you to have a second sink in the kitchen. Good thing my “frum” contractor knew that. Oh, wait.) I got the letter, sent it to the town and got the permit. I got the countertops, the sinks installed, and everything got down.

I ended up spending a little more than what I owed the Thief to fix and finish, but I’m better off.

We moved into the house in January. And I couldn’t be happier that this is all done.


One response to “I Feel Like I Am Running in Place

  1. Pingback: Estimates « The Noy G Show

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