Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contractors Make Lawyers look like Saints

As a homeowner, or in my case, condominium owner, I have remodeled both of my condos. You know the expression "You get what you pay for?" Not TRUE when it comes to contractors, at least in Miami. In both cases, I suffered the proverbial and literal "construction nightmares". Whether the contractor was the least expensive, middle-of-the-pack, or most expensive, I have contracted all of them. Candidly, lawyers look like saints compared to all the dozen plus contractors I hired.

When I bought my second and larger condo, I thought, "I learned my lessons the first time, this should go smoother." I couldn't be more wrong. The larger the project, the bigger the nightmare. Speaking from experience, contractors have love affairs with shortcuts. It gets worse. Even when I purposely planned the remodeling during my transition from one job to another, and took off a whole month to oversee the construction, the need to deceive and ignore basic steps was just as prevalent. The audacity! Perhaps they thought a young, single female is ignorant to construction issues. They underestimated common sense and this woman's convictions to hold them accountable. When it comes to my family, health, and money--I hold everyone accountable and am ready to fight back if necessary.

I recall when living in Maryland and my mother expanded the two story house to the tune of $40,000. It was the middle of winter in Maryland. The workers showed up promptly at 8am everyday and left right at 5pm. The project was going to be finished a week early had not a snow storm slowed down the progress. Nonetheless the project finished on time. No hiccups or problems ever surfaced later!

In my case, defects always appeared later and would cost me more to redo or repair. So I share with you these CRITICAL STEPS in order to minimize headaches, conflicts, and more cash out for any home project. No matter the scope of the project, remodeling one room, a kitchen, adding an extension or gutting and remodeling the entire home, these steps will make a huge difference in quality of sleep and distraction levels at work and with the family.

1. Get a detailed quote.

2. Go see their work from other clients to ensure they can perform the job to your standards (ie. I hired a contractor to do mosaic tile on bathroom walls. The subcontractor had experience with regular tile for the wall but never worked with mosaic tile. The project was a disaster and all three bathrooms were torn down and redone by EXPO Center which did a fabulous job).

3. Ensure the contract is extremely detailed. If not, the "change orders" are always outrageous. Don't be shy about typing your own detailed description. NEVER give a deposit without an ironclad contract.

a. Be sure both you and the contractor sign and date each page.

b. Include a completion date and penalties for passing the deadline.

c. Be sure the total cost is listed.

d. Ensure a clause for "Certificate of Completion" is added. Meaning you agree to sign the certificate when the work is completed.

4. Get a copy of contractor's :

a. DRIVER'S LICENSE (neighbors complained to me that their contractor skipped town on a botched job)

b. STATE ISSUED LICENSE (for his/her business)

c. INSURANCE documents

d. BUSINESS CARD--In Florida, the contractor must list their license number on their business card; otherwise, BEWARE you may run the risk that the person doing the job, is not the person on the license.

*** DO NOT WAIVER on any of these DOCUMENTS ***

5. Verify that the State License and Insurance are valid and current!!! Call your state office for professional business regulation and also the insurance company.

6. Check the BBB & Angie's List. Thanks to the Internet, you can go online and check the Better Business Bureau to ensure there are no major complaints filed against the contractor. Another source is (Angie's List is a list of contractors around the country that are recommended by readers from personal experience. They are rated on several attributes. Angie's List contains recommended contractors and ones to avoid. There is a small fee ($40 for the year) to access the list. Definitely worth it for any project estimated over a couple of hundred dollars. Angie's list has now expanded to cover other services including plastic surgeons.)

7. Obtain a Release of Lien before issuing payment. What this means is that the contractor will not place a lien on your home if you do not agree to sign the certificate of completion or make final payment. This is a tough one. Some contractors will not agree to this. Another highly recommended option is to hold the last payment until a week or two after the project is completed as part of the contract (ie. 25%). Why? It's amazing how many problems surface or flaws are discovered AFTER the project is completed (ie. water starts leaking from the new tub, the countertop is wobbly, door does not close correctly...). If you don't have your ducks in a row (contract, copies of documents) then I wager most of the contractors will never return. At least not in Miami. I love this city for many reasons but not when it comes to hiring a contractor. Even one that was recommended by a relative, turned out he took shortcuts on my job. Maybe his workload was increasing and he simply couldn't meet his deadlines as promised.

8. Do not sign the Certificate of Completion until you are satisfied with the work done.

9. Take LOTS of pictures before, during and after the project. If you or the contractor decide to sue the other, pictures are your best defense. Be sure the camera has a date stamp and print your photos with the date and get them notarized. In a recent dispute, the contractor was shocked to learn that I kept a track of the hours the workers came and went, and that I took hundreds of pictures when asking to protect surrounding areas and furniture and the worker blatantly refused. It also showed that the work was done incorrectly.

10. Be organized. Keep a file or binder with all documents (I prefer sheet protectors). Also download pictures daily and title them. Print them out and add to the binder. If the contractor has email, always use that to communicate so there is a paper trail. Your binder, complete with documents and pictures, is your best defense. Which means less hours that your attorney charges.

If you live in Miami, avoid OU Construction for any remodeling needs.

Also avoid Bali Painting. The have a nice website, and came out to give me a $2,000 quote for a job. This painting job involved metal--a highly specialized job. I asked the owner if he would do a test on one small window frame. He instructed me to buy the paint and we set a date. He never showed up or returned my calls. This after complaining that job solicitations have slowed down.

I highly recommend Do-Van Inc. This duo of brothers works fast and professionally. They completed three bathrooms in less than three days when OU Construction took almost 3 months. And they work met my expectations! Ask for Vasile at 954-868-4342 or email at They are Licensed and Insured and are very smart to include it on their business card so you can easily verify it!

Frankly, I have found attorneys here more honest and reasonable than the stereotype.

Please share your happy or horror stories or additional tips regarding contractors by leaving a COMMENT here! Go ahead, we know you want to!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

There is a Cure!

One week ago, the future flashed before my eyes.

My mother, a young baby boomer at age 65, slipped and fell and was rushed to the hospital. This was not a vision. It really happened. A robust, energetic woman for her age, (swimming 30 laps every Sunday and giving the gym equipment a workout at least once a week), and with a high threshold for pain, mom was crying in agony. I knew this was serious. She could not move her left arm at all. To walk sent vibrations up her back and shoulder with crushing pain.

REALIZATION #1 My superhero is mortal.

Several hours later at the emergency room, the ER doctor stated she had a fractured scapula--that's the flat part of the shoulder blade.

The good news is that mom will not need surgery as a fractured scapula is similar to the ribs--they heal on their own. The bad news--the pain is excruciating and it takes weeks to heal, leaving my mother handicapped from using her left hand or arm at all. In recalling my days working for a health insurance company, many elderly people die from complications resulting from a fall. Broken hip, pneumonia and then ...

REALIZATION #2 If she had fallen on hard floor instead of carpet, my mother may not be with us today. This is the vision that nightmarishly crossed my mind.

I focused on the positive: She would heal, painfully slow, but she would heal!

When mom was released from the hospital and we returned home, I dragged my weary, nimble, body into a cool, inviting, firm bed. But my mind was racing, alert, thinking. The planner in me started thinking--where to rent a wheelchair for a few days? Would she need a nurse while I was at work? Who to call? How to register for a temporary handicap car tag?

Then like a pounding waterfall that tapers into a stream, my mind relaxed. Everything was going to be OK. Yes I would have to play nurse, cook, caretaker and chauffer. But that was nothing. It could have been worse. No surgery, no medicines (just painkillers), no radical treatments. Just time, patience and lots of rest and TLC. This is her cure.

Feeling relaxed, I turned on my laptop and decided to check emails to distract me. My tranquility slowly turned to bewilderment.

A good samaritan ( a fellow writer, Marte Cliff) helped to write a brochure for a charity to help battered and abused women. In reading and studying the facts, my pressure was rising.

A sobering fact: Ten women everyday are killed as a result of domestic abuse.

These women suffer physical and emotional injuries, repeatedly! It's a vicious cycle. Their injuries are as severe as my mother's--broken or fractured bones--ribs, jaw, cheek bones...

REALIZATION #1 The injuries of these women is no "accident" like my mother's injuries.

To help these women does not require major surgery, no expensive cocktail of medicines that burn the lining of the stomach, no radical treatments or chemotherapy while millions of dollars and generations of years are spent studying, discovering a scientific cure. All these women need is shelter. A refuge for them and their children. How simple is that???

REALIZATION #2 There is a cure!

So what is the problem? I read on... Many shelters do not allow children or even pets. For this reason, many battered and abused women stay at the home, where the abusive spouse may otherwise take out his anger on the child or the dog (sometimes killing the family dog).

The cure is waiting. It's there! We can bring the cure to these women, their children and their family pets. The first site I visited is with a litany of facts that opened my eyes. Next, is which is a project of the first site. The Freedom Ranch holds the belief that children need to be with their mothers, away from harm's way. It's more than a haven where abusers can not reach their victims. Mothers are provided clothing, emotional counseling, and access to various resources to assist women reenter society with confidence and a foundation. Often the women and children leave their home with literally the clothes on their back.

Apart from making a donation, I thought, "What else could I do?" Of course! I could spread the word through email and blogging!

During this time of election season, we often hear how Presidential candidates have raised millions of dollars from many giving a little. Low income Americans giving $10, $20, $40 each when they have never contributed before to a presidential campaign. Americans have learned they can make a difference with just a little. Where every dollar counts and every vote counts.

Can we count on you to follow this easy example? You can donate to either fund or project. To make it a little more exciting, the founder is offering a raffle where your donation could award you a prize. Visit

My mother is my rock, my friend, my protector. She has taught me to believe in my capabilities and to never let anyone put me down-physically or figuratively. I can't imagine how my life would have turned out without her guiding me, teaching me, protecting me while growing up.

Alicia and I are quixotic about family, children including pets. This is our first plea to friends, family and now our new "subscribers" to consider making a donation, small or large.

Let's bring the cure to these battered and abused women!

Let battered and abused women reach their freedom!

Thanks to friends, family and neighbors for emails and phone calls with well wishes and prayers for my mother! Your kindness will return tenfold!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pussycat Misfits

This music video is for Cat lovers and anyone who enjoys a funny video. Warning: these cats are little foul-mouthed and I don't mean their breath. Some shots are Photo Shopped (or graphically enhanced in layman's terms)

At about 1:13 the music pauses, but don't worry, it's intentional and not a computer malfunction.

One of the best shots is close to 3:00 minutes--Kitten tucked inside a womans bra resting on her breast. Too cute.

It has received over 2 million hits from viewers on You Tube. Have a good laugh!
PLEASE POST A COMMENT right below!!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Princess Chunk

Many of you probably heard about the 44 pound cat that was found lumbering in the State of NJ, apparently abandoned by her owner who lost her home in foreclosure. Well now she is available for adoption and many good samaritans are willing to adopt PC and give this cat her own room!

The caretaker says her disposition is normal despite the weight. For anyone who says they don't like cats obviously have not raised them since they were kittens. They do have personalities! [Check out the ASPCA website of winning cat photos.]

Check out this video from Fox News--very funny!

Any vets want to have their name wikipediafied?

Warning: it's not healthy for a cat to weigh that heavy. The average weight should be 8-12 pounds maximum.