Contractors Make Lawyers look like Saints

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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!!!

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  1. You are so right! My husband was a building contractor in our small town for 20+ years, and you wouldn't believe the messes people wanted him to fix.

    Most of those people could have avoided their nightmare by heeding the red flags they only recognized after the fact.

    You've pointed out some very good precautions, and there are more in a report I wrote called "How to Spot (and avoid) a Bogus Contractor." You can get a copy by sending an email to:

    Keep protecting people!

    Marte Cliff

  2. Amen! And by the way - love the title.