Don’t hire on the cheap 30 Aug 2005

49 comments Latest by Floridian ex-pat

I’ve recently learned my lesson about hiring workers on the cheap. A friend of mine recommended I hire this guy and his crew to handle some painting and wood stripping/refinishing. The quote came in really low and the time frame wasn’t realistic. Against my best judgement, I went for it anyway and it’s been nothing but a disaster. A project that was quoted to take 3 days is already going on 10 and there’s no end in sight. It’s one empty promise after another. The guy I hired hasn’t even been to the job site in about 6 days to check on the work being done by his crew, yet he speaks of it as if he’s in control of the situation. And now he’s feeding my friend lies that make it look like I’m the unreasonable one. Sigh…

Lesson learned. Next time I’ll check out Angie’s List first and only hire professionals with histories and credentials.

49 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Dan Boland 30 Aug 05

Sounds like your friend deserves a smack. Is it a business or just some guy?

James 30 Aug 05

he’s probably got 15 other jobs on the run.

George 30 Aug 05

Low blow!

sdb 30 Aug 05

“The quote came in really low and the time frame wasn�t realistic. Against my best judgement, I went for it anyway and it�s been nothing but a disaster.”

Doing anything against better judgement is a trap. Your gut is your best guide.

Emily 30 Aug 05

My experience — even the best contractors will give you the runaround. They are all VERY busy. It’s just the climate right now. Everyone and their grandma is getting work done, and these guys are in HIGH demand. Welcome to home ownership.

It’s your triangle - you have to make tradeoffs: they do the work well, they have a decent price, they finish when they say they will

HOWEVER — in this scenario - you get to pick the following

1. Pick ONE

2. Or Pick TWO with a LOT of babysitting. Maybe. If you’re lucky and projet manage the hell out of it.

We hired the contractor I wanted for our bathroom. They did a pretty good job (BUT I HAD TO BABYSIT THE ENTIRE PROJECT when I shouldn’t have had to since I was paying GC dude to do that), they had a medium to high price, and they did show up and finish EXACTLY when they said they would - so that’s the great news.

When we hired my husband’s choice of roofer, he was cheap, they finished when they said they would, BUT they smashed up our terrace and dude lied to my face NUMEROUS times and used really cheap materials.

It’s a giant racket. Get used to it. Angie’s list is not going to help things much. Be prepared to general contract all work yourself and get out your checkbook - or paint brush - or hammer. You might want to think about learning to mud drywall too - a valuable skill. Architecture — good skill to pick up also. Tiling….

My opnion of course. My experiences are also from Milwaukee…

SH 30 Aug 05

“Be prepared to general contract all work yourself and get out your checkbook - or paint brush - or hammer. You might want to think about learning to mud drywall too - a valuable skill. Architecture � good skill to pick up also. Tiling�.”

Gosh, when did people become so jaded that they accept shoddy work as game rules? There’s no excuse for giving a paying customer the run-around and not being entirely honest with your employer - even if you’re so “busy” that you can’t follow through with your promises. Stuff like this comes down to the basic principals of respect that seem to have gone astray a long time ago: Be honest with your expectations, be honest with your abilities, and be honest when you make mistakes.

I guarntee you that these dudes have had ample time to turn this situation around by simply saying, “Sorry, we’re really busy, but we’ll do our best.” Sometimes, admitting short-sightedness goes a lot further than just up and walking away from responsibility. And in the long run, no one is served by just accepting this kind of behavior from a vendor or employee simply because they’re told to “get used to it.”

JF 30 Aug 05

What made matters worse is that they didn’t even show up prepared. I had to run out and buy them painters tape. I had to supply drop-cloths. I had to buy them wire brushes for stripping paint and a few extra paint brushes for the paint.

They didn’t even have the basic tools for the job.

Brad 30 Aug 05

In all my life (I’m 46) I’ve never seen a contractor finish a job on time, although obviously you have a right to expect them to finish within budget and to do quality work. But time estimates should always be taken with a huge grain of salt.

JF 30 Aug 05

I understand the time frame thing, but it goes way deeper, and the work itself is barely acceptable. Further, 10 days into it the only paint work that is completed is the hallway. Both bedrooms remain incomplete. 10 days and you’ve only finished a small hallway??!

Darre 30 Aug 05

ALL home improvement contracts take longer than planned. ALL of them. ALWAYS. No exeptions. God say so. It’s a basic law of nature.

I used Angie’s list a few years ago, and thought it was a great idea implemented really poorly. At the time, at least, it seemed mainly focuse on ‘good comments only’ so there wasn’t a balance of comment on any given contractor. Either a contractor had 2 nice comments or just wasn’t listed, so it wasn’t really that great of a tool.

And while I’d agree that you usually get what you pay for, home remodelling isn’t a lot different than web development in that rice isn’t necessarily a telling indicator of quality.

John B 30 Aug 05

I guess I’ll be the dissenting voice. I hired a co-worker’s husband to paint my house and new garage and he did an excellent job for a very good price. The difference? He was new in town, very hungry and trying to start his own painting business. I ended up sending 3-4 more clients his way and all of them are very happy.

All that being said, it’s still a crap shoot. I guess I lucked out.

Emily 30 Aug 05

Additional comments….

My dad’s a semi-retired architect (Connecticut/Rhode Island) and he always says you have to manage these guys with kid gloves. You are completely at their mercy. He had 1 good stone mason in his town and in exchange for quality work, he had to be prepared to pay and to pray - that dude would show up. If dude didn’t show up, he could NEVER get mad at him. “I missed you yesterday, where were you?” and use the line that if he didn’t finish when he was supposed to, my dad would look bad, etc.. He treated him like a friend/family member to try and get the sympathy vote.

So I’m just presenting my experiences here and trying to help Jason out.

If my husband or I were more handy (grumble), we’d just do most of the work ourselves - even though we have 2 fulltime+ jobs and 2 kids!

Once again, just my opinion. I never accept shoddy web work from people, or web subcontracting, or programming or whatever, but I’m afraid in the home improvement world, it’s a different game.

Rich 30 Aug 05

A painter who shows up without a paint brush IS NOT a painter.

If they don’t own a high quality brush (e.g. Purdy), they have no idea what a quality paint job is.

Wesley Walser 30 Aug 05

This all sounds really odd to me. I am in college, and I know I probably can’t get it since I don’t own a home, but seriously people.

‘it’s always this way’ - This is a great excuse to never get better work. If they aren’t done when there suppose to be you fire them. That’s what money is for, to entice people to do good work. The don’t do good work, they don’t get money. If I don’t get a website done by a deadline, I don’t get paid by my payment deadline, and heck I might even get fired.

I can understand patience, and understanding, but this is just an extreme. It’s your money, don’t just spend it on quality work, spend it on quality people.

JF 30 Aug 05

Remember, this isn’t a complex job. It’s painting 2 bedrooms and a hallway. And then there’s some paint stripping off 4 window casements. But only having the hallway fully painted after 10 days in, well, that’s completely unacceptable.

Darrel 30 Aug 05

�it�s always this way� - This is a great excuse to never get better work. If they aren�t done when there suppose to be you fire them.

Yep. Then spend another 2 months calling everyone trying to get another person to come out to your house to do it again. ;o)

It’s not an excuse. Like I said, it’s a law of nature.

SH 30 Aug 05

“It�s not an excuse. Like I said, it�s a law of nature.”

It only is because *you let it be.* And if you do, then you suffer whatever consequences you bring on yourself. End of story.

Dan Boland 30 Aug 05

I understand what you’re saying, Darrel. It may not exactly be a “law of nature,” but the whole “you let it be” argument doesn’t carry any weight when there simply isn’t anyone of competence to be found. It’s just like movers, they all suck. I’ve been involved with about a dozen moves in my life, and the movers always fuck it up. That’s a law of nature. ;)

Rabbit 30 Aug 05

Aye, I’ve got to agree with SH and Wesley Walser in response to Darrel.

It’s called the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” (Or, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”)

“I believe I will fail.” And when you do, you’ve proven yourself correct. Therefore it’s likely you’ll believe that you “simply can’t succeed.”

It’s attitudes and views like that that make life a living hell. =P

Tommy 30 Aug 05

I feel your pain. One of the worst things to do in business is say you’re going to do something and then not do it.

Web designers are notorious for this…

Don Schenck 30 Aug 05

Almost done remodeling our master bedroom. After that, it’s either the master bath or the office/den/cigar lounge. Can’t decide.

But I AM DAMN GLAD we decided to do it ourselves.

Taking longer than we want? … sure.

Quality? Fantastic!

Thanks for the reinforcement, Jason. Man, I LOVE learning from YOUR mistakes!


Patrick Lafleur 30 Aug 05

Remember this?

Getting Real: Pick two - scope, timeframe, or budget

Looks like someone tried to get all 3!! ;-)

JF 30 Aug 05

The contractor is supposed to tell me to pick 2. He promised all 3 and I went for it (against my better judgement, as I mentioned).

Rich 30 Aug 05

Keep in mind, people doing manual labor are generally doing it because they have few career options. Painters, along with spacklers, they are known to be generally unreliable people. Many have drug/drinking problems. I know, I was a carpenter for 7 years as I put myself through Computer Science school. Of course, there are exceptions, true craftsmen, but they will always charge more and be harder to book. I was fortunate enough to have worked for one of them. Now I won my own house, and I’ll be doing most of the work myself.

Rich 30 Aug 05

NOTE: Weird typo above! I did not win my house, I bought it. should have read, “Now I own my house”.

I wish I won it! It would save me form paying $3000/month on my mortgage!

Darrel 30 Aug 05

It only is because *you let it be.* And if you do, then you suffer whatever consequences you bring on yourself. End of story.

The only people that say that have never owned a house.

It�s just like movers, they all suck.


Almost done remodeling our master bedroom.

Just finished our only bathroom. 1 week project became 2 months. We did all the sheetrocking/painting/windows/mirros/framing/doors/trim. Our electrician was good, but I had to remount the light (since he had it sideways) and had to rewire a switch (since he goofed that up). The plumber was good, but moved the sink 2 inches one way and put the toilet seat on backwords. The tiler was OK, but I have to regrout half of it myself.

Am I pissed? Nope. Shit happens in home remodelling. I could have done it all myself, but I would have screwed something up to, and I’d much rather blame someone else than myself for having the sink 2” from where I originally wanted it. ;o)

Keep in mind, people doing manual labor are generally doing it because they have few career options.

I wouldn’t say that all. Plenty of people love manua labour. I love it. Granted, there’s a difference between laborous menial tasks and craftsmanship.

Painters, along with spacklers, they are known to be generally unreliable people. Many have drug/drinking problems.


Rich 30 Aug 05

Like I said, I’ve worked in the industry. I know what I am talking about.

I like manual labor MUCH more than I like sitting at this computer all god damn day. It just doesn’t provide much in the way of retirement, benefits, and long term health. Plus, the money isn’t as good as it is in software.

The best part about owning my own house is that I can use it as my creative and manual labor outlets. It’s very rewarding to sit in a room and say, “I built that”. Actually, I get a similar feeling when designing a nice UI, it’s just never as “real”.

chompy 30 Aug 05

I only hire australian tradesmen on “walkabout.” They do an awesome job and get it done promptly because they are on vacation and want to get back to having fun.

Megan Holbrook 30 Aug 05

Emily: My experiences are also from Milwaukee�

Me too - we did a complete overhaul about three years ago on a house we bought - roof, new kitchen, new masterbath, lots and lots of other work. I liked our GC, but I’ll never trust someone again who says that they will take care of making sure everything is protected and stays clean. You /have/ to be willing to insert yourself into the process. We ended up with damaged wood steps and dust in unimaginable places…

[OFF-Topic] BTW - Emily, saw that you work for GS and with the fabulous Liza Redlin. Tell her I said hi. :)

Tommy: One of the worst things to do in business is say you�re going to do something and then not do it. Web designers are notorious for this�

Please tell us which ones so we can avoid hiring them!

SU 30 Aug 05

My wife works for a general contractor as a carpenter and this kind of behavior wouldn’t be acceptable. She routinely hires sub-contractors for things like painting, plumbing, roofing, and electrical and they have to adhere to the same high standards that her custom wood trim work must uphold. Those that don’t meet that standard aren’t asked back for the next remodel.

That said, there are a ton of flakes out there in contractor-land. We’ve found, while working on our own house, that some don’t even meet the basic requirement of showing up on time for an estimate (a period during which they are presumably very hungry for the job).

What’s stopping you from firing them outright? If it was fixed bid, kindly pay them for the 15% they’ve completed and wash your hands of the matter.

Darrel 30 Aug 05

I like manual labor MUCH more than I like sitting at this computer all god damn day. It just doesn�t provide much in the way of retirement, benefits, and long term health. Plus, the money isn�t as good as it is in software.

I feel the same way.

Dave M 30 Aug 05

@Darrel: WTF? How do you “put a toilet seat on backwards”?

dmr 30 Aug 05

JF, why don’t you drop them now… before things get worse!? And have you talked with the workers about your concerns and issues? What do they have to say about their failure to deliver within the timeframe. I’d say that’s grounds to pay them for what they’ve done and tell them not to come back.

Emily 30 Aug 05

Yep - I’d dump ‘em.

Unfortunately you can’t exactly do that when your roof is half torn off and there is a giant pile of debris in your side yard, or you’re depending upon them to install a toilet or something when it’s your only bathroom…or any number of other things…sometimes you have to let them finish. I would say in this case though - kick them out TODAY.

Just sharing experiences here people…trying to help.

and Yep - go with what your gut tells you…but you know this already.

Brad 30 Aug 05

Doing it yourself is a nice when you’ve got the time, but busy professionals often find it hard enough just to find time to pee, much less paint. I’ve had cans of primer and paint sitting on the kitchen floor for four months now, just waiting for a weekend when I can find time.

skw 30 Aug 05

I’ll do it. Hallway and 2 BR should take no time. A friend and I did a guy’s dining room, kitchen and bathroom in two full work days.

nortypig 31 Aug 05

Don’t kick yourself about it because some people are just good at selling themselves and I think at one time we’ve all been bit by someone or something that you look back at later and say it was too good to be true. Hindsight is a funny thing.

We got bit by painters a few years ago and we’ve got bubbled weatherboards and what can I say?

Just don’t recommend them on.

Lisa 31 Aug 05

Did you lock them out of the house or something? ;)

It sounds like you’ve learned your lesson. What they have done is unaccpetable. Can you fire them at this point and cut your losses?

tk 31 Aug 05

4 years after buying a house (that we knew had to be practically gutted) I feel your pain… 1st GC failed on all 3 counts. Found a great “hungry” handyman (a la John B) to clean up; he got too busty for smaller jobs. 2nd great all-around guy got some money to get supplies & disappeared… FINALLY found a fabulous contractor great on quality, low mid on price, and pretty decent on timing.

I tend to be more flexible on that for bigger projects now, though. Not because that’s just the way it is… When the sewer pipe below our basement collapsed leaving us without water (and with a lot of damage and a huge repair project) our contractor pulled a bunch of guys off of less urgent jobs to make sure we were up & running as soon as possible.

With my luck, he’ll move to Arizona before we get around to doing the last bathroom…

beto 31 Aug 05

So, so true. We are going through a home remodeling phase now, and we got 4 contractors willing to take the job. One charged X for 3 wks. work, other XX and a half for a month, and another one like XXX for 2 weeks, but with plenty of reccomendations. We ended up with the last one anyway, and we’re glad we did, after we heard some hair-raising horror stories from the first two. In fact I’m already considering to hire this guy again for other pending projects. You get what you pay for, indeed.

Adam Michela 31 Aug 05

Hah. Sounds familiar… I’m 2 months behind schedule and a good $10,000 over budget on my remodel because of two different contractors who showed up unprepared, took too long, and botched their jobs.

I resorted to doing almost everything myself. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing but taking my time and learning as I go, doing a better job for much cheaper than these other guys.

At this point I’m only hiring out on electrical/plumbing.

Soooo frustrating!!

f 31 Aug 05

My neighbors, long timer’s in the software business (and I’m being semi-anonymous ‘cause I don’t want to hurt their feelings even if there is a slight chance they’ll read this) are building a new house. It’s totally stalled and I think their permit has expired. Yet, they regularly manage large software projects. So what went wrong? Were they mistaken to assume that an architectural project is the same as a software project? Were they wrong to trust that their GC would keep a stern eye out? Did they not know that “spec” was a loosely used four letter word in the construction industry?

Yes. It is totally not the same thing. Their house sits semi-completed. They’re forced to rent a house to live in when they have a perfectly good piece of prime real-estate.

And from what I can see, their number one mistake was believing in delegation- that the GC, whom they paid to oversee this stuff, would take care of it. They trusted. They also went with someone whose rep. was possibly not the best. They didn’t go with the record- there was another company who regularly puts houses up in 11 months or less, several in our neighborhood. Their spec was too detailed. They probably didn’t check enough references. They didn’t count on needing to take time to babysit the workers.

In short, tons of things can go wrong. You really do get what you pay for, especially in construction. Scope out the guy when he does the estimate. Is he paying sufficient attention to the details- type of base paint/material, cracks which need to be patched, and etc. Check their references, ask others if the company complained when they asked for changes or pointed out mistakes. If it is too good to be true, they might be underestimating just to get the contract.

We’ve had some good experiences by hiring people who show they’re paying attention when estimating. You can also give them a small job and if you’re satisfied, a bigger job. Wish you lived near San Jose, I was recently pleasantly surprised by a good basic inexpensive paint job with all touch-ups and changes accomodated without a peep. Timely, too.

Just my terribly anal $.02.

Mac 01 Sep 05

Intellectually drafted article. seems to grab attention at once.The writer has a good knowledge of the subject and makes reading interesting.

Brian 07 Sep 05

I manage an office for a GC when not doing freelance design. It’s been an enlightening experience. The guy I work for is legit - the real deal - and stands by his work - very rare in the construction industry.

Some things I have learned -
1) You really do get what you pay for. Really.

2) You can have cheap or you can have good. You can’t have both.

3) if you’re doing remodeling work on an old house - it will always cost more and always take longer. It’s the nature of the beast. Alot of those hidden costs are hidden in the walls. You price out the best case scenario, but once those walls come down, who knows what you’ll find. From structural problems, to electrical or plumbing not being up to code, prior water damage, etc. It adds. And why don’t clients understand that if you change something in th emiddle of the job it effects the entire timeline going forward. If they want achange to the framing, well than that pushes back everythign else in the schedule. Clients are not innocent in the process. We sub out lots of work and we have to work with these guys schedules as well.

4) The best contractors, like the best designers educate the client. You make a client part of the process. Clients think that remodeling or construction is buying a commodity. It’s not. You are buying expertise and experience, especially form a GC. You are NOT buying a new bathroom, you ARE buying a relationship with whoever you hire. Clients can also get in the way. Clients primary responsibilities are in the hiring proces s- exactly where they go cheap - and then they hover over guys during the job. Should be reverse. Do your research and take your time in hiring and then let the guys go. If you hire a great GC chances are the guy also has a regular stable of subcontractors who are also at his level. The best only work with the best.

Nanci Garber 06 May 06

(General) contractors make promises they don’t intend to keep. Their objective is to get jobs, not to finish on time. My experience is that they’ll tell you what you want to hear in order for you sign their contract.

Casey Powell of Peachtree Woodworks in Southeastern USA is such a contractor. He made promises to my husband and I that he did not keep, and worse, there were no attempts at resolution.

Keep this in mind when hiring contractors and definitely don’t hire the contractor I used, Casey Powell.

Floridian ex-pat 18 May 06

My wife and I hired an architect/GC to do an addition on our home in 2004. It was to be a new, large kitchen with an extra eat-in dining room. We were promised the job would be finished in no longer than 4 months, and that the amount quoted for the job included a 10% extra for unforeseen issues. He promised there would be a portable toilet for his workers to use. 10 months later, over budget, unfinished, workers urinating in our walk-up basement stairwell drain and no one showing up on site for 2 weeks at a time. I was having to schedule inspections with the county, and the gc had the audacity to call me and tell me that he set up the inspections for such and such day/time. I called the GC and told him never to return to our work site (home) and not have any of his workers return. I withheld final payment from him since he went way over budget, and used all my available vacation time to finish the work on time by myself. I have a family friend that was a gc for decades…he never did business like that. There are many rotten apples in the bunch, but not all are like that. The only suggestion I have is to hire knowledgable contractors that are honest and have done reliable work for family, and involve yourself in the work occasionally.