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How Homeowners Can Get Screwed By Contractors (And How To Avoid It)

Two contractors standing and cutting wood
It's tough to find a good contractor, but when you do, they are worth their weight in gold

Before we get started, I'd like to say:

  • Not all contractors are shady.

  • Not all contractors will take your money, do the least work possible, and ask to get paid.

  • Not all contractors wear the reputation the profession has earned over the years.

However, there are many out there who do live up to the reputation.

Unfortunately, some even exceed it.

To all you great contractors out there who:

  • Care about your work.

  • Care about your clients.

  • And respect the homes you service.

Thank you!

To all of you who live up to the reputation, be warned.

This article is meant to expose you, and protect homeowners, rehabbers, or any other client you may typically work with.

Now, let's take a look at all the ways contractors have royally screwed me in the past, and what you can do to avoid being next.

A Contractor Charged Me For Granite, But Purchased Press Board Countertops

I paid my contractor to purchase and install granite countertops.

We were feeling extra fancy and wanted to go above and beyond for a particular home remodel.

Instead, the contractor purchased press board countertops, which are far less expensive than granite.

To rub salt into the wound, the contractor took over six months to have the countertops delivered to the job site.

He made up stories (Looking back, I now believe the stories to be made up) that the truck delivering our countertops was in an accident.

He told us the accident had caused our countertops to shatter, and they needed to be recut and re-shipped.

Months later, still no granite countertops. Instead, we got press board.

Then, to rub lemon juice into the salt on the wound, he didn't even install the countertops. Talk about a mess!

How to Fix: Never give your contractor money to pay for materials. Ever. You can either:

  • Pay for the materials yourself, and let the contractor pick them up at the store, or have the store deliver them to the job site.

  • Define very clearly in your contract what materials are to be installed. Then, you have the contractor pay for the materials upfront, then include them on an invoice.

My Contractors Failed to Show up on The Job Site

Contractors failing to show up on the job site is very common. It's so common that even the primary contractors I've worked with complain that their subcontractors don't show up and have to fire them.

The two reasons I've had contractors fail to show up to work on my project are as follows:

First, and probably the most common: Contractors will jump from job site to job site to try and make the most money possible.

  • They'll rip out the carpet at one house.

  • Move to the next house to install hardwood floors.

  • Then swing by another house to put up some tile.

Contractors, of course, can take on as much or as little work as they want. But when their time management skills are weak, and it leads to frequent, lengthy delays, that's not good.

The second reason was likely an isolated incident. One of my contractors got involved in a new line of business while he was about 75% done with my project.

Instead of communicating with me that he'd no longer be available, he decided to keep working on my project.

However, he did so for only an hour or two each day, and with a severely diminished crew.

As you can imagine, working on a job for two hours a day instead of eight and with two guys instead of four is about as fast as a sloth.

How to Fix: Include strict deadlines in your contracts with penalties for missing them — additionally, check-in on your projects randomly but consistently throughout their duration.

A Contractor Improperly Installed My Tankless Hot Water Heater

For one of our projects, we decided to install a tankless water heater. The whole process turned out to be a mess. Why? Contractors...

First, the primary contractor on the job failed to communicate with the electrician so he could install the proper wire.

Water heaters demand a lot of electricity, and for that reason, they need specific high voltage wires to be run.

Towards the end of the project, we noticed there was nowhere to plug in the water heater.

We had to have the electrician punch holes in the wall to run the proper wire.

But it doesn't stop there. Next, we found out the primary contractor installed the water heater backward, so we had to get this fixed too.

Oh, and did I mention that the primary contractor missed the fact that some subs messed up the hot water intake for one of the showers?

How to Fix: Double, triple, and quadruple check everything is installed correctly and in working order before paying a contractor for specific work.

Two Contractors Caused My Hardwood Floors To Feel Like Sand Paper

We all love beautifully polished hardwood floors. They are warm, inviting, and make a house feel premium.

Two of the contractors I hired to finish some hardwood floors did a job that was worse than anything I've ever seen.

They sent me photos saying everything was complete, so I sent my project manager over to check the floors out.

My project manager walks in and finds that the hardwood floors are as rough as sandpaper.

To add insult to injury, there were long black strands of hair that got stuck in the topcoat of poly. It was a mess.

I refused to pay them until they properly:

  • Sanded

  • Polyed

  • And stained

The floors like they were hired to do. Instead, they decided to threaten to put a lien on the house.

To avoid legal issues and clouded title, I paid them and had to hire someone else to finish the job.

How to Fix: Use a solid contract that specifies contractors will not be paid until work is 100% complete and approved.

One Contractor Was Paid To Install an HVAC Unit, And It Took Three Months

After paying a contractor to install a new exterior HVAC system, it took him over three months to get it done.

Why? There's no good reason. We trusted him as he had been working with us for a long time. So, we believed him when he said the weather was terrible, or he had an emergency to deal with.

Looking back, he was lying to us. It doesn't take three months to install a single exterior HVAC unit. It should only take a few days.

We made the mistake of paying him in full upfront, which gave us little leverage over him to get the job done.

Remember what we spoke about earlier, where contractors will jump from job to job?

I assume that's what was happening. He got paid upfront, put us in the back burner, then went to a job site that had more immediate cash available.

How to Fix: Never pay your contractors upfront for anything. Always pay once the work is completed and verified.

My Best Contractor Delayed A Project By Almost 12 Months

Oh boy. This one is embarrassing, but it happened, so I'll tell you about it.

My main contractor delayed one of our projects by about 12 months.

  • He kept telling us this, and that came up.

  • He kept saying city codes was delaying him.

  • He kept saying he'd be at the property to finish up.

He was good at making up believable excuses that no one would question under normal circumstances.

Except, after 12 months of delays, the circumstances are no longer normal, so we started asking questions.

  • We came to find out he's been lying and stealing from us.

  • He was asking for payments on things he's already been paid for.

  • And he was doing the same thing to other people.

We fired him right away. But the sad part is we believed in him and trusted he was one of the good ones.

He was not.

How to Fix: Ad strict deadlines and penalties for missing said deadlines in your contract. If a contractor delays a project for more than 2 - 4 weeks, fire them.

Unless the issues are genuinely out of their control, then you can, and should give them some leeway.

A Contractor Poured Tile Grout Down My Shower Drain

Have you heard the stories about someone finding out concrete had been poured into their pipes?

Well, it happened to me. Why? Contractors!

Two contractors I hired for the first time turned out to be some of the biggest offenders of living up to the contractor reputation.

After they finished the first small job we gave them, we decided to put them in charge of finishing out one of the bathrooms.

The whole process turned into a massive headache.

  • Their communication was abysmal

  • The quality of work was terrible

  • And they kept demanding money before they finished anything

Finally, after they finished the bathroom, we fired them. These contractors were way more trouble than they were worth.

But, we found out they left us present. The shower they just remodeled had a slow drain, and we found out it was because they poured tile grout into it.

Tile grout, once it dries, is just about as hard as concrete.

It took three plumbers to fix the problem. One of which asked for $265 upfront just to confirm it was clogged, and then tried giving me this crazy complicated and expensive solution.

Thankfully, we got it resolved without too much trouble in the end.

How To Fix: Check and verify everything works properly before paying your contractors. And make sure your contract states payments are not to be made until the work is 100% complete and verified.

The Worst Offender Used Dry Wall To Cover Up Plumbing That Wasn't Connected to Anything

I won't name names, but one guy was the absolute worst of the worst.

He was in charge of a whole home remodel, and we found out he was just covering stuff up to get paid.

We discovered he and his crew installed all the drywall throughout the house, painted it, and said they were finished.

Soon after, we found out the plumbing lines behind the walls either weren't run or were not connected to anything.

The plumbing wasn't even connected to the mainline, so water couldn't come into the house!

But hey, they told us it was done, and asked to get paid.

How to Fix: Regularly check in on your projects and test everything as it progresses.

  • Turn on the lights

  • Turn on the plumbing fixtures

  • Turn on the appliances

Test everything to make sure it's in proper working order

One Contractor Asked To Be Paid Multiple Times For The Same Work

I had a guy submit invoices for the same work multiple times. This is the guy who caused one of our projects to get delayed by over 12 months.

What he'd do is bill again for something that was done months ago, but still had a tiny bit of touch up to do.

He wanted to make us think he was billing to finish up the work.

And sadly, it worked. Since we trusted the guy, we paid the invoice.

Finding out he double-billed us was one of the many dominos that led to us firing him.

How to Fix: Keep well-documented records of what's been paid out based on your contract.

Contractors Told Me A Remodel Would Cost $40,000, But It Cost $80,000

One of my contractors went out to place a bid on a whole home remodel. The job was a full gut, so the house needed everything.

The contractor quoted me between $40,000 and $45,000 to finish everything out.

Well, the total wound up being more like $80,000. I'm still paying off the extra expenses from my credit cards.

Why? Contractors…

So many things had to be redone because the primary contractor:

  • Neglected to manage his subs properly

  • Improperly installed something himself

  • Failed to catch necessary repairs during the initial walkthrough

  • Severely underestimated the cost of materials

  • The list goes on and on and on

Sometimes contractors will purposefully bid a job low so they can win the job.

For example, they may know something will cost $1,000 to fix, but they'll bid $500.

After they win the contract, they'll come to you and say:

"Oh, hey, we have to do this, this, and this too. It'll be an extra $500."

How To Fix: I recently included a clause in my contract that says any costs above 10% of the total agreement will be borne by the primary contractor to prevent overbidding.

I'm not sure yet if it'll be useful or not, though.

Contractors Threatened To Put A Lien on My Property After I Refused To Pay Them For An Abysmal Job

I briefly touched on this earlier, but two contractors did a terrible job installing trim in one of my basements.

And I mean terrible. In one corner, the trim was busted through the wall by about an inch. It had utterly ruined the drywall and needed to be patched and painted.

Rather than owning up to their shoddy work, they demanded to be paid. Because that's the responsible thing to do, right?

When I refused to pay them until they fixed their mess, they threatened to put a mechanics lien on the property for lack of payment.

Would I have won the case if we went to court? Probably, but It wasn't worth it.

How to Fix: Again, have a solid contract that specifies what needs to be done, and that payments will not be made until work is completed and approved.

One Guy Flat Out Lied To Me About Fixing My Shower Grout

The contractor I used for two years decided to flat out lie to me.

Long story short, he told my project manager and me he had completed a grouting project we gave him.

My realtor stopped by since she was preparing the house for sale, and told me the grouting had not been completed.

For some reason, I can't comprehend; my contractor just decided it was a good idea to flat out lie to me about completing the work.

How to Fix: Always verify the work! Are you sensing a pattern here?

What You Should Do If You Need to Work With Contractors

As you can see, working with contractors can be extremely challenging. Don't worry; it's not just you.

But, there are great contractors out there who will treat you right. If you can find a great contractor, consider yourself blessed.

Make sure you always verify any work has been properly completed before making payments.

And always write up a firm contract that outlines everything that's supposed to be completed with deadlines.

Hold your contractors accountable, and don't let them get away with the stuff we discussed in this article.

Are You Remodeling To Sell Your House?

If you're researching contractors to remodel your house because you want to sell it, but have decided remodeling is too much work, don't worry. You can always sell your house to a direct home buyer like Contenza Properties.

We'll never:

  • Ask you to do any repairs

  • Pay any commissions or fees

  • And there's no need to do any expensive staging

We buy houses in their as-is condition and would love to make you an offer.

Submit your info below using our simple form, and one of our friendly representatives will get back to you shortly.


About The Author

Jordan Reid - Founder of Contenza Properties

Jordan Reid founded Contenza Properties in April of 2018 to help homeowners solve their real estate problems quickly.

Since then, Jordan has helped multiple homeowners facing difficult situations such as divorce, property liens, and unwanted property inheritance.

Jordan believes in putting people first, and numbers second, which helps him reach the best possible solutions for the homeowners he works with.

Currently, Jordan and his team at Contenza Properties offer their professional home buying services in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Knoxville, Tennessee.


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