Sunday, April 22, 2012

the story of how our contractor walked of the job

Grab a cuppa something, pull up a chair, and I'll tell you the story.

Once upon a time, there was a GeneralContractor that we probably should never have hired in the first place.  Seriously.  As I have been running through this mess over and over (and over! gah!) in my mind, I realize that I should be more ashamed of myself than I am for letting things get to where they did with this guy.  On TheDayItAllWentToShit, and I could taste the very distinct flavor that this whole experience had left in mouth.  The flavor was vaguely reminiscent of something I hadn't tasted since my early 20's.  It was the same flavor left in my mouth after a couple of realllly bad dating experiences.  You know the kind (well, maybe you don't LOL). I'm talking about the kind of dating experience where you ignore your own better judgment?  Like, when  you meet a guy, and he seems to be a genuinely good guy (uhhh...because he's trying to screw you?), and you do notice that the guy is a little quirky, but that's okay, because it's sort of charming, and anyhow he's creative and artistic and interesting and hey, you've already decided you are fine if this ends up being a short term thing anyhow (you just really didn't want to be dateless on the night of The Big New Year's Eve party), so what the heck.

But your friends eyes are sort of wigging out on you because they see you making a poor choice. And then you meet friends of the guy, and they are sniggering at you in that "you have no idea what you are in for sort of way."  And then you start to see the little red flags everywhere, the ones that you have seen out of the corner of your eye all along but were trying to ignore, because you don't want to break up with him this week, you want to break up with him next week, after The Big New Year's Eve party.

Anyhow. THAT is what it's been like with this General Contractor since the very beginning.

Before I tell you the story, let's give this guy a nickname.  I don't want to use his real name here (I'd say, "because I am nice like that," but really, I will indeed be being "not so nice" by reviewing him online and with the state board), but let me tell you, flag number one should have been that this General Contractor goes by a pseudonym.  His nickname for himself is a type of bird, and it was not, but should have been:  Turkey.  So that will be his name for the rest of my little story here ;-)

Here we go:

We find Turkey (and his business "Turkeyworks") on Angie's List, where he has glowing reviews.  After interviewing him in person, we still call several of his referrals, and his not just is loved by his former clients, but almost adored. Most of them call him back for more work.  Turkey is not your average general contractor, he is an artist of sorts (visible in his portfolio of work), and we know that he is going to be able to create the couple of custom pieces we are looking for in the design, all while maintaining the 1930's aesthetic of the house. He's on budget for us. He barely sub-contracts out anything, and he comes as a two-man crew (he has one guy that has been working for him for years...note that I said for). At the interview, he attempts to get a deposit from us, but we refuse to commit.  Instead, we take the time to check first check out Turkey's business license (filed not under his real this a red flag alert?...but in his business name of  "Turkeyworks"), and we also check out the better business bureau and everything else we can. All is good. No complaints.

So we decide to hire Turkey.  He has a big job he is just finishing up, but while that is happening he will be meeting with us a couple of times to get the design rolling and the permits filed, etc etc. It is at that first real planning meeting where money is to change hands and the contract will be signed.  This is the meeting so full of red flags that I should have made plans to put on my big girl panties and just show up to The Big New Year's Eve party stag.  Sometimes it's just better to hug yourself at midnight.

I notice almost immediately, that now that Turkey feels confident that he has secured out business, he's a little more hyper and wound up when he speaks, and he has a hard time staying on track with a conversation unless he is the one that initiates the topic or controls the course of the conversation.  If you take the conversation in a different direction, he can listen, but it feels like he is spending more time processing feeling out of control than really listening.  He puts on this face that looks like he is contemplating what you are saying (what I learn later is that he is really disconnecting himself because he feels out of control).  It's as if Turkey is this odd mixture of at one moment being extremely wound up, but the next moment being sort of "over relaxed".  I remember saying to TheMostImportantGuy very early on that while Turkey  does not at all seem to be on drugs, he reminds me of people I have met that used to do some sort of speed or methamphetamine, but are now in some rehab or 12-step recovery program.

But oh well!  Turkey is such an artist! With such glowing reviews and no blemishes on record!! And artists are quirky and misunderstood!

But then we get to the point in the conversation where we are to give him a deposit sign the contract.  "Contract??," says he?  Why, he has never needed one! (??!!!)

Well.  We will not work with any contractor without a contract (and we have hired a plethora of them remodeling the rest of the house), so no contract Turkey? No job.  Turkey says if we want to write up a contract ourselves (?!) he will agree to sign whatever we put together, which TheMostImportantGuy does, and Turkey goes over it and signs it (all the while, TheMIG is pointing out to Turkey that a contract protects him as well, so why would we never work with one?!).

Now, of course, all along, as part of  the interview and contract negotiations, we are discussing the total cost of the job....otherwise known as OurBudget.   Now, Turkey is a "time and materials" guy, and is not bidding the way other contractors we have worked with before have bid, where they throw out their total number for the cost of The Job In Its Entirety.  But Turkey does give us a range of where he thinks we will land, and most most importantly to OurBudget, he gives us a high number that he is certain will not be exceeded.   He negotiates how he is to be paid.  He says every Friday he will leave receipts and a description of hours and how time was spent, and we are look it over, and leave a check (note, I said a check) by Monday morning.

It is also at this meeting, almost a month before our start date, that he announces that while he is there, he'd like to demo one of the walls (?!).  A month early!  With no advance notice. To which I advise him that I don't care for that sort of surprise.

So we end this meeting with many loose ends, but a few days later there is another one, this time with a contract being presented.  Red flag alert:  it is at this point that we are requiring him to sign using his legal name, not "Turkey", to which he says, "You mean I have to put my real name here?"  "Yes, we cannot have a legally binding contract with your nickname.."  "But if I tell you my real name, I might have to kill you!"

You can believe that even though we gave him a very small deposit to secure our start date, we then went and checked out his legal name every which way come Sunday.  We find no problems.  And even though I don't want holes in the walls for a month, Turkey is allowed at that meeting to make them so that he can see what is lurking behind them.  The kitchen now feels like a war zone to me.

A month later, the official start date approaches.  The Friday night before Turkey is to start we have a final prep meeting, and Turkey announces that he has pushed our job out for a another week....and he is sure he communicated to us that the start date was flexible.  (??!!)  It is also at this meeting that the discussion of giving him a key for access takes place, and turns out to be....well, whatever can be redder than a red flag.  You see, Turkey does not want a key. He doesn't want to be held responsible for it (?!).  He wants the key left out somewhere, like under a rock, or a doormat, or on the trim over the threshold of the door.  TheMIG flatly refuses, because in our mind, you may as well just leave the doors unlocked and put a "steal from me" sign out on the lawn.  TheMIG and Turkey spend a good five minutes out in the backyard agreeing to a secret hiding spot for the key. The first night of real work, TheMIG comes home and the key is not in the secret hiding place, it is over the door jam.  The next morning, TheMIG confronts Turkey and tells him sternly, but calmly, that this is unacceptable and that if he needs to be micromanaged this way, we need to know it now.  To which Turkey responds by warning TheMIG, "I don't handle aggression well."   (??!!)

The first week into the job, I decide to downscale the scope of work.  Our old house has lovely original arches in the kitchen, and Turkey's design plan is to unify the space with the rest of the house by expanding on that theme and adding more arches just outside the kitchen in the dining room and on into the sunroom/dance studio.   I finally come to my senses when I realize that the whole house could end up looking like the Taj Mahal, not to mention that the arches add a lot of expense and structural work, so I take them out of the design (and save OurBudget!).  I also take out a few other big ticket items: I reduce the amount of cabinetry, and I remove this custom rolling barn door sort of contraption that Turkey wants to build between the laundry room and the kitchen (more savings!!). 

It is after this first week of work that TheMIG reviews Turkey's receipts, and leaves a check for the total.  Monday morning of week 2, Turkey calls to state that we are supposed to leave two checks.  One for him, and a separate one for his guy....and Turkey is positive he communicated that to us.  Well, he's wrong, and I can tell you why.  1) TheMIG were both there for the one check conversation, and that's two against one, and although occasionally have wax in my ears, collectively TheMIG and I are not insane.  2) The second point is that the moment we heard the words "two checks", TheMIG and I completely flipped. If we would have heard those words earlier, we would have flipped out earlier. You see, two checks means that his guy does not for him.  Two checks means that his guy works for us.  And we have no contract with his guy, which also means we haven't screened  him in the same way, and which also means that there are insurance implications if there is an injury on the job, etc etc.

 So that week, week 2, we do not write two checks, and Turkey and his guy and TheMIG spend a good portion of the week sorting things out, which amounts to Turkey having his guy a business license and our making sure we are not responsible for him as if we are his employer, because he is not our employee.  He is supposed to be working for the General Contractor we hired, who is...A Turkey.


2nd week on the job, Turkey informs us that the project is already set to run about 10% over budget.  Over the MAX number on his sclae.  We ask for an explanation as to how this could be happening, especially since I have removed so many costly features from the design plan, and he says something much longer than this, but it basically amounts to "well, projects ebb and flow."

Also, early on, we start shopping appliances. Now, there is a line item in the Turkey's budget for the cost of appliances, but being the former chef that I am, I know that what I want is more than what he has budgeted for.  So we all agree that the amount for appliances will be pulled as a line item and be take out of Turkey's budget, and it will be put into my own pocket, basically.  I will shop for what I want, using that amount and paying anything over that separately, myself, outside of the construction budget. To be clear, I ask what appliances we are talking about.  I am given the list, "fridge, stove, dishwasher...and washer and dryer since the laundry room is part of the kitchen remodel."  I ask if anything else is included in this amount like sinks or faucets? No. Sinks and faucets are in the line item for plumbing. Okay. And should I be shopping for the hood for the range?  No, because that is going to be a custom thing, and Turkey says, "So hood range is all on me."
Week 3, and the Turkey is having another budget meeting with us, and now his is claiming that the hood is part of my appliance purchase amounts, not his budget.  I should have known that because one shops for a hood range at an appliance store (?!).   I must tell you, a hood range for a 36" fancy stove is not a cheap thing.  Even more importantly in all of this, Turkey is once again making the case of, "That's not what I said."

It is also during this time that Turkey is sending us out to material houses to choose things like countertops and flooring.  At every location we go to, places he sends us, when the salespeople ask us who our contractor is, we get those sniggering looks (and comments!) I was describing earlier on.  The ones you get from your friends and his when you are sleeping with a dufus.

People. I could go on. And on. And on. There a more of these stories, several more, but you are sick of hearing it probably as much as I am sick of retelling it, but I really felt the need to give background to you because I am about to describe TheDayItAllWentToShit.
You ready??

Well, hate me, but...
I'm going to leave you with a cliffhanger.  This post is way too long, and I'm going to post what I have now and spend some more time today editing the rest.  Hang tight!


Jen Anderson said...

You ARE leaving him a bad review on Angie's list, right?