Why You’ve Never Had a Good Contractor

Obviously this statement doesn’t apply to everyone, but I’ve heard it a few times lately from clients.

And I’ve been thinking about why.

And since that’s what I do best – figure out the answer to the question why – I’ve come up with a theory. Here it is:

Since I’m a decorator and not a renovator, I’m not consistently managing trades.

Why You've Never had a Good Contractor

Via-Sara-Kate-Studios

My experience in managing trades happened when I partnered up with an interior designer a few years ago. We managed our clients’ renovations together and at the start of every day she would talk to each trade and let them know exactly what she expected them to accomplish that day. She would also tell them how she wanted the job done and, if necessary, she would draw them a picture. No matter how small the job was, she made sure the trades knew exactly how the finished job should look.

As you know, I managed my renovation last spring and certainly went through my fair share of telling someone to install or paint or build or dig, etc, etc, and having them doing it differently to the way I wanted it done. Just because I had not covered every possible permutation of how to do a task, I ended up having jobs done differently than I intended.

Here’s a great example: during our landscape renovation project this past summer, (see all the before’s and after’s here)  I had a handyman in the backyard working on our fence. I was going out, so I told him that a truckload of topsoil was arriving and could he please ask the driver to dump it beside the driveway. Our front yard at the time was just plain dirt because it had been completely torn out.

When I got back home, where do you suppose the load of topsoil was?

In the front yard, beside the driveway like I asked?

Why You've Never had a good Contractor

No, it was on the ROAD beside the driveway, now in the way of our neighbours’ cars.

Suddenly, this made moving the soil from the road an emergency instead of something that was to happen the following week.

If you have ever managed a renovation, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So back to you, the homeowner, who is not a designer. You have a plan and lots of great ideas.  But because there are so many different ways of doing anything, if you don’t have the exact, detailed plan with every nut and bolt laid out as it should be and your contractor is (probably) not a designer either, then you end up with a case of the blind leading the blind.

The contractor builds something a particular way and you look at it to see if it’s what you wanted. He may have done a beautiful job, but because it wasn’t designed properly, you look at it certain it’s wrong but because you don’t know what to say to make it right, you let it go. But if you continue to do that throughout the whole renovation, you might end up with a house that isn’t as beautiful as it could have been.

Even designers who manage projects constantly and who know exactly what they are doing, have to fix stuff and get stuff re-done. It happens all the time.

Why You've Never Had a Good Contractor

Via Shortsister

Last week I spoke to a high-end interior designer who told me about a million dollar project she had completed where she spent $40,000 fixing things. It goes that way sometimes.

So many things can go sideways. The junior designer makes a mistake ordering the lighting, or the tile gets installed wrong and you didn’t see it until too late, or some material gets shipped but wasn’t received until it was too late to return it. . .

Not to mention we are all dealing with human beings, so it’s simply not reality to expect that everything on a renovation is going to go smoothly, without any delays, problems, errors, etc.

A good designer has to be able to imagine every detail of the end result as well as design and order all kinds of custom millwork and furniture to get a beautiful finished project.

So if you don’t have a designer and you hate the tile floor that’s just been installed, do yourself a favour and just take it out.

And know you aren’t the only one in the world who’s just made a mistake.

What’s the worst mistake your contractor ever made (to your eye)?

Related posts:

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage Your Expensive Renovation

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk up to the front door, become a client. On-line or In-person.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

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  1. I’ve actually never hired a contractor. But my husband is a licensed builder, and I ask him to do a lot things. I love him dearly, so it’s really hard when he doesn’t do things exactly the way I imagine them. Sometimes I ask him to do it differently when that happens, but sometimes I just change my vision. This is because I’m not paying him, and I have to share a bed with him. But if I were paying a contractor, I’d be having the contractor do it over if it wasn’t right.

    • Ha, my husband is the same way. When he gets around to doing things on our house list, he often jumps in with little or no notice to me and uses his own judgement as he works without consulting moi. Sometimes we have different visions. I’ve had to let a lot of things go and look at the larger picture 🙂

  2. O–is this ever true! No matter how detailed you try and describe it, somebody just doesn’t get it! Detailed drawings are your ONLY defense here. Even then, things can go awry. This is why it is a good idea to double the budget you “think” it’s going to cost….or learn to do it yourself.

  3. I love this article. I am begging you to start with picking a contractor…because i am new to my area and am terrified to do anything because I don’t know who to call and have no references. How do you find a decent contractor to start out with?

    • I can so relate to many of the comments here. My husband is a contractor also and whenever he finally gets around to our project I dare not say a word about how it turns out! Elizabeth – I tell people to go to their local small town hardware store and ask them to give you the names of a few reputable builders/renovators as they will surely know who their best and busiest clients are. Once you have your list be sure to ask the actual builders for references and confirm that they are insured. Be patient – if they are really good you might have to wait for an available time slot because they are in high demand. 🙂

  4. I found that a picture IS worth a thousand words when it came to communicating with builder and the tradespeople. I saved a lot of pictures in an idea book from Houzz and then flipped to the appropriate picture when it came to moulding detail for windows, base boards, the steel for our fireplace, even the kitchen I wanted. I maybe didn’t know the terms for the things I was looking for, but I did know what the finished look should be. It helped a tonne.

    • Carolyn, my contractor doesn’t seem to see the detail I am seeking to illustrate with those great Houzz shots…all he sees is a job that is way more than my budget, scratches his head, and goes and does what he thinks I want, which sometimes, isn’t. sigh

  5. Oh Lord is this a touchy subject.
    Here’s what it comes down to. Listening. Most people don’t listen to conversation let alone instruction. We are all guilty of it in some form.
    How many times are you at a store listening to mom? mom? mom? Or you are talking to someone and see their eyes wandering and hearing uh huh… knowing they don’t hear a word you are saying.

    I am almost done having a home built.
    Can you say never again?!
    I am the most organized person.
    I provide pictures, drawings, list.
    I take the house plan, delete all writing on the plan and draw where I want lights. I color code things. Hanging lights, recessed lights, etc. Are they there? No. They are where it was easy.
    Then I hear – I’m not moving it. It doesn’t matter if I ask nice or if I get angry.
    Go ahead and say push for it you are paying a lot of money. I know that! It doesn’t mean they’ll do it.
    What happens if you don’t stroke and talk nice? You don’t get called back. The work gets done without telling you.
    I’ve had the builder yell at me, I’ve had the electrician say I am not moving it. Even though it was something they did wrong.
    I’m professional, not whiny. I don’t nag, I’m precise yet nothing has worked.
    They will do it the way want, the easy way – all they care about is it gets done.
    We have a list that is longer of what to do once we move in than the list of wants with building the house just because it’s not worth it anymore!
    You can do all your homework in the world and talking to people.
    You have to have luck on your side by finding that one person that truly cares about their profession and you the customer or connections in knowing someone.
    And a strong stomach.
    That or a bottle. LOL!

    • I am sorry that you have had such a bad experience. Your story is certainly not unique, but there good stories, too. We built a house several years ago, and it was a great experience. We are about to undertake a major renovation/addition of a different house. Contractor selection is the most important decision one can make. We are getting quotes from 5 different contractors. I have asked each one for a list of his last five projects in addition to his references (which don’t carry a lot of weight with me, as I expect them to say good things about the contractor). I have contacted the prior clients and asked lots of questions. I ask about communication with the contractor, cleanliness of the worksite, quality of the sub-contractor workmanship, staying on budget and timeline, and what the client liked and disliked about the contractor. I am also asking the contractors what projects they expect to have concurrent with mine. I know what I will and will not tolerate with a contractor, and have eliminated ones that have gotten mediocre reviews. I have spent a lot of time (several months) vetting the contractors, but feel the time is well spent. I hope I have a good story to tell this time next year.

      • Maribeth,
        I am married to a very busy contractor with a great reputation who does quality work – not to brag but we have never had to advertise but just work on referrals and repeat clients. You might be interested to hear that a good contractor is also interviewing you to see if you are a good fit with his personality. Some clients don’t think of the job from his perspective. Sometimes you need a small job waiting in the wings on a rainy day or when a hiccup stops the project for a short period of time. He has to keep his employees working. It’s a give and take on both ends. Good luck with your project 🙂

        • I agree with you Carolyn, it’s a give and take on both ends. My husband is a busy contract with a great reputation who does superior work as well. We have a waiting list and the referrals are constant. My husband and I work well together and I find myself drawing the picture instead of describing it.
          Good luck with your project Maribeth !

    • Hi Patti! I have kept up with your building project and know what you’ve gone through. It is too horrible for words! No one would believe some of your stories. I hope you are able to finish soon and move in and most of all love it even with all that you’ve gone through. Good luck!!!

    • I think that is where a well worded contract can help you out! If it’s in the contract, and they aren’t doing it, then they are breach and you don’t need to pay them. That might convince them to fix something.

  6. A friend called in tears. After waiting for 15 years she was renovating her 3 Boys Friendly Yard into an adult entertaining spot. The block patio was the main focal point in the small yard. The reason for the tears? The color of the blocks was too orange and clashed with the entire world. She hated it but felt responsible as she had chosen the color. But she found the courage to tell the contractor to re-do that part of the patio. Now she looks at her patio and proudly remembers that she made the perfect decision to fix her original mistake.

  7. There’s also an issue that while a homeowner’s and contractor’s desired outcome for a job are the same in some aspects, their goals can diverge: the homeowner wants a job done beautifully and the contractor wants the job done.

    His goal to finish the job asap can lead to shortcuts or not taking the time to check in with the homeowner.

    On one recent non-residential job, contractors did not finish drywall well, and every seam could clealy be seen after painting. A second painter had to be brought in to re-finish walls.

  8. I think this is true where ever you have a project that separates the idea originator from the person actually accomplishing it. Landscape, Interior, Builder, Software development, Food preparation, etc. For those who have been through any project more than once and you ARE the idea originator, you have to become very type A micromanaging every step of the process. When there really is nothing that would make me happier than to hand something off and just let it happen. And sometimes I do that and am very pleased with the results. But if it really matters, you really need to attend to those details! and be present during the process…OR, let someone else be the idea originator and let them run with it… 🙂

    • Agree. And there’s another area where homeowners (or designers) and contractors diverge. Contractors just love being micromanaged. ; )

  9. I had a half wall being turned into a bar. My contractor said it should be one height and my kitchen guy said it should be another so I went with the kitchen guy. The contractor spent all day putting the bar in. When I sat down in the kitchen I couldn’t see out the window! I had completely lost my view! The next day the contractor came back and I said I’m sorry I know you spent all day putting that in but it has got to go. 20 minutes later it was gone and thank goodness because my husband would have killed me.

  10. We all make mistakes or oversights. They have to be fixed or they become the focal point of the project. People often show me something new and immediately point out the flaw. I was recently in a beautiful house under construction. The owner thought that there would be a door between the mud room area and their kitchen (wrong), so they decided to do the tile in the mudroom themselves. The tile is COMPLETELY different from the size, style, and color that the builder is to install in the kitchen. They are settling for this debacle instead of fixing it because they don’t want to spend any more money. I know that everyone who gets the house tour will have the mistake pointed out to them. Don’t just settle, have it fixed.

  11. Oh…I have several stories from the reno of my last music studio.

    The floor layer turned out to be a fraud (but had all the right answers and equipment when I hired him). He laid the floor tiles upside down and backwards and splashed glue EVERYwhere …ceiling, walls…wow. It only took one afternoon for him to do this.

    I remember the day we walked in. I knew suddenly as I was unlocking the door (and couldn’t even see the floor yet) that something was wrong. One of those kismet-gut-feeling things.

    We got rid of him and ended up having to pay more for an emergency tiler because of our deadlines for the floor to be done so other things could happen.

    The tiles were not available in the quantities we needed and some of the tiles could not be replaced because of the that. It was a puzzle-piecing thing in the end and it turned out all right because the space was intended for children but it did kind of look like a cirque du soleil costume in parts.

    Then the guy working on the heat pump fell thru the roof with a lit blow torch. He didn’t tell anyone. I saw that a newly drywalled part of the ceiling was hanging down funny and started asking questions. No one would admit to anything.

    Luckily, my husband used to own a giant building company so knew how to talk to the “men”…oy. We found out what happened and they (mostly) fixed it.

    Later when the storage cupboards were being installed I discovered some of the knobs didn’t have long enough screws to go thru the doors. I left my husband to install the knobs we did have.

    When I returned he had very carefully drilled holes for the knobs a set distance from the bottom edge of the doors. This worked quite well for the bottom cupboards. You can imagine when he and his buddy called me in to see their finished work.

    Not only were the knobs near the top of the cupboard doors for the bottom units…but also near the top of the doors for the top units. It meant only the Friendly Giant (and my 6’4” husband) would have any hope of reaching the knobs.

    Luckily it was my husband’s mistake so I could have a loud and furious temper tantrum at the actual culprit. He took his buddy and ran for cover. I fixed the problem in the end by taking the doors off, turning them upside down and reinstalling them myself.

    There are more…I’ll stop there:)

  12. We installed a new Poggenpohl kitchen two years ago. The kitchen designer had spent many hours on layout and finishes. The general contractor was great. The process was much smoother than an earlier kitchen remodel. We were pleased when countertops were installed and everything was working, after not having a kitchen for several months. When cooking my first meal, I felt something was “off”. I realized that the countertop and backsplash were the wrong color- we had ordered Caesarstone Organic White and Buttermilk was installed (talk about undertones!). The designer did what many do “oh this is what you ordered, it is perfect!”. I was unsure so pulled out the paperwork and saw the original order for Organic White. She got back to us- $4,000 credit or reinstall. Over budget already, we took the credit. The kitchen is nice but maybe less than perfect.

  13. Have a dream team, took almost 3 decades to get here. Between us over a century of experience.

    General contracting is now a college degree program. Have worked with some of those interns. Not impressed, worse, seemed they were being educated to ‘avoid’ w-o-r-k.

    Getting here? It was the rare contractor who was honest, would return a phone call, show up on time. 25% or more were misogynistic. A higher percentage smelled of metabolizing booze in the mornings.

    Contractor say ‘no’? Typically meant they did not know how to do it or didn’t want to buy a new tool to get the job done. Mistake? Never the contractor’s fault, never. Blame it on a vendor, customer, my plan.

    None of the negatives with my current team. Now you know why I adore them !! So do my clients.

    Looking forward to your webinar .

    Garden & Be Well, xO TARa

  14. Our biggest home improvement blunders have stemmed from (a) making decisions too fast and (b) not screening the contractor properly, like the State Contractor’s License Board advises you to. Two decisions in particular were bad (a) install quartzite tile (busy/bumpy/rough) as interior flooring, and (b) a $5,000 fishpond that didn’t work. Now, before all major decisions, we stop and discuss things over pie and coffee at a restaurant. We ask ourselves, “Is this a pie moment?”

  15. Try to find a contractor with a really good eye for details! Mine is married to a very high end realtor, and he’s as picky as I am – a perfect situation!

  16. No real contractor experience but a picture IS worth a thousand words and an image is just as good. When the guys were installing my new AC unit, the leader mentioned they could install solar screens on my old single-pane windows to make them more energy-efficient, and he brought in a screen to show me. I’d already decided sometime before that I hated the appearance of these ugly black screens on some other houses. When he showed me the screen against my window and I commented that it was very dark, he flipped “Oh, yeah, it’ll be like looking out the window on an overcast day.” Don’t ever conjure up that image to a craver of sunlight such as moi. Happily, I’ve found a simpler, cheaper and pleasing solution and don’t even need it on all my windows.

    This all makes me think of the current GEICO commercial “Did you know the ancient pyramids were a mistake?” showing the guy viewing the pyramids in the distance and then looking at the plans in his hand showing a bunch of cubes, and his young assistant beside him looking cluelessly through his box of rolled-up plans. The “Uh-oh” is priceless.

  17. I wonder if the delivery person had enough room to back his truck in and deliver the soil in your yard. The street doesn’t appear very wide and he would have needed to back in perpendicular to your curb. On the plus side, at least he didn’t drive on the neighbors lawn across the street or damage your new concrete.

    • Every other load of dirt was dumped onto our front yard. This story was just an fun way to make my point, not to be taken that seriously. Thanks for your comment. Maria

  18. I had the entire living area of my house gutted and re-swizzled. BIG learning curve but I did do a few things right: 1. Check the work EVERY day, at least once a day to catch things early. 2. Meet with your contractor weekly 3. Changes are easier and cheaper to make now rather than living with them until you can’t anymore, then changing them. 4. For major home renovations, invest in software that allows you to see the end result in 3-D (this does require you inputting all the detailed measurements etc so you have to be a little computer savvy to use it).

  19. Neighbors recently completed a big finish carpentry job with a contractor who had a great portfolio and many good references from people in the community. The job was substantially completed and he came to their door in tears. He revealed that he has been operating in the US without documentation for ten years. He is now incarcerated, expecting to learn from immigration whether he will be deported. Oh, he did a good job but said he was licensed and that was never thoroughly researched (he charged as much as the fully licensed and insured competition).

  20. It makes me feel better to know everyone experiences these issues with jobs not getting done exactly as you intended.

    We have a lot of contractors in the family. In my experience, it is even harder to work with people you love and care about.

    On my current house build, we are working with a “stranger” and I feel a lot more comfortable speaking up and making changes than I have in the past working with family.

  21. From experience: #1 Don’t be afraid to ask work to stop mid-job if you really don’t like how it’s turning out or if things seem off and the contractor is unable to provide a satisfactory explanation. #2 Don’t let a contractor talk you into (or get away with) his or her design alternation unless you like it. You have to live with it and there is no reason to live with what you don’t like best just to save someone else some time (unless of course there is a significant cost difference to you or a bigger relationship at play). #3 Be patient.

  22. Don’t know why but I love reading these stories.

    We have done the vast majority of work ourselves and have had great experiences with the contractors we did hire. Hopefully our upcoming floor install goes as smoothly – husband hurt his back so we are not able to do it 🙁

    One exception – we had to have an electrical panel replaced before we could move in so I let the guy in, walked through his plans, and then had to head to work. The previous panel had the permit on the inside – the new panel has the permit on the outside.

    Super trivial, except now I can’t paint the panel to blend in with the wall. I hung a picture over it instead, but that picture has to be moved every time we do electrical type work and every time I see that ugly label I wish I’d thought to ask that one little question.

  23. I have a solution to the horror stories so many of us have had with our construction projects- hire a reputable design-build company! I’m an interior designer who works for one of these firms. We have our own designers, project managers, and carpenters in house, so communication is pretty effective. The trades people we use are chosen by the quality of their work, rather than price. We have everything designed, drawn and specified before construction starts. The home owner knows the exact price and schedule, and we stick to that. Of course, sometimes things go sideways, but problems are minimized and solutions are found. We want our clients to be thrilled! Because of that, most of our work comes from referrals. In this case, you really do get what you pay for, and in the end the value is in getting what you want without a lot of frustration or costly mistakes.

  24. I know a friend who had the perfect contractor for an addition. Truly amazing … but sadly he died of a heart attack before he finished the job.

  25. I guess communicating with contractors really is a universal problem. Even when you think you have covered all the bases you don’t dare leave the premises. I had the opening for a window shortened to bring it up to cabinet height. The new window arrived and was installed with the inside out. It never occurred to me this would be something I would have to point out to a contractor.

    • You reminded me of something. I wanted another window in our kitchen to get more view. Instead of the window being installed vertically to match the other windows, it was installed horizontally. : )

  26. Never had much success micro-managing any Contractor. I’d recommend, instead, picking a Contractor or builder whose eye for detail and quality of construction matches your personal preferences. Overly detailed plans don’t help much either as almost all Contractors rarely look at the plans unless there is a dispute.

    While I’d recommend the preparation of plans and elevations by a designer or architect, and the liberal use of “idea photos”, AND daily communication with your contractor, they typically perform to a consistent level of aesthetic and construction quality. Look for a Contractor whose projects reflect what you are looking for and you will save a great deal of time and money.

  27. Being married to a paint contractor (and being a decorative painting contractor myself), I second the suggestion to have photos or drawings to communicate what you want! May I also say that it’s important to come clean to the contractor if something got installed or ordered as specified but you (the client/homeowner) just don’t like it now that it’s in the space! These things aren’t like a dress that can be returned to Neiman’s. Both Peter and I have dealt with clients who try to get a free re-do on properly-installed finishes, simply because they realized too late that they should’ve picked something lighter/darker/less busy. Those situations don’t happen every day (thank goodness), but I personally know several contractors who’ve been in business for decades and do top-notch work but are soured on clients in general because people try to take advantage. Bottom line: communicate clearly, be fair to your contractor!

  28. Oh I love hearing about what it really takes to get a design implemented that way the originator sees it. I’ve had so many people tell me I just want to control everything, but really I just want it to be done a certain way and I know that if I don’t watch it and be very specific, it will be what they want and not what I want! Thank you, thank you. Validation is so nice.

  29. I once had a new side door put in, and the contractor decided it wasn’t “centered” in the space, (looking from the inside of a very short hallway). Without asking me, he completely re-did the opening. After that, it was not centered from the outside of our house, where everyone could see it when they drove up the street! He ended up making things looks worse instead of better.

  30. Hi Maria,
    It’s no wonder contractors have a bad reputation. I won’t add my experiences to the list but lets just say that if we can’t do it ourselves, it won’t be happening.

  31. Well this was certainly a hot topic. I’ve had my share as well. It just shows you how valuable great tradespeople are. Those that take pride in their work, ask the right questions, follow the blueprints, and in my case get to know my ‘likes’. I think being on site is critical for some details, like hanging lights for example… And lastly, I want them to call me immediately if they have any questions. Great topic Maria!

  32. Any time you’re not starting from scratch, there are so many points where it couldn’t be known a decision would be required before the project was started. DIY is a constant stream of thinking and making decisions about how to do things. It’s a constant battle against circumstance, prior neglect and/or sloppiness and/or cheapness. If I have to interrupt the main project and carry out a new project to make some detail right, sometimes doing that three layers deep, that’s just what it takes. Even if something isn’t done 100 percent the way I want it to be, I know exactly what compromises were made and why. I know I can live with them, and I know what to expect in the future as a result. Every contractor I’ve ever seen will simply carry forward with the job as quickly as possible. If there’s something that makes it less than good, he’ll figure out how to work around it, or simply accept a poor result, because that’s not his problem. It is all my problem, because I have to live with it.

  33. I happen to be a homeowner, designer and DIY-er, but primarily a stay-at-home mom for this season in my life. That could either be really great or a series of Sybil moments, haha.
    I can cut wood better than I sew curtains but I do both when needed. So I understand, to a certain degree, the complexities of the vision to the finished result. But constant communication is the key.
    I just helped a good friend recover from what you just described happening between her and the contractors she hired to remodel. She only gave verbal instructions and ended up with weeks worth of little accomplished, much money spent and a change of the original vision and plans.
    Sketching on graph paper and using pictures helps convey ideas. Men are visual so make sure they “see” what the homeowner or designer “sees”.

  34. A contractor was supposed to remove a tall window from our bedroom and replace it with a door. He removes the window then realizes he doesn’t have the skill to properly deal with the brick during the door installation. So he puts plastic over the opening and does not return for over 2 weeks. Anyone could have walked into our home at any time. Our phone calls and emails go unanswered until … some detective work helps us track down his parents. Amazing: Mom got her adult son to return to the abandoned job. Yay for mothers everywhere!

  35. Guess we all have our stories.
    The bottom line, personalities will clash but the job is what is important, that and communication – so so important!!
    We will move into our home in 2 weeks. It is meticulous, well done and so far just lovely.
    It’s been a wild ride and one we still most likely wouldn’t do again. I know – never say never.
    But we won’t have to worry, most likely staying here!
    Good luck to all with your projects!

    Dianne, it will be my turn to be here for you in a few months! LOL! …I’ll be here! Good Luck!

  36. Did a 4 year reno to interior and exteior of our home. Still have new backyard fence and exterior painting to go. This is a giant house with over 6300 sq ft. We did it in 3 phases and the 2 general design/build firms were horrible! They came with great rep’s but it was a battle. It didn’t matter if I showed them what I wanted and begged for it. The only one that “got it” was the kitchen designer. This was a $2 mil.+ remodel. I am suffering PTSD from it all. I’m not kidding. Maybe just a bit. Our house is older but not old enough to be “cool old” just @ 24 years old. Just in time for us to tear out all the ugly orangey oak. Even the doors and the moldings. The only ones we left were the crowns as they are white and built up. I wish I had taken the wainscot off in the LR and DR. We didn’t. We will re-do it someday, maybe? They did not get it. They just didn’t get it. I have a huge formal staircase rising from the large foyer. They wanted to do wrought iron. I knew they were not smart enough to do cool wrought iron like in some old, trad houses. I wanted walnut steps with white risers and white spindles and a dark hand rail. Was that too much to ask? They insisted on not doing full width walnut on the stairs. The carpet is inlaid. OH dear. Thank goodness I didn’t let them do inlaid carpet in the hallways. I am NOT kidding. That is what the original design/build firm wanted to do. The only thing I really like about the stair case carpet is that it is wool. It’s patterned. I have to have carpeted stairs. There are a lot of them and they are kind of steep. Wider at the bottom. We have a back stair case that is totally carpeted. Different carpet. Don’t get me started on the interior designer. She cost us huge $ in that she really messed up our master bath. Tried to put too much into it. My husband and I had to re-design the bath. With the second general, we had to correct all his errors, too. Sheesh. Just how much would one have to pay to get exactly what they wanted? We will never get out of this house all the $ we have put into it. Oh well. It’s more how we wanted it now than it was. Doubly hard because we built our previous house from the foundation up with the best contractor in the world. Different part of the country and much different style of house. Due to all the overruns and such I have not had a budget for decor on this house. So I make do. This summer I am paring down and selilng as much as I can. I give up on the contractors. We did have some outstanding subs. The problem is that the surrounding houses are all complete custom (as was this one) on acre to 2 acre lots, and the contractors drive up and immediately their bids go up 20%. Arrgh. Did I get my $2-3 mil. worth. No. Is my house more pleasant, yes. For what price? My sanity?

  37. While this is not a design “mistake” per se, my (no fired) contractor’s biggest mistake was not securing and posting my remodeling/building permit prior to starting work. As someone who has never hired a contractor or done any large renovations, I failed to realize until after a week of work that the permit was not in place. His (our) contract’s very first line item said, “All proper fees and permits will be secured prior to job starting and all licences, bonds, and insurance will be in place.” Didn’t happen. Do your homework carefully when hiring, and DON’T let him/her pull so much as a single nail until you’ve verified permits, they are posted, and you’ve seen true copies of all the other pertinent documents. Also, we paid this gentle FAR too much money upfront. He wanted 1/3 down at signing with another 1/3 the first day of demo. I should have realized when he asked if he could bump up the work schedule by a full two weeks, he was just trying to get his second full payment faster. We hired him to redo several areas of our home (kitchen, master bath, deck, laundry, exterior areas, etc.), so it was in excess of $200 K. Rather than just paying him some money for each separate area, he requested the percentages on the entire scope–far too much. In the end of the first week (when they pulled the permit because of my inquiry), I discovered he had lied to our Building Department on the scope of work, was using an unlicensed plumber/electrician, falsified my husband’s signature on an entirely different contract he submitted to our town’s department, and listed large, union sub-contractors when they were not doing any of the work. This is just the short list. Now, we have a lawyer involved, a torn up house with a bit of the work started, and headaches. Hoping to get back at least $120 K out of $130 K paid so far, but we then have our legal fees. Moral of the story: the design issues matter greatly, but don’t make sure the contract is fair and that the contractor isn’t trying to pull that beautiful wool over your eyes.

  38. Maria, I’m sorry. I copied and pasted my reply so I could correct my too many typos. I inadvertently copied and pasted more than just my comments. If you are able to edit the replies, please delete the excess so my comment doesn’t “junk up” your site! Great work, by the way! I’m learning so much from you. Thank you!