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Cover story: Good contractors handle big surprises
Question of the Day
Mr. Hodges-Fulton found a more serious electrical problem when he began a kitchen remodeling project on an older home.
“The intent was to remove a little bit of the plaster walls to run new wiring and plumbing for the kitchen upgrade,” Mr. Hodges-Fulton said. “What we found was old, frayed wiring with three or four burnt-out sections that clearly showed that electrical fires had started and then extinguished themselves behind the walls.”
While the discovery lengthened the renovation project by about three weeks and added a little more to the cost, the home now has all modern wiring and fixtures and is no longer a fire hazard.
“In the process of removing the plaster walls, we also discovered that there was some redundancy in the plaster and supports, so we were able to raise the first-floor ceiling by four inches,” Mr. Hodges-Fulton said.
Jim Crenca, a senior remodeling consultant with Case/Design Remodeling in Bethesda, worked with a homeowner after another contractor had failed to complete the work on a three-story addition to her home.
“The contractor and his subcontractors didn’t show up to work every day, and then he stopped returning her phone calls,” Mr. Crenca said. “She called Case to help her because she was left with a three-story shell with a roof and about $30,000 worth of windows that had been improperly installed. She had paid nearly the entire cost of the project but it was only about one-third built.”
Mr. Crenca said before he could touch the project, every part of it had to be documented and inspected, permits had to be changed and the homeowner had to go through the legal process of breaking the contract with the original contractor as well as the subcontractors.
“It would have been far less costly for us to do the job from the beginning,” Mr. Crenca said. “She had paid for a new slate roof, but the slate was extremely thin, improperly installed and not consistent with the elegance of the rest of the house. She had to spend another $24,000 just for new slate. Her original contractor had estimated a cost of $175,000 but we would have estimated about $275,000 for that job. In the end, it cost her more than $275,000.”
“After we added the second story and we were repairing some of the first-floor stucco, we discovered that the framing on the entire first floor had rotted from the inside out,” Mr. Briggs said. “It was not visible at all, but the old stucco had failed around the windows, and water had seeped in and rotted and mildewed the framing. We had to re-support the entire house and replace all the stucco, but now the house is healthier and energy-efficient.”
To avoid some of these issues, Mr. Weiss recommended keeping up with ongoing home maintenance projects and hiring a licensed, certified professional for all major projects.
Mr. Patterson said, “It always amazes me that people hire me without contacting my references. They tell me that they know a reference will only say positive things, but I think everyone should call and ask about issues that are important to them. For instance, if you’re concerned about the dust generated from a renovation, ask the reference about the contractor’s daily clean-up habits.”
Mr. Crenca said there are some tell-tale signs of a bad contractor, such as one that has no clear scope of work on paper, no firm fixed price and no project documentation.
“Every contractor needs to set a payment schedule tied to reasonable milestones,” Mr. Crenca said. “Legally, contractors must split the bill into three payments, one at signing, one when the project starts and one at completion. For big jobs, we spread it out to five or even 10 payments.”
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