Our roof repair: A typical tale of working with contractors

My wife and I have been homeowners for nearly twenty years. In that time, we've done a lot of home improvement ourselves. But we've also learned when it's best to hand projects to the pros. (To be honest, this is most of the time.) It's great to be able to do small jobs yourself, but it's also important to recognize when something's beyond your ability.

During the past 18+ years, we've learned that working with contractors always seems to follow a similar pattern. I'm not sure it has to be like this, but it generally seems to be so. To illustrate our typical experience, I took notes on our most recent repair job. Today I'll share our tale.

Note: At the recent Financial Blogger Conference, a lot of folks expressed fondness for the Personal Finance Hour, the podcast that I used to do with Jim from Bargaineering. I'll admit I'd forgotten about it. That was a fun gig. Here's an episode we did about home improvement.

A Leak in the Roof

Our homeIn 2004, we bought a hundred-year-old farmhouse on more than half an acre. It's a lovely place in a park-like setting, but it's also a bit of a money pit. There's often something going wrong.

We've had trouble with the roof, for instance, since the first summer we moved in. Initially, we blamed the insulation contractors, who had cut holes in the roof for added ventilation but then failed to adequately seal around their work. As a result, the vents eventually developed large leaks.

It turns out, however, that the shoddy vents were only part of the problem. One section of the roof is essentially flat, which means it needs a different kind of roofing material than most of us are used to. When the previous owner last installed a new roof, he cut corners. (He was always cutting corners. Many of our woes are because the previous owner did his own work and cut corners.)

As a result, the flat section of the roof developed a leak. Or several. While I was traveling in July, Kris called me in a panic to tell me that Portland was having a severe rainstorm and that water was pouring into an upstairs bedroom — right next to my precious comic books. My comics were safe, thank goodness, but this certainly spurred me to action.

The roofing problem was one reason I canceled my planned trip to England. I stayed home, called contractors, and shepherded the project toward its slow completion.

Choosing a Contractor

Whenever we're faced with hiring a contractor, we get multiple bids for the job. This time was no different. We like to take recommendations from friends, though this doesn't work in every instance. This time, for instance, nobody we knew had worked with a roofer recently. Instead, I contacted five or six local roofers via the web. On August 2nd, three of them came out to look at the roof.

  • The first guy had been with his company for 37 of its 42 years. I liked him. He pulled up a section of the roofing to reveal that “the guy who did this didn't know what the hell he was doing”. It was just one layer (instead of three) over some felt paper. “No wonder it's leaking,” he said. “It doesn't surprise me at all.” There were already soft spots in the plywood too that need to be dealt with. He said the job would be expensive, but the work would be designed to last a lifetime. The job would take him two or three days, and he was two or three weeks out. (I can't find his bid or I'd share it here; it was highest of the three.)
  • The next guy was young, but I thought he was sharp and observant. He noted that the leak wasn't under the actual roof we were standing on, and tried to figure out where it might be coming from. He tracked the crease between the flat roof and the angled roof, and he found a soft spot with an “eyehole”. “That's the leak,” he said. He tracked down other spots where water might got in, and also a spot where the water was likely flowing out. He downplayed the expense, saying it was no more expensive than any other roofing material. The job would take about a day, and he was about one week out. He gave us a bid of $2800.
  • Like the first two contractors, the final fellow didn't think much of our roof. But he didn't really get down and look at it. When I told him our previous leak had been through a vent, he yanked on the current vent and said, “I think it's here again.” He too thought our current roofing was a poor option for Oregon. He recommended tearing it off (and tearing off the shingles on the ridges around the flat roof), laying down a three-ply roofing system, and then installing new shingles back over the top. He said the job would take two days, but they were at least a month out, and probably more. He quoted $3500.

After meeting with all three men and getting their bids, we decided to go with the second company. They seemed to have the clearest idea of what needed to be done, they had the lowest price, and they could start almost immediately. It almost seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Repairs

The first sign of trouble was the constant delay. We're used to contractors putting us off, but this company did it again. And again. And again. When I met with the representative on August 2nd, he told me they could start within a week. HA! They didn't actually begin work until September 8th. Fortunately — or perhaps not — the job only took a day.

Mid-way through the repair, the company called me with bad news. “A lot of the plywood is rotten,” they told me. “That's why it was so soft. It'll take an extra four or five hours. And we'll have to charge your for material.” So, as usual, the cost on our planned repair ballooned. I should have been wary when the crew was still able to finish the job in a day despite the “extra four or five hours” replacing the plywood was going to take.

As I've mentioned before, we've been paying our neighbor Chris to do some handyman stuff around the place. He's been under-employed for a while, and I have more writing work than I do time, so this seems like a good exchange. (It's one way in which I value my time.) So, we paid Chris to climb up and paint the patches that had been uncovered by the roofing project. When he did, he found problems.

Roof repair woes! Roof repair woes! Roof repair woes!
A gallery of photos of the botched roof repair. Click on an image to see a larger version.

Chris actually has experience with construction management, and is well-versed in the ways of roofing. He was flabbergasted at the quality of workmanship (or the lack thereof). “This looks like it was just rushed through,” he said. He borrowed a digital camera to take photos of all the things that were wrong with the repair. “If I were you,” he said, “I'd get them back out here to fix this. Otherwise you're still going to have leaks.”

I called the roofing company and asked them to send somebody out. To their credit, they were very contrite. They responded quickly and efficiently. They took copies of our digital photos back to the office, promising to send a crew out by the end of the week to make things right. And they did. They installed new flashing and caulked the spots where they'd nailed through the shingles. They spent several hours fixing their foul-up — at no additional charge to us, of course.

When they were through, Chris and I climbed back up on the roof. “Well, it's not perfect,” he told me. “But I'll admit that any further complaints would probably just be seen as nit-picking. They could have done better work, but this should be fine. Just keep an eye on things.”

So, we think things are fine, but I still a harbor a few worries. Every time it rains, I go upstairs and check to make sure there's no leak over my comic books. I don't do this just once, either. I'm sort of compulsive about it. Meanwhile, I dream of the day when we hire a contractor who is punctual, thorough, and reasonably priced. There are times I think this will never happen.

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Becka
Becka
8 years ago

Oof. We had a virtually identical experience last winter getting some work done on the house. Having to take other people’s word for it, and basically do little more than make an educated guess about who’s the best person for the job, is definitely my least favorite thing about home ownership.

David
David
8 years ago

Why do people / companies do this?

The contractors, mechanics, etc. that I know who treat people fairly, take pride in their work, and charge a reasonable price are so incredibly busy with work from word-of-mouth alone.

Why can’t people figure out that it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good business?

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  David

I agree. I used to work as a contractor, and followed the same work ethic. For a number of years, I worked as a sub for a large remodeling outfit. They gave me twice as much work as any of the other 20+ subs, many of which were 2-3 man crews, to my 1 man crew (myself). I was the guy often called in to fix others’ screw-ups – which was pretty rough, given the customers were raving mad by that point. When I was done with them, they loved me, still hated the other sub, and were only angry… Read more »

margot
margot
8 years ago
Reply to  David

I have always wondered the same thing! And I’ve wished I wanted to be a contractor of some sort. It seems SO EASY to make tons of money – just do the very basics that I would do in any job of being professional and honest. Show up on time, charge a fair price, do what you say you’ll do, and finish roughly on time. Shouldn’t be hard! I’m amazed and saddened that so many awful people get to continue in the industry.

BB
BB
8 years ago

I never go with cheapest bid for anything. Usually the middle bid works out right. From your description though, I would have chosen the last bid with the assumption that I might have to re-roof completely. Here in NJ it’s not uncommon for roofers to find rotten subroofing, which of course adds time and expense to the job. One day to roof that house– seems too fast. It took 3 days to re-roof our 60 year old split level. Did you pay the roofer before a final inspection? Don’t people usually withhold payment of final installment until all work is… Read more »

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  BB

I rarely if ever go with the lowest bid either. Usually that’s because there’s something about what that person said or did that bothers me too, but the lowest bid is almost guaranteed to go UP. I’ve also had success in asking about different ways to do things with the higher bids — sometimes there are ways to decrease the scope of the job, change some of the materials, etc. Wouldn’t likely have worked for a roof that needed lots of work, though. I’m guessing in this case that they just redid the flat part of the roof, not the… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

My parents have been going through some of the same things with their house. Our contractors were decent (they had to be; we had hurricane damage and the insurance company wouldn’t pay the contractor until their inspector said the job was good), but they have had issues because of the work the people before them did. Of course, they did everything themselves, too. Re-wired electricity, moved around some doors, roofing, vent work. A mess.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

Jen and BB essentially said what I was thinking: the lowest bid rarely ends up being the least expensive. I can’t remember the last time I went with the lowest bid on anything: they’ve usually either left something out or are just trying to secure the business.

Sorry you had to go through this, ugh. The roof is one area where I would be more likely to pick the higher bid, with the more-established company. Just too much to lose.

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  Jen

My father is in construction, though he’s not a contractor, and that is definitely true.

What is the definition of “reasonably priced”? And what happens when the lowest bid keeps ballooning–maybe higher than the experienced guy who knows how to fix the job and give the customer an accurate bid?

STRONGside
STRONGside
8 years ago

We have a good friend who is a contractor and a home inspector. As much as possible, I ask him to vet all of the contractors that we have ever needed to work on our home. It never fails though, that the time when he is unavailable, we find a lemon on a contractor and end up paying big time.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago

Hello, everyone. I’ve been following along behind the scenes as April manages Get Rich Slowly in my absence. But I’m about to go off-grid for an ENTIRE WEEK for the first time in fifteen years. Can you believe it?

Remember, you can see my adventures in Peru so far at Far Away Places. I’ll check back in when I return to Cuzco in seven or eight days.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Dude, I hope you didn’t miss the Perú-Paraguay game.

ps- oh! editing is back! bravo, sir!

Jennifer+B
Jennifer+B
8 years ago

Sounds to me like the moral of this story is that you should have gone with expensive contractor number one, who had identified rotten spots in the wood at the time he gave you your bid. What is the value of not feeling like you have to check your roof for leaks every time it rains (in Portland!)? That’s worth a lot to me (in Seattle). I also think that it’s a clue that the contractor you went with was “available almost immediately” – why were they so available in the high season for re-roofing? The fact that others weren’t… Read more »

catherine
catherine
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer+B

I agree. I just took the highest bid for some plumbing & heating work I’m getting done because he had a real passion for quality fittings and doing work properly. Already it’s paying off: he’s been round several times including weekends to sort out issues, including fixing the toilet which wasn’t even in the original scope of work, and has done it all for nothing over the original price. I paid the first installment promptly and now he can’t be helpful enough. Worth every penny (and he wasn’t that much more than the others anyway).

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

The only time we go with the cheapest bid is when it is a straightforward project having nothing to do with foundational or even cosmetic things in our house. For instance, we had some really ugly and near dead trees at the back of our lot that needed to be removed. They weren’t anywhere close to the house, so shoddy removal wouldn’t hurt our home. You’d be amazing at how wildly the bids on tree removal vary. We noticed that some companies have fancy bucket trucks that need to be maintained. Anyway, we went with the cheapest guys with a… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

One of the people we asked for a quote on tree removal showed up on a motorcycle. He gave us a straightforward quote (lowest we got by far), had a day available and lived nearby. He did awesome work on the agreed-upon day (tree was GONE quick with no hazards to anyone) and the next time we needed a tree removed we called him again.

Kris
Kris
8 years ago

We had a roof nightmare in our old house, and it was so frustrating. Like you said, every time it rained, I would be all nervous that it was going to rain in my family room. Sometimes it did, it literally depended on which way the wind blew. Our problem was not covered by insurance eitehr because the roof was replaced by the previous homeowner and not a licensed contractor. We went through 7 contractors and the problem was never solved. We sold the house (fully disclosed the issue) and we found out the issue was actually with the siding… Read more »

Miser+Mom
Miser+Mom
8 years ago

It strikes me that an important step that got left out of this process is checking references. I always ask contractors to give me a list of people they’ve done work for, and whom I can call. I call at least three people on each list, and I ask about things like promptness, and thoroughness. For me, that is just as important as the price they quote — maybe even more so, since, as you point out, the price usually changes anyway!

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

Such good advice! We learned this the hard way after parting ways with a very expensive and worthless architect.

We did get a reference, too, but one is NOT enough. In fact, I wish I had asked around more–not just previous clients but people in the construction business who had worked with the guy. We heard so many stories later, but by then we’d already fired him and lost a lot of money.

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

That’s great advice, and something I do, too. I also look at the contractors’ licensing websites that are run by the state (in some states like Washington and Oregon–other states don’t require that contractors be licensed) to see if there are any complaints. I’ve done well with all the Angie’s list contractors I’ve used so it was worth the $10 fee.

Lannie
Lannie
8 years ago

You said
“Meanwhile, I dream of the day when we hire a contractor who is punctual, thorough, and reasonably priced. There are times I think this will never happen.”
You’re right – you won’t ever get that.
Good work doesn’t come cheap. There is an old saying: “good, quick, cheap – pick any 2” 🙂
I often pick the dearest quote that doesn’t give me a feeling they are padding. It gets me a better quality of work, because they can afford to do it properly.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  Lannie

When I was a contractor, I was all three. However, I did not make enough money at it to make it my life’s employment, so I went into another field.

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago
Reply to  Lannie

This was my thought too. My dad and uncles have been in construction literally all their lives and they learned it from my grandfather. They are GOOD and fast but they don’t work cheap. Even so, if you ask anyone in the business they are well-known.

K.B.
K.B.
8 years ago

I’m with the others – low bid and immediate availability are red flags for me! I’ve been going through my own contractor hell, including a new roof to replace the other “new” roof that was less than 10 years old (previous owner). The roof leaked in two different areas – around the chimney and where the flat-roofed addition was built onto the main house, the vents weren’t installed properly (it helps to actually cut holes in the plywood under the vents, you know?), unused vents and stove chimneys weren’t removed before the roof was put in (and one, while capped… Read more »

SMS
SMS
8 years ago
Reply to  K.B.

Google street view? That would be funny if it weren’t so lazy. Sad. Poor way to run a business.

Tara
Tara
8 years ago

If you want quality, you have to pay for it. Reasonably priced will probably always mean a rushed/shoddy job. If you want a good product, you will have to pay for the workmanship & the hours of labor that go into a job. If you don’t want to pay for labor, then you will get crap work. How much per hour do you think contractors shouldn’t make?

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

I’m in the fortunate position of having a contractor that I can call for anything – I don’t even bother getting bids from anyone else any more. His company has re-sided my house (built in 1837) totally re-done my kitchen, repaired chimneys and done countless other small jobs – always promptly, with quality work and at a reasonable price. I knew I had found a gem when I was recently divorced and low on funds. He walked me round the house and showed me what was wrong (and there were many things). When I told him that I couldn’t afford… Read more »

Lucy
Lucy
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I wish I had someone who could something like that at my house. You found a gem!

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago
Reply to  Lucy

I’m happy to share his info if anyone is looking for a contractor in the Northern MA/Southern NH area.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Yes, please – I live in the Boston North Shore area and we need a chimney liner installed (and will eventually need more work on the house). Please share! Thanks very much.

A. Smith
A. Smith
8 years ago

I would suggest using a website such as Angie’s List (note: this is an annual paid subscription site)to locate reputable, local contractors that have lots of detailed, positive reviews. The site gives the consumer the ability to provide constructive comments about their experience (good and bad). It’s a pretty transparent and I’ve had great success with it personally. In JD’s situation, a customer report identifying that the company was less than truthful with it’s install schedule might have spurred to company to move quicker. And, JD also would have been able to upload the digital photos of the shoddy work… Read more »

Ulrike
Ulrike
8 years ago
Reply to  A. Smith

If you decide you want a subscription to Angie’s List, don’t pay full price. I started to register on Angie’s List before I realized how much it costs. I aborted my attempt before entering my CC info, and a few hours later, they sent me a coupon code for a discount. When I still didn’t register, they sent me a second code for a deeper discount a few days later!

Tracey+H
Tracey+H
8 years ago

My parents have 2 flat roofs on their house and what I’ve learned from them (from their bad experience over many, many years) is go with the guy who knows flat roofs and has tons of experience (yes, the most expensive guy). They’ve wasted so much money, time, and frustration dealing with the “other guys” and have finally hired the expensive guy to fix things. Flat roofs are such a totally different animal than pitched.

LennStar
LennStar
8 years ago

“Meanwhile, I dream of the day when we hire a contractor who is punctual, thorough, and reasonably priced.”

In IT it is well known that you have a triangle of
– price
– time
– quality

And the rule ist: You can only have 2. Often only one, especially if you wanted all 3 before.
Imagine it like drawing the triangle and pointing your pencil inside 😉

It would be surprising if it is otherwise in other trades.

Kaytee
Kaytee
8 years ago

Fortunately for me, my contractor is reliable, punctual, thorough and reasonably priced. But then, I’m married to him so his repairs only cost me my honor. 🙂 He sees evidence of cut corners all the time and it always affects the initial bid and cost of a project. In my field we call this scope creep. Where most contractors fall apart is communicating adequately with the homeowner about the issues they find and the homeowner’s options for dealing with them. When I put together design and construction cost estimates, I have to include a certain percentage for the client for… Read more »

CNM
CNM
8 years ago

When it comes to contractors, I use a contractor referral service here in town. I can request as many bids as I want and the referral service always (and frequently) follows up to see if the job has been done right, on budget, and otherwise to my satisfaction. It’s like having another vetting process and the referral service takes complaints, too. SO far, it’s been great.

cc
cc
8 years ago

sorry to hear of all the roof issues. we’re on the top floor apartment of a 1920’s era townhouse, and we’d had our share of leaks coming in from the ceiling. our landlord has had the rood patched many times, and they just redid all of our damaged ceilings. from what i hear it’s expensive to keep sending the roof guy up there (although we’re all on a first-name basis by now).

high-five for renting! anyone? anyone? 🙂

KDH
KDH
8 years ago

Angie’s List. In our experience, completely worth the cost. We had some really crappy experiences with contractors when we bought our 80 year old house, including roofers, and thought we’d done our homework with getting multiple bids and checking references. So far, service providers we’ve selected using Angie’s List have been competent, reasonably priced, and on schedule. A fair number of service providers also offer discounts to Angie’s List members. We’ve used the list for everything from plumbers, custom carpentry, and tree-services to car repair and tailors. It’s a pretty minimal monthly cost ($5 or less) for access to reviews… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

We have owned our home for 10 years now. We became friends with the GC during building (he also lived in the neighborhood – I think a good sign) ans while he has moved out, and changed jobs several times – he is still our go to guy. being in the business he knows a lot of people. If it’s something he can’t do, or doesn’t have the time – he’ll give me a name of someone he trusts, that is reasonably priced. The pay back is that I have a list of repairs that need to be done someday… Read more »

balancedB
balancedB
8 years ago

$5 per month $60 per year…year after year. Why so much Angie? Is this greed? It should be about $1 per month.I say forget Angie’s list and try Yelp or others.

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  balancedB

I only pay $10 a year for Angie’s List. I wonder why the difference in annual fee?

Jackowick
Jackowick
8 years ago

I’ve had 3 different people work on an ongoing roof issue and now I’m looking at enough water damage from the past 2 years of repairs that I’m going to get a new rook sooner than planned. There’s something beautiful about the “scorched earth” repair policy. And sadly, the new roof will cost about as much as the three seperate repair jobs.

29 and holding
29 and holding
8 years ago

“Many of our woes are because the previous owner did his own work and cut corners.”

Exactly. When I was looking at homes, I saw quite a few that the homeowners had improved themselves. Not always successfully. My realtor and I started calling them “homeowner specials”. I won’t buy a house like that — it’s a unending expense redoing everything correctly.

Bottom line: if you are not experienced at home improvements, then don’t. Improve your homes’ value by getting it done right.

Okay, all you weekend warriors, please respond below about how you are the exception. 🙂

Lis
Lis
8 years ago
Reply to  29 and holding

This made me laugh – we LOVE remodeling and we do a lot of the work ourselves. Of course, all of our houses are our rentals, so if the work is poorly done, we suffer as the ones who have to pay out for repairs. 🙂 I think the key is being 100% HONEST with yourself about your skill sets. For example, it continually blows my mind to see how many people are terrible at painting. It’s perfectly ok to not be good at painting, but if you’re not, or if you’re not willing to take the time and do… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
8 years ago
Reply to  29 and holding

Wow- reverse psychology works! 😉

Chris
Chris
8 years ago

I work with a lot of different contractors at work all the time. I’ve found that the best indicators of a high-quality contractor are:

1. Experience. Can he reference a significant number of similar projects that were successful?

2. References. Can he identify previous customers who are satisfied with his work?

3. Preparedness. When discussing the project, does he identify points of potential deviation from the defined scope of the project, and does he offer contingency plans for addressing those deviations?

I do this for everyone, from electricians to web developers, and I haven’t been led astray yet.

Joani
Joani
8 years ago

I wonder what is meant by ‘reasonably priced.’ My husband is a general contractor who knows what he is doing and does high quality work. He generally bids himself out on jobs or as a sub at $25 an hour for labor. By the time he pays taxes, insurance and liscensing fees I would say he’s making a reasonable living in the Pacific Northwest….but he will never come in as the lowest bid.

PB
PB
8 years ago

Strangest thing we found (out of many) that the previous owners had done by way of improvement to our house … installed solar panels (big bulky things in the 1980s) WITH EXTENSION CORDS!

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again … anyone contemplating home ownership really, really needs to learn how to inspect a house. And then watch two seasons of Holmes on Homes. And ONLY then decide whether to buy.

On roofing: everything I’ve seen comes down to: if you can’t find the construction records and warranty on your roof, plan to replace it (from sheathing on out) within five years.

DebtTips
DebtTips
8 years ago

Wow! It’s amazing how often this happens. I can’t believe how many business people have no idea how to run a business (which I can understand to some degree, as a roofer is not necessarily skilled at running a business). And how poorly they often do the work (which I cannot understand at all). Good luck!

Lise
Lise
8 years ago

Good, fast, cheap. Pick any two with contractors and projects.

Mark
Mark
8 years ago

A contractor friend told me “The guy that gets the job is the one who forgets the most stuff on the bid.” I think about that when I’m selecting vendors.

Neo
Neo
8 years ago

This is exactly why I prefer renting. When these problems arise I just call the landlord and tell him to fix it. I love that my housing cost is fxied each and every month. No unexpected, variable costs for maintance. I take all that money that would be spent on maintanence, taxes and utilities and I save and invest it. (when you rent in NYC you don’t pay for water, heat, etc)

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

As I type this (I swear) my super-nice landlords are outside my house and on top of the roof doing maintenance (shutting down the swamp coolers for winter and other stuff). I love being a renter…

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

I completely empathize with “the previous owners cut corners.” The biggest problem we had was that they turned half of the back porch into a room and didn’t install footers … and the room started to fall off the house – literally. (We could see to the outside through the wall where it was separating, the sliding glass doors no longer slid, etc.) That was an expensive project. We joke that they might as well have just stuffed $20 bills under the back room to prop it up… We just had our roof replaced. (They finished it on Saturday.) We… Read more »

Clint
Clint
8 years ago

My problem is I panic. I thought I had a plumbing leak in our foundation recently. I quickly looked up plumbers online and went with somebody who offered “free estimates.” He was punctual, I’ll give him that. Instead of an estimate (or in addition to?), I was charged a $100 diagnostic fee, and that was a $25 break in the charge because I complained. The plumber was insulted by my questioning this charge, asking me if my customers expect ME to work for free. I should’ve said, “No, but they don’t expect me to charge them $300 an hour, either!”… Read more »

KM
KM
8 years ago

The best way to find good contractors is by word of mouth–from neighbors and other local contractors. My neighbor put on new siding and he was delighted with the job (& is a very picky guy). So I hired the same local company to side my house. While they were working, I asked them about people who might be able to rebuild my deck–they gave me a name of a guy. Who did an awesome job! Not the cheapest, but they did it right the first time which is what I prefer. Nothing is costlier in money, time, and frustration… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

My heart goes out to those contractors. Finding the cause of leaks in those old roofs sometimes can be very difficult. You’ll almost need a crystal ball. The home is beautiful and I’m sure it’s worth all of the insanity. Thanks for sharing. I’ve bookmarked your blog. Thanks

Charles
Charles
8 years ago

I don’t look at price as much as I once did. I want quality and know that you have to pay for that skill. I am in the swimming pool industry. ‘We have hacks and we have people who do a limited number of pools each year. they are not cheap. However, one of the owners is on site at all times supervising. The result is no headaches and a top quality pool that will last ten, fifteen or more years before a resurface is needed. I want experience and that costs in my opinion.

reeder
reeder
8 years ago

You could have also hired your neighbor to supervise since he has the knowledge base. Typically a foreman or head would make sure the job is done and theoretically, correctly done to spec. However, with the foreman coming bundled with the fixers/builders, it usually isn’t in the home owner’s best interest to take the foreman’s word as truth. Silly, I know, to think that you’d need to inspect their work as it gets done. But that’s also why the city has independent inspectors come in at different stages.

whoisbiggles
whoisbiggles
8 years ago
Reply to  reeder

Couldn’t agree more. The handyman should of been the first person you talked too and with 20/20 hindsight you could of paid him to oversee the work.

Lonnie
Lonnie
8 years ago

Homeownership is definitely not for the faint of heart. One thing that we have learned with our home is that, even if it costs more at the outset, taking the time to do it right the first time will save you money in the end. We have also found that getting referrals from trusted friends and family can also ensure that you don’t have to do the same thing twice.

Julien Couvreur
Julien Couvreur
8 years ago

This is a very interesting problem. Quality is hard to spell out in a contract.
Seems like a great opportunity for an innovative solution. Maybe a better reputation system? Maybe some kind of independent review of the work or auditing?

Personally, I think it is very important to become knowledgeable by oneself (understand what the contractors are saying and doing), and also take an interest and watch how they do it.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

Absolutely! “Nobody cares about your money more than you do.” And nobody cares about your house (or its value) more than you do. So educate yourself about what is going to be done, check for quality work, and ask questions. If you don’t have the skill to assess the work being done, find someone who does and get them to be your advocate. We can’t all be experts in all things, but having a good sensibility about how things work, how they are built, (etc.) is an invaluable skill, and one that is worth developing and nurturing.

Michael in Missouri
Michael in Missouri
8 years ago

Oh the pages and pages I could write about this subject… My first house was a fixer upper in St Louis. Lovely little place, but it was essentially falling apart: the heating, plumbing, electrical, roofing, landscaping, concrete walkways, windows, and gutters all needed work. I learned a lot about houses during the time I lived there, although I probably also lost at least 5 years off my life. Renovation can be hugely stressful! I learned one big lesson: all the research in the world, Angie’s List, references, or word of mouth, etc. won’t guarantee a good or problem-free job. I… Read more »

Dave
Dave
8 years ago

10% of the house’s value per year? I’m assuming you live in someplace with substantailly lower property values than I do.. In the northeast, where you can barely buy a non-trailer home for $200k, you don’t need to be spending 20k per year to maintain it.

Michael in Missouri
Michael in Missouri
8 years ago
Reply to  Dave

Yikes! I meant 1%, which in your example would be $2000 a year.

Liz
Liz
8 years ago

That’s a shame that you had such a bad experience. We had a situation a few years ago where we needed to have a garage torn down, foundation redone, and a new one built. Most companies were quoting us between $15-20k, which we definitely couldn’t afford. We also got a quote from a younger guy who ran his own business and he quoted us more like $8k. We thought that was too good to be true – but he finished the work promptly, didn’t tack on any extra charges that he hadn’t quoted originally, and my dad (who has a… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

We’ve done a full remodel, various projects and maintenance over the past 10 years. First advice I give to people, never ever go with the lowest bidder. Usually the middle bidder is about right. Also, just by your description of the second guy, I wouldn’t have trusted him. His fix was a ‘cutting corners’ solution.

No offense, but major house repairs (anything plumbing, electrical,roofing, windows) are not the things to be frugal with. Bad work costs a lot more in the long run and a house is your largest investment. It should be treated that way.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

Also, this may be your typical, but in my experience this is not typical. Going with the person who charges fairly and knows what they are talking about rarely leads to this type of experience. There are great people out there who do home projects. They charge what they are worth and don’t do shoddy work. They are almost never the least expensive up front, but on the backend of a project, they are worth every penny.

SLCCOm
SLCCOm
8 years ago

Here in Pueblo, Colorado, it hails often enough that all we have to pay is our insurance deductible. I don’t know anyone who pays in full for a new roof. We go with local, long-term, family-owned firms.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago

Why don’t you move your comic books to a less leak-prone area of your house?

Ben - BankAim
Ben - BankAim
8 years ago

My wife and I have been looking for a landscaper to do our half acre yard. One guy was referred to us, was told he did great work. After talking to him he said he loves landscaping and that its just a hobby for him. I thought about that for awhile and thought that “maybe this guy won’t care as much about getting the job done”.. well he’s told me 3 times that he was on his way out and 3 times (after I’ve called him) he’s made excuses to why he couldnt make it out! Choosing your contractor or… Read more »

Justin | Mazzastick
Justin | Mazzastick
8 years ago

There is a farmhouse where I live called “Money Pit Manor”. I bought a fixer upper three years ago. It is a farmhouse with an acre and a quarter of land.

I did 90% of the rehab work myself but I did sub out some of it to contractors.

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