What’s Your Horror Story?

June 19, 2022

By Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch, MBA

All I have to do is mention to someone that I work as a home remodeler and designer, and I hear a horror story.

It seems like anyone who owns a home and has ever hired a contractor to work on it has a terrifying tale to tell about the experience.

I’ve heard of a contractor who promised to convert the attic of a garage into a home office while the owner—who has to work in that office every day—was on a three-week trip out of town. When the homeowner returned, the office was torn apart, but not put back together. It took a full three months before she could get back in there to work.

Then there’s the one about a stone mason/patio guy who did such a great job outside that the homeowner hired him to renovate her kitchen. He didn’t finish the job on time, either, mostly because he showed up about twice a week instead of every day, as promised, and he rarely put in a full day at the home. When the homeowner complained that her stove had been sitting in her living room for much longer than she expected, the contractor acknowledged that the job was taking too long—and told her he’d have to charge her more to compensate him for the extra time.

And those are the tame tales. Homeowners have told me about dishonest contractors who charged them for high-end materials but installed cheaper brands, about guys who seemed to pull cost estimates out of thin air and then charged triple or quadruple that price at the end of the job, and about remodelers who agreed to follow design instructions from the homeowner but then went about the job as if the owner had never made her preferences known—and didn’t have any standing to do so.

I wish I could tell you that home remodeling horror stories are the exception. But nearly every one of Re-Bath’s clients tells me about some awful past experience with a contractor.

I can, however, tell you there’s a silver lining here.

The worse your last experience was, the better your next one is likely to be.

That’s because you know a little bit more than you did before about what can go wrong, what to expect and how to go about managing your project so the same thing doesn’t happen to you again.

It all starts with your hiring process.

Many homeowners who have survived a contractor crisis admit later that they rushed into the project. They hired the first and only guy they interviewed about their job. They didn’t call his references. They didn’t insist on a firm estimate in writing. They didn’t sign a contract. Or they hired the cheapest guy because he said he could deliver the same quality for way less without cutting any corners. (Big red flag. Get a list of what’s included and what’s not. “What’s not” is going to cost you.)
Often, homeowners rush to hire because they feel like they don’t have time to find the best contractor, or the good-quality contractor that they really like is booked up for several months. They don’t want to bother calling friends and neighbors for recommendations, checking that the guy they like has a valid contractor’s license from the state, sitting down with the remodeler to really talk things through, and getting a sense of whether they can trust him to do what he promised and to be alone in their home.

Another reason for the rush: Homeowners tend to dream about remodeling for years before they actually start a project—but then they want to start right away. A contractor who tells you on Thursday that he can start next Monday won’t have time to check prices and put together an accurate estimate. He won’t have time to create a design and run it by you. He won’t have time to make a realistic schedule to ensure that the products he needs to move the job forward every day will arrive by the day he needs them.

The result: cost overruns and time delays. A stove in the living room. No home office to work in. Hard feelings. Paying more than you can afford. And sometimes, cutting your losses, firing the guy you never should have hired, and finding someone who knows how to plan, estimate, and schedule.

My advice: Hire a remodeling firm you can trust. You’ll know it when you meet the company. Here’s the remodeler who wants to hear your horror story because it will help them tailor your remodeling experience to your specific needs. Here’s the remodeler who will listen to what you want—and to what you don’t—and will customize your job so you’re happy not only with how your kitchen or home office or addition or master bathroom looks when it’s finished, but so you’re happy with the way it got there.

So change your hiring criteria. You have more than a job for hire. You have an experience ahead of you, and it can be a good one or a horror story.

You choose which one the day you hire the contractor.

Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is the president of Re-Bath in Shreveport. You can contact him at 318-216-4525 or by visiting www.rebath.com/location/shreveport.