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Old 01-06-2008, 06:32 PM   #1
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I'm new here. And I'm here because I have suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of general contractor for my botched house remodel. I don't know whose fault this fiasco was -- mine for not requiring change orders and exact figures (I didn't know to do this until today -- stupid me) or my contractor's for hiking the cost up -- it's now gone almost 100% over budget. I am completely flat out broke and the darned thing still isn't finished.

Could anyone explain to me how this all works and what my recourse is? Our contractor submitted a $45,000 bid to us while another's was $100,000. He explained that he had subcontractors who worked at very reasonable rates and knew how to cut corners and still give us a quality job. We did make several changes to the original plan, but each time he said things like, "You know, I think we CAN widen that doorway for you if we just don't open that wall over there on the other side of the kitchen like you had in the original plan." He made it sound like he would work it out by helping us find money somewhere else in the budget to cover the new change. And when he couldn't he charged us outside the budget in a column he called "additional items." That column added up to $24,000 and we agreed to raise the budget by that much. We asked for these things to be done, so that seemed fair. Then, he said, "Wow, they are so far ahead of schedule and they're paid by the hour... Is there anything else you'd like done?" So I said, "Well, I've always wanted smooth ceilings. Can they scrape off the popcorn stuff?" To which he said, "Sure. I'll get them right on it." in an excited voice.

The 4-6 week project became a three-month project. $45,000 became $72,000 -- which was fine because we were getting some desired upgrades. We had a final meeting where we went over the budget again and he told us our final figure looked like it would be around $85,000. We gulped but realized we would have smooth ceilings and widened doorways where we wanted them, etc. Well... The house still isn't done, and now he's asking for $20,000 more. We still owe him $15,880 on the original contract according to his records for other work, too.

Did the contract and bid mean nothing? And we never put anything in writing at all after the original contract. So all the upgrades we requested combined with any extra costs he incurred but never told us about are not documented anywhere except on the extremely confusing invoices he sends us. He's also telling us he basically worked for us for free and is $8000 out of pocket at the moment and can't do without that $15,880. And he said we'll have to finish the project ourselves. This means electrical, carpeting, sanding, priming, and painting (which we already know how to do so that's fine but we have four children and are busy people with careers), hooking up the vent hood, gas double oven, and dishwasher, installing the counters and sink, demolition of part of a galley kitchen that's still in place, drywall repairs after demolition, purchase and installation of remaining floor tile where the demo was done, installing the faucets, toilet, bathroom vanity, all lighting and electrical outlets and switches, and doorknobs. Some of this we can do easily, but the main question I have is how can this much still be left to do??? And when we said our absolute drop dead final cash amount we have available is $83,000 (the original estimate for both this remodel and a second phase remodel that would add a garage and master bedroom above -- we will never have that portion done now since we're completely broke), why did he not say, "If you want the ceilings scraped, it will cost $_______ extra," and revise the budget? He made it sound like they were so far ahead they could do it for free. Were we supposed to require paperwork from him so it's our fault and we have to pay? We don't know anything about this business whatsoever, so we didn't know. We were assuming (bad to do, I know) that if what we wanted to do (any upgrades or changes) took us over the budgeted amount he knew we had available, he would tell us -- or better yet, that he would keep us informed every step of the way as we asked for changes here and there so we'd know what they would cost and make an educated decision about doing them.

I'm not doubting that he spent or will spend all of $104,000 on our remodel when all is said and done. But he knew we didn't have that much money. We are going to have to beg a struggling mortgage industry to give us a home equity line to even finish the job ourselves and that's if we can ever figure out the electrical, plumbing and appliance hookups, then hurry and sell the house we thought we'd be in forever as if it was a flip so we can pay off our Home Depot carpeting and tile and counter installations (since we'll have to use credit cards to purchase them because we're out of cash).

Do we have any recourse at all? He seems like a really nice guy who thought he could deliver more than he actually could. He probably really is out of pocket and we feel badly about that, but how did it happen without our knowledge? Can a contractor just spend your money wildly without your knowledge or written consent? Then bill you? This project is costing us twice what it was supposed to and he's blaming it all on our upgrades. But on his invoice, in the "upgrades" column, he put things like "setting the toilet, installing bathroom faucets," and things like that. Those should have been included in the original budget, right? A contractor doesn't leave you with the toilet sitting in the middle of the bathroom, does he? We figured that was included!

Thanks in advance for any advice you have. We want our home finished, but we have no money now to do it with -- OR to pay him his remaining $15,880. And should we pay it even if he didn't finish the project? Also, if you can advise us on how the heck you do any of these things that are left, I would really appreciate it.

I'm starting on antidepressants as I write...

Megan

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Old 01-06-2008, 07:13 PM   #2
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Quick Answer:

Looks like you both are at fault. You should have asked for estimates (change orders) before each add to cover yourself. He should have supplied them, to cover himself.

I'm sure that there are more details that aren't on your post. We really don't know all the details, what exactly is on any paperwork, actual conversations, etc....

Only thing we can tell you is to consult a lawyer to see where to go with it all.

(Be aware that if you gave him the verbal ok's and there is an established pattern of such "verbal ok's" by you, and he performed the work with you paying him, in like manner.... It won't bode well for your argument)

Good Luck


Last edited by AtlanticWBConst.; 01-06-2008 at 07:24 PM.
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:27 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AtlanticWBConst. View Post
Quick Answer:

Looks like you both are at fault. You should have asked for estimates (change orders) before each add to cover yourself. He should have supplied them, to cover himself.

I'm sure that there are more details that aren't on your post. We really don't know all the details, what exactly is on any paperwork, actual conversations, etc....

Only thing we can tell you is to consult a lawyer to see where to go with it all.

(Be aware that if you gave him the verbal ok's and there is an established pattern of such "verbal ok's" by you, and he performed the work with you paying him, in like manner.... It won't bode well for your argument)

Good Luck

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Well Said

I don't think anyone can add to that
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:29 PM   #4
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We were thinking of splitting the difference and paying him half the $15,880, then doing the rest ourselves. But we haven't the slightest idea how. That's what google and Home Depot are for, I guess...

And yes, there are many more details, most of which I think support our end of it and not his. But it's not about blame for me at all. It's about finding a way to finish the house and still send my daughter to college in the fall.

If anyone knows what the approx. costs are for any of what's left -- hooking up kitchen appliances for example (gas oven is in but not connected to gas line, and we don't know how to connect it and dishwasher is in its place within the cabinetry but not connected to a water source), etc, that would help us a lot. Or maybe you guys can refer me to a book you used when you first started doing this diy type stuff? I'm devouring home improvement shows at the moment and taking notes, but these shows aren't specific enough.

Thanks,

Megan
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:35 PM   #5
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Forgot to mention... There were no verbal okays on our part because he never told us he was going to go over budget for any reason so we were never asked to okay anything at all. If we were the ones asking him to change something, he almost always responded with some way he could make that change by NOT doing something else. If he couldn't, he told us and we said we'd pay extra for it. That's why we weren't surprised with the $24K in upgrades. But he went way beyond that. And still didn't finish. We should have kept him in check. I think we were his first clients.
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Old 01-06-2008, 08:17 PM   #6
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The laws vary, and specifics must be looked at by a professional familiar with contracts in general and the laws/regs in your area specifically

Time to lawyer up

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Old 01-06-2008, 08:19 PM   #7
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Willow,
Do you have any children.
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Old 01-06-2008, 08:30 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willowspring View Post
We were thinking of ...doing the rest ourselves. But we haven't the slightest idea how. That's what google and Home Depot are for, I guess...

...maybe you guys can refer me to a book you used when you first started doing this diy type stuff? I'm devouring home improvement shows at the moment and taking notes, but these shows aren't specific enough.
Megan, you are over your head

If all the projects you need done could be learned properly from Google, Home Depot, and a book, then there would be no need for tradesman
Home Improvement TV shows don't provide enough information because their purpose is entertainment
During the commercial breaks, and after the camera leaves the room, professional crews come in and take over most of the jobs
That's why it looks so easy and gets done in a weekend

You might be able to take on one project at a time and finish them
But it will take time
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Old 01-06-2008, 11:39 PM   #9
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you did make sure the contractor is licensed, insured, has worker's comp? Sounds like he does not have much more experience at this than you do.
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Old 01-07-2008, 02:20 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willowspring View Post
hooking up kitchen appliances for example (gas oven is in but not connected to gas line, and we don't know how to connect it and dishwasher is in its place within the cabinetry but not connected to a water source)
I'm sure the regulars here will correct me if I'm wrong, but in my opinion, messing with gas appliances is something that should ALWAYS be done by a trained professional, and never by a DIY'er. Connecting a dishwasher is pretty simple though, you should check the instruction manual that came with it - mine had full installation instructions with pretty pictures!
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Old 01-07-2008, 09:50 AM   #11
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Yes, we have children -- four of them. 17, 16, 14, and 11. Three of which will want to go to college soon! They want to help us out, but we don't want to endanger anyone here. We told them they could sand and prime and paint and that's all we were comfortable with at the moment.

We sent our gc an email last night explaining why we felt we couldn't pay the remaining amount and told him we would be happy to pay it had he finished the project -- or if he would now finish it. He said he's taking it under consideration. I think he'd rather walk because there's way more to be done than he can do with the help of that final payment. He's already spent that money.

Yes, he's licensed. But I think he got the license just before we went for our construction loan because we told him he had to be a licensed contractor in order for us to use him with the type of loan we were getting -- bank requirement. That's why I was thinking we're probably his first clients. But he has flipped dozens of houses of his own and is relatively well off financially. He's not young or new at construction. What he HAS completed has been done well.

He gave us the electrician's name and number. I think our first step is to get him out here no matter what it costs and get the wiring finished. Right now we're piggy-backed on one circuit or something like that. When it gets cold enough at night for the auxiliary heat to kick on, the power goes out. We can't use the dishwasher or dryer without tripping the breaker, too. I am out there flipping the breaker switch 15 times a day when I try to do laundry. It's crazy. A 3100 sf house with one circuit or whatever?

Thanks for anything and everything you've done and said so far. I really appreciate it. So does my husband who at the moment is fuming too much to stop and deal with any of it. Plus, he works a lot of overtime. How the ____ is he going to find time to do all this work on the house!?
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Old 01-07-2008, 12:08 PM   #12
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I think this was a case of mutual optimism. He wanted to believe that he could do it for $40,000, and YOU wanted to believe that he could somehow do it for a third of what the other contractor estimated! So it turns out that you're ending up pretty close to what the more experienced contractor estimated, right? Unless you just thought he was trying to completely rip you off, his bid really should have made you question the extremely low bid of the very inexperienced guy that you hired.

I'm afraid you got yourself into this by working with this guy in the first place, but where to go with this from here is a more difficult issue. It depends a lot on what your original contract said. If it didn't specify a certain level of finish, then maybe it DIDN'T include setting the toilet, etc. That's just one example. Without details you don't know WHAT was included in the bid.

Sounds like a horrible situation to be in, and I hope it all works out for you somehow in the end.
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Old 01-07-2008, 03:18 PM   #13
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I looked over the contract, and it just lists a plumbing budget of $8000 without specifics. But it also says that his bid is for no more than $83,300 for both phases of the project and that if for any reason he finds he needs to go over that amount he must submit a change order to us. But we didn't push him to do that. We're pretty much resigned to the fact that we're going to have to hire people as we can afford to and finish it very slowly. We have a makeshift kitchen that has gotten us through a busy Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I guess it will get us through a few more lousy months!

Yes, the other guy's quote was about the same as this would have ended up being, but we're having to be our own contractor now. It's not the end of the world, though. I just found out two of my family members have been ripped off by disreputable contractors in their small town to the tune of $25,000 and $20,000 respectively. At least all this money did indeed go into fixing up our house, you know? It could have been much worse!

Megan
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Old 01-07-2008, 06:01 PM   #14
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Sorry for your problems but if you are down to goggle and HD I can make live much easier just hit yourself in the head with the hammer, it saves time. Hooking up gas cook top and a dishwasher are on my easy list if they are not on your hire a pro you are really over your head. You need to find a good contractor to help you out of this. I have lost too many jobs to under bidding from hacks like this too feel too sorry for you. Check references, look at there current work, And get everything in writing. I have finish jobs for owners who paid more then I would have done the job for before they had to hire me to add more to the bill and finish it Hire are good contractor the first time.
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Old 01-07-2008, 06:28 PM   #15
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I'm going to find another contractor. Lesson learned. But first, we'll do all that we can with what knowledge we have. Painting, sanding, probably installing faucets, toilet, etc. What a way to learn!

I appreciate those of you who are out there giving reasonable estimates and completing jobs on time. Nice work!

Megan

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