In the aftermath of Isabel, the saga continues

I have written before that we are responsible for the condition we find ourselves in and this one is a classic.

Our problem came about from relying on someone to perform, before we had real evidence of his track record. Our failure to observe basic rules for dealing with contractors has come back to bite us.

Living in the Virginia countryside does have its drawbacks. One of these is the propensity for contractors to fail to show up on time or even answer their phones. After two years of observing this behavior, I feel it is the result of their being overbooked and unaware of the consequences of being disorganized.

We have mostly small contractors out here and they are in great demand because of the growth in the area. As a result, many contractors seem to bite off more than they can chew. They mean well, but they don’t deliver as expected.

We have had more than one contractor show up to estimate a job and then disappear without a trace. Many more will not return phone calls. I don’t think they realize what will happen to them when demand from newcomers slackens. These people develop a bad reputation quickly out here in the country because we rely on personal referrals to select them. Sometimes however, a contractor can keep a low enough profile that he does not show up on the neighborhood gossip line.

We had been patiently waiting since September 18 for our contractor to show up and replace the roof damaged by hurricane Isabel. (The tree has been removed and the roof has a temporary patch.) With the rain and snow we have been having, there was some justification for his failure to show, but he supposedly had only one job to finish before starting ours.

After 90 days of excuses, it became evident that we were not being given the entire story. This contractor’s claim of replacing roofs in just a few days was not supported by his deeds. We started asking around and found from at least two sources that this contractor had a reputation for not finishing jobs promptly. We immediately removed ourselves from his list of potential customers and we will write up the insurance adjustor who recommended him, as this adjustor said he’d worked with this contractor for 10 years.

We thought we had exercised due diligence in selecting him, but we failed to keep our attention on his progress, and we failed to ask for customer references we could call. We had asked for references from other contractors, but we dropped the ball on this one after getting a referral from the adjustor.

So, here we are 90 days later getting ready to engage a new contractor. This time, we plan to stay closely involved. We have our first meeting Thursday. I’m sure I will have something interesting to report.

Those of you who have solved this problem already are invited to chime in with advice anytime.

More later…

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0 Responses to In the aftermath of Isabel, the saga continues

  1. Denny says:

    I used to live in Virginia and experienced the same thing, though I’m sure contractors are like this everywhere. Part of the problem: if they were proactive big-picture thinkers, maybe they would have chosen other professions. Instead, they are like at least half of the population: think mostly about specific here-and-now facts and details. This is a fabulous personality characteristic for their work…except that planning, organization and understanding of customer expectations is minimized. The only solution I ever heard of is to get specific results in writing, check their work closely and hold their feet to the fire by not paying them until every detail of the contract is satisfied. Unbelievably, many will refuse to work with you on this basis, so ingrained is their short-term of things. And not many customers would take this approach…which is maybe why they stay in business. Good luck.

  2. Seems like most contractors are like this. A good friend of mine was quoted 6 weeks to complete a kitchen remodel… and it took 11 months. And this is in Dallas!

  3. David says:

    Thank you both for the reality check.

    I have finally decided to become the general contractor on this job. I have some friends who are small contractors who have been trustworthy in the past. I am inclined to use them even if this is a bigger job than they have done before.

    I will be buying the material, renting the heavy equipment and supervising the work with the help of a local consultant.

    When these contractor friends give me an estimate and a schedule that makes sense, we’ll be ready to start. I know what my budget is, because I collected the insurance money a long time ago.

    With my program management experience, I feel reasonably prepared for the difficulties ahead. Time will tell, of course, whether that is true.

    It will make an interesting series of posts in any event. 🙂

  4. The notion of being one’s own general contractor might be a way out. I believe that contractors of any size get better breaks on materials and equipment rentals than we civilians can get from the suppliers. I’ll be really interested in how this progresses with you, David.
    We’ve had good and bad experiences here in the Santa Cruz mountains, in California. We’re regarded as being too isolated for many contractors, and the ones who live around here, or some of them at least, are unreliable; certainly a few are practicing alcoholics. After thirteen years we now have a very short list of people who will show up and do the job right!


  5. Linda says:

    What a nightmare! I’m happy to say that so far, I haven’t had a need to go through what you’re experiencing. (Rapidly knocking on wood.) I’m not afraid to admit that your account makes me cringe with sympathy. I plan to learn from your exploit, in case something like this ever happens to us.

    I’m just happy that you can get the job done for yourself. There’s much to be said for self-sufficiency.

    Hang in there, and stay warm!

    Your friend,

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