06 Aug Remodel Revolution Chapter 1 – Anarchy and the Modern American Project
WHEN EVERYBODY IS IN CHARGE NOBODY IS IN CHARGE
My friend is building a house for a couple when he notices the brick mason he’s hired isn’t doing a good job. He tells the owner that he’s going to fire the mason and replace him and that it will cause a delay. The owner insists that the builder not fire the mason, that somehow he (the builder) can force a not very talented mason to learn to be a better mason and not cause a delay. My friend has over 40 years experience in the home building business, he is a pioneer and a wise man. He knows what he knows and doesn’t need to learn anymore bad lessons, so he chooses his battles carefully and relies on the words of the contract they all have signed. He acquiesces to the demands of the owner and the bad mason continues doing his bad work even though my friend implores him to improve the quality. But, as the story goes, bad habits bred are bad habits unbroken and eventually the brick hits the fan as they say.
Predictably, it becomes clear the builder was right and the brick work turned out to be abysmal, the owner was unhappy and the builder was unhappy but unfortunately at this point most of the house had been covered, that’s when things turn ugly.
The owner calls the builder and insists he didn’t do his job and should have fired the mason and now the brick needs to be removed and the house rebricked at the builders expense, after all, quality control is his responsibility. The builder insists that the homeowner interfered with the project and is solely responsible for the disaster. The homeowner in the meantime has been interviewing brick masons from ___List on weekends and has several opinions and prices that all magically agree with their opinion. The cost to remove and replace the brick $24,000 plus materials.
A meeting takes place between my friend and the homeowner, tempers flare, but eventually mature adults do what mature adults should do and present their case in a calm yet firm manner. My friend explains, in no uncertain words, that when they decided to micromanage the masonry and bring their own subs to the jobsite on weekends they became owners of the problem, exactly for the reason they were trying to hold him responsible. My friend is professional and he reminded them that they signed a contract that prohibits them from interfering with his duties and that includes bringing other contractors on site without his expressed written permission. They committed an ethical error by not listening to him initially and heeding his advice and a legal misstep by breaching not honoring the contract they signed.
Eventually a deal is worked out and the homeowner comes around to realize they are responsible for this problem and they end up costing themselves around $30,000 by trying to micromanage a project they know nothing about. They cause stress for the builder and drive a wedge in their relationship that will remain for the duration of the project and beyond.
Times have certainly changed in the remodeling and building business, where a lead is ascertained with a $50 credit card payment and given for free with a promise that a background check has been done, and potential clients act as though all contractors are equal if they come from the same list. One day you can be selling shoes for $150 a pair and the next day bidding a $150,000 kitchen all based on a promise from a nameless happy voice processing another homeowner and grateful for another commission.
So how did we get here and what are the consequences of this, unfettered anarchical system where everyone is the boss and the people in the middle don’t know who to answer too?
Before I go any farther let me just clarify, I am not anti ___list this or ___list that. I had a caller on my show today with a great experience using Home Advisors. He did his due diligence, he checked the referrals and eliminated the less than desirables and got a good roofer out of the deal, awesome! That’s how it’s designed to work and how it should work and all things being equal how it will work most of the time.
When used as designed, in theory it’s great, when used as a weapon, it can backfire in a hurry. Sounds harsh but in my friends case I believe that’s exactly what happened.
The Other Side of the Story
A couple I’m working with currently is in the middle of a major crises. Believing they had hired the right contractor to remodel and add on to their home in an upscale North Dallas neighborhood in what should have taken 18 months; here we are 3 years later, trying to figure out how to finish the project. Yes, 3 years for an 18 month project, running low on money, nerves frayed, emotions on high, tension in their relationship, out of their home for 3 years, anger and disappointment at the process and understandably distrustful of everyone and paying an attorney to engage the previous contractor. Super stressful by anyone’s standards.
Sadly, an entire cottage industry has sprung up over the last 15-20 years centered on the errors, misjudgments, and misdeeds of the people doing the hiring and the people doing the work, or lack there of. Lawyers make fine livings representing homeowners trying to gain restitution for misdeeds and simply business deals gone wrong. Small businesses that see an opportunity,but may not be prepared for the expectations and skills required to reach a successful conclusion. A talented tradesman that may not be as talented a manager of the peripheral requirements that are needed to run a business, this is quite common.
So here we are, less than 1/2 the project is complete but more, much more than 1/2 the budget spent. “How did that happen” I ask, and that is the point of this chapter. Mr. and Mrs. Home Owner started hiring contractors from ____List to work on their home because the General Contractor wasn’t performing to their expectation (I agree) and they figured, all things being equal, they could do it themselves. I mean what the hell, everyone is doing it on TV and besides it’s just a phone call and they’ve already been vetted by the “service”. No Worries right? Wrong! Professional Contractors are no different than any other “Profession” , it takes years of learning and many experiences, good and bad, to hone and perfect the skills required. No different than any other professional in any other field. We learn our trade craft from trial and error not from HGTV, we make mistakes and learn from them. We are business men and women that are managing your funds and protecting your single most important investment, your home, we take all of this seriously and so should you.
Visiting with one of the ____list people my client hired, I asked what projects he had performed in the house. ” Sheetrock repair, some floor repair, and tile work”, the guy tells me. “So what do you specialize in?” I ask. ” Oh, we install pre-finished flooring”, he replies. ” I’m confused, you just said you did all these other things that we now have to redo because they were done wrong, why did you do things you weren’t qualified to do?” I ask increasing frustrated. ” Because he kept asking me to do them” shuffling his feet on the dusty floor he created. At this point I’m so pissed I’m not sure whether to throw this guy out on his ear or scream at the homeowner, I’m uncertain if I’m seeing desperation from the client or a fool of a sub; maybe both. In a latter conversation I agree to allow the sub to do clean-up on the site if the owner can talk him into it, it’s all he’s qualified for in my opinion.
Now I start to see the pattern, the pieces are starting fall in place. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t getting the whole story from the owner, that I was be ” led”, fed his narrative, but why? The homeowner has been telling me that he has overpaid this particular person several thousand dollars and is hoping I’ll keep him engaged under the misguided assumption that this person is going to have a moment of consciousness and work for free, that he will agree he has been overpaid and feel guilty and want to either pay my client back or work off the debt. “As soon as you return from the parallel universe you’re living in we’ll fire this D-Bag and fix the mess he created, he’s not invited back!” a very frustrated me tells a very embarrassed new client.
An Odd Arrangement
Thinking that they could manage their own project once the “hard” part was done and save a lot of money, my client entered into what I feel is a truly bizarre agreement with the original contractor. He tasked them with the framing and rough-in of the MEP ( mechanical, electrical, plumbing). At this point I’m making some assumptions but it’s becoming obvious that he felt he could manage a large part of the finish work himself. He and his wife contracted with a local kitchen and bath store for the kitchen finish-out and some of the bathroom finishes. A local welder for the floating stairs in the wall, local lighting company for the lighting control system, and shopped on their own for finishes including tile and marble. Most of this fine on it’s face, but where is the central control? Who’s in charge? Where is everyone going to get answers to the thousands of questions that need answers, and who’s telling these people the right way to deal with all the problems that constantly arise on a remodel project of this magnitude?
a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.
To be continued ………