LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM DEALING WITH CONTRACTORS
- Contractors are inherently evil.
I’m not saying that all contractors actually are evil. I’m just saying they were all born that way. There may be some good ones out there, but if so, they’ve had to grapple and scrounge for every bit of decency they could find in their withered, ashen souls. And they undoubtedly remain locked in a constant struggle to fight their natural urges to gouge, lie and screw up. And I can back that up with cold, hard evidence.
- Contractors will selectively withhold information if it might make you change your mind about hiring them.
We might have thought twice about our getting our mold removal done if only we’d known…
… that cleaning up mold would also require messing up the rest of our kitchen, including tearing out one of our cabinets — door, shelf, drywall and all.
… that after the procedure, our kitchen would be turned into a “containment area” for the next week, cocooned in a big plastic tent so it looked like the house in E.T. after the scientists descend on it and E.T. gets all sickly and pasty-white.
… that the mold people would set up a ventilator that would sound like a revving Harley motor and run constantly until they came back to shut it off.
… that we’d have to pay an additional $350 for another mold test — and pass that test — before the mold people would lift their quarantine of our kitchen and come back to remove all their equipment.
… that our kitchen would be virtually inaccessible for six days.
… that we’d have to reschedule the plumber who was supposed to come in the next day to fix the dishwasher and the kitchen sink.
But we didn’t know any of that before the procedure was done. Why not? See Lesson #1.
- You’ll always be on their schedule, not yours.
It doesn’t matter if you need your plumbing work done today because the painters are coming tomorrow. Nor does it matter if you’re taking off from work because a contractor’s supposed to come, and you’re sitting around an empty condo twiddling your thumbs all morning waiting for the phone to ring. They can cancel on you without notice if one of their other clients has a more important job that comes up at the last minute. And all the complaining in the world will get you nowhere.
- Never pay until the work is done.
Drew and I are both very responsible with our money. We pay our rent and our bills on time, all the time. We have very high credit ratings. Landlords love us. Creditors fight over the right to lend us outrageous sums of money. Contractors, on the other hand, look at us and lick their lips.
When the mold company came to take back their ventilator and remove their tent from our kitchen, I handed the worker a check for $2,500 as soon as he arrived. I didn’t even wait for him to ask me for it. I knew it was a lot of money, and I didn’t want him to think for even a second that I might be the kind of guy who’d give him a hard time about paying when he presented the invoice. I wanted him to trust me, to respect me, and most of all, to like me.
Yes, I’m that naïve.
He quickly ripped down the plastic curtain, grabbed his ventilator and made a beeline for the door.
“Um, aren’t you going to put the cabinet back the way it was?” I asked him, pointing to the disassembled cabinet pieces the previous crew had left on our balcony.
“Let me see,” he said, and then he took out his cell phone and called his office to check with his boss.
“Let me see?” I didn’t get it. Why did he need permission not to be an asshole?
He stood a few feet away from me and proceeded to have one of those uncomfortable yes/no conversations someone has when they don’t want someone who’s listening to know what they’re talking about. We all know how transparent those conversations usually are to the listener, so here’s what I picture his boss was saying on the other end.
“Is he there with you right now?”
“Okay, then only answer me with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Do you understand?”
“Has he paid you already?”
“Perfect! Have you loaded the equipment back in the truck yet?”
“Shit. Okay. Well, does he look pissed?”
“Can you run fast?”
“Then run! Run like the wind! Bwa-hahahahaha!”
He hung up the phone and was out the door about two seconds later.
“Sorry, they say I can’t do it.”
“What do you mean you can’t do it?”
“If you call them, they can send someone else out.”
So I called. The office was very pleasant, telling me that they’d be happy to send someone else out to clean up the mess, and they’d call me later that day to schedule it. I felt slightly relieved as I hung up. And then, for the first time, I walked in the kitchen.
Not only was there a giant hole where the cabinet used to be, but there was junk and debris everywhere. There was a row of giant staples across the wall and the ceiling where the curtain had been fastened, as if the worker had just pulled it off with one swift yank. Some of the staples had fallen out and lay littered around the floor and on the countertop. Others were still stuck in place on the wall and the ceiling, with little bits of plastic curtain underneath them. The ones that had already fallen out had left large holes where they’d been. Were staples really the best way for them to fasten their curtain, or just the easiest for them? No one told us we’d need a paint job to cover up their mess when they were done.
And as a final “fuck you” to us, the water line to the refrigerator had been disconnected. Drew and I had both always dreamed — in our sad, humble dreams — of having one of those refrigerators that dispensed water and ice, and the new condo came with one. Only now it could dispense neither water nor ice. There was just a long, bendy copper wire sticking out of the wall next to it, helpfully taped and labeled “fridge”. I have no idea why they needed to disconnect this to do their work. It wasn’t in their way, it certainly wasn’t moldy, and it wasn’t hurting anyone at all. I honestly, deep down in my heart, think they were just being mean.
As for the call to schedule someone to do the cleanup, it never came. Drew and I tried contacting the mold people a few more times, and we kept getting put off. Then we realized why they were suddenly so unavailable: there was no more money in it for them because we’d already paid. Who knew mold people could be so slimy?
We’re hoping the plumber — when he finally does come — can fix the fridge. We still don’t know what we’re going to do about the cabinet.
- Don’t assume the work will get done right.
Because Drew and I are both very busy guys, we gave the painters a set of keys to our condo so they could let themselves in and come and go as they needed to. We had chosen them based on a friend’s recommendation, so we trusted that they would get the work done right.
After their first day of painting, we decided to stop by and check on their progress. Their work so far was terrific. The paint looked sharp, clean and well-applied.
Only it was the wrong color.
All of it.
The living room was the color the bedroom was supposed to be, and the bedroom was bright green.
Nothing was supposed to be bright green, or anything even close to it.
I tried to figure it out. “Well, everyone says the colors look different on the wall than they do in the book.”
“Everyone says they look darker,” Drew pointed out. “No one says they look green when they’re supposed to be gray.”
Well, thankfully, a quick meeting with the main painter guy cleared up the confusion. He went back to the paint store, got the right colors, and now everything looks great.
We’re just hoping he won’t charge us for the extra day’s labor.
- Kindness will bite you in the ass.
Drew wanted to do something nice for the plaster guys who were working Saturday morning transforming a wall of mirrors into a normal wall. So we stopped and picked up some coffee and bagels for them.
We came back at the end of the day to check on their work. The wall looked great, but there was a big coffee stain on the carpet, and the workers had long since taken off. No note, no phone call, no apology.
Thankfully, we’re tearing out that carpet to put in wood flooring next week.
… but they didn’t know that.
- They’ll never clean up the mess they made before they leave.
This one is self-explanatory. And infuriating.