You learn a lot of things when you build or remodel a house. Some of the time they are good lessons. Some of the time they are good lesson at a price. We’ve learned three REALLY expensive lesson, two of them still unfolding.
Lesson 1: Compare Apples to Apples
Once upon a time, our friend Sean made us an amazing lighting design. We loved it. We took it to a electrician that came highly recommended. He loved it and we hammered out details over a few meetings until everyone was happy. Of course, that was until we got his quote. It was A LOT. After some searching, Dadtractor decided we should go with a guy he’d worked with before who asked for less than half of the first guy wanted. Seemed like a good deal. He had seen the lighting design and said it was doable. Of course, as the work started we realized that though the lighting design was doable, it wasn’t what was being done. It turns out the chosen electrician thought of the lighting design as suggestion and not as the plan he should follow. The contract with him didn’t reference the lighting design at all. We also found out that his quote didn’t include any fixtures or parts, we had to hunt for everything ourselves.
In the end, the two electricians bid on two different pieces of work. If we had to do it again, we would have paid more and gone with the first electrician in a heartbeat. I actually feel embarrassed every time Sean comes over and we have to turn on a light. Seriously. There are a few things the second electrician did that we’ll have to fix. It will probably cost us a few hundred bucks. We’ll probably never fix the wiring so it is according to Sean’s plan though.
Lesson 2: Check References
Dadtractor used to have a heat pump guy. He would install heat pumps, water tanks and air conditioning units for a good price. The heat pump guy moved to California and now we were without a heat pump guy. We (all of us) called around and ended up with two new heat-pump guys. After collecting bids, we decided to go with Craigslist find. He was licensed, insured and bonded, and after a quick check with the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Labor and Industry, we knew he had no complaints after 24 years in business. Good right? So we had the Craigslist guy install a heat pump and it seemed fine. He came and did 90% of the work in a timely matter. The other 10%? Well, he made excuses and never came around to finish. Since it was minor work, Dadtractor did it. No biggie. Then we requested our final inspection and we find out that the Craigslist guy only got 1 of the 3 required permits. We tired to get them ourselves but only the Craigslist guy could do it. While we made calls to the Craigslist guy, the temperature in Seattle went up. We flipped on the AC and after twenty minutes there was nothing. Dadtractor came by and he couldn’t figure out what was going on. We had a new company come out and look at it and it turns out the AC was not installed right and now it was broken. We also found out the heat pump wasn’t installed right. Awesome.
After some discussions with an officer at the Department of Labor and Industry, and our electrical inspector, we were encouraged to take the Craigslist guy to Small Claims Court. We tried calling him, we tried Facebook, we tried email – nothing. Actually, that’s not true. The Craigslist guy said he wasn’t doing anything and we’d see him in court. He’s hoping we’ll too lazy to file. We’ve filed the small claim and are in the process of serving the Craigslist guy with papers. In the meantime, we need to get the heat pump taken care of so we can pass our inspection. The cost of fixing the pump? $2500. We hope we’ll win the small claim. We have the contract and documentation from several people stating the pump was never installed properly. If we win, it should cover all our costs including all the time on the issue. We should have checked references. We should have insisted on getting copies of the permits prior to the work being. We should have done a lot of things.
Lesson 3: Charity Should Not Begin When Building a Home
Remember the stairs? We were so happy to get them. Finally, we didn’t have walk around the block to get the mail. It started out OK. The stairs weren’t exactly how we wanted them, but they look good. Then we found out that part of the stairs weren’t up to code and we had destroy and redo a section. We probably would have known that if our cement guy was licensed. He was a friend of a friend who actually did work on the house before. He did the walkway on the cat neighbor side of the house. He really needed the work. He was working part-time and had 10 kids at home. He was a really nice guy and we really liked his work and it didn’t seem like such a risk to go with him.
He destroyed the stairs as our building inspector instructed and said he’d be by when the weather got better. That was 3 months ago. After calls and visits to his house, we realized he wasn’t going to finish. Luck for us, we hadn’t paid him for most of his work yet. So we found someone else to redo the destroyed section. They did it in a style that matched the stair walls which doesn’t match the 19 stairs to the house. In order to get everything looking the same and fix a few of the mistakes the first guy did (we’ll go into this in another post), it’s going to cost us at least $8,000 we don’t have. Why didn’t we just hire the guy as a gardener and actually go with a real company. We’re lucky we didn’t pay the guy in full but we still paid for all the materials and concrete is not cheap.
We should have known better. We’re mad at ourselves because we spend days doing the research on which garage workbench to buy and we didn’t do it on projects that cost over $3000 each. What’s wrong with us? I have a million excuses – we were planning a wedding, they were recommended, etc. Excuses, excuses. We’re dealing with the last two lessons right now and it every time we have to discuss them, we feel beat down. I’m collecting new quotes for the stairs and I physically feel sick when I have stand there and tell them what we did or didn’t do. All we can do is remind ourselves that even with the mistakes, we saved almost $300K on this house.
Anybody else learn any expensive lessons lately?