Some renovation projects run like a dream—high-quality work done on time and on budget with minimal friction between homeowner and contractor. Other times, renovation is marked by delays, mistakes, and frayed nerves. Then there are the real nightmares.
If you think you’ve had a bad renovation experience, meet a Virginia couple we’ll call Dave and Beth Tate.
When the Tates decided in 2005 to turn their “bare bones” basement into a family room, they hired the same contractor—one recommended by their interior designer—who had already transformed the first floor of their home into an open, light-filled space with gleaming wood floors and larger windows.
The basement project would be more complicated. To create the space they wanted, with a bathroom, required infrastructure work such as moving some plumbing.
While the Tates had been pleased with the contractor’s earlier work, 2005 was a boom time for renovation, and on this job the subcontractors didn’t seem as competent—when they showed up—and the contractor wasn’t on the site as often.
Endless problems pushed the project past the projected four months—it would take 18 in all. One of the worst days: when the crew cut into the basement’s concrete walls and dust blew through the house. They’d neglected to cover the vents.
“When I opened the door, I thought we’d had a fire,” says Beth. “There was black soot on the walls, on the ceiling, on the furniture. We had just bought all new furniture. The cleanup took weeks.”
“That,” adds Dave, “was a low point.”
It got worse.
In December 2009, three years after the project ended, the Tates were enjoying their slate-floored family room when they noticed a foul odor and heard scratching behind the walls. Mice, they figured.
They were smelling rats.
It took months to trace where the rodents were coming in. The Tates caught 21 in all by putting traps behind access panels in the walls. The contractor was no help—he’d left the country. Finally, a plumber figured out the problem.
When the workmen had cut a pipe connected to an old sewer line, they hadn’t sealed it properly with a cap, a part that can cost less than $15. Instead, they’d stuffed a rag into the pipe. Rats came up the line and into the walls.
The Tates’ story illustrates how horribly wrong renovation can go. What follows is a look at 12 things that a contractor—generally, a bad contractor—often won’t tell a client and that can lead to problems. Plus, you’ll find advice on how to make a remodeling job run as smoothly as possible.
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