Diary Of A Fixer-Upper: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Daphne’s contractor started doing sloppy work.

My contractor and I have grown apart. In the beginning, the relationship was easy. He would take down a wall or install a dozen cabinets in a single day; I would gush about the renovation’s progress every time I walked through the door. He would surprise me with finishing touches that I had not requested; I would eagerly run back and forth to Home Depot to find the materials he needed. It was an exciting time.

Over the last two months, though, his interest in my condo has waned. It wasn’t just him, either. I wanted my home back. Once 90 percent of the work was done, I could tell he had moved on to another kitchen. His trips to my place became infrequent, which led me to ask for my building key back last week. The magic was gone.

Like any relationship, this one better prepared me for the next. I’ve realized that, if you want to maintain a positive rapport with your contractor—a feat accomplished by very few—the trick may be a fast renovation. Once his wondering eye landed on another apartment, the quality of work in my home changed. He used to be unusually fastidious, and clearly took great pride in his work, but his recent finishing touches have been sloppy and lack the discerning eye of the early days.

When she walked into her kitchen after a weekend away, Daphne’s eye instantly went to this off-center cabinet knob.

Last week, I called him with a list of minor fixes, like filling the nail holes in the under-cabinet molding and cleaning the grout off the floor and from around electrical outlet plates. Then I headed out of town.

When I returned, I was thrilled to see that the cabinet knobs had been installed. It was the final touch I had been waiting for, and I was really happy with the knobs I chose. Almost instantly, though, my eye went to the one knob that was off-center, and, all aboard kids—back to the emotional rollercoaster!

I was livid. It seemed impossible that my contractor hadn’t noticed this problem, which left me thinking that he was just waiting to see if I would notice. Of course I noticed; this particular knob is supposed to be centered over the stove, which is the center of the kitchen. I had three friends look at it to verify—it was an obvious problem.

A new cabinet is now on its way, so that the contractor can take off the cabinet door and start again. Once I pointed out the problem, he was eager to fix it. So why is this episode still bothering me? Because it is complicating my next project, the bathroom.

I need to do a much simpler renovation in my bathroom, and I would like to get it done quickly. I had planned to use the same contractor, who I know is honest and capable and, at least initially, proud of his work. Now I’m not sure. He has gotten sloppy, and I think it’s because he’s ready to move on to the next thing. Can my bathroom be the next thing, or does it need to be a whole new home (and new homeowner)?

This is why people stay in loveless marriages. Maybe it’s not what it once was, but who wants to risk going out there and finding someone new? What if you break up with your contractor, only to find out that he was the best out there? Is this the time to love the one you’re with?

For now, I am dating on the sly as I look for friends who parted amicably with their contractors. So far, I have heard of only one such case. 

Daphne writes about her renovation process every Tuesday. To read Daphne's renovation adventures from the beginning, click here.

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