My Sub-Contractor Story

OK, so this is supposed to be a home inspection blog, well it is, but it is also a place where I like to share my experiences, at least home or real estate related experiences. As many of you know, this summer, the wettest summer I remember, I have been embroiled in a new home build. The following story is as true and as factual as I can remember. And is a great tale for anyone who is serving as the general contractor on their own new home.

When we started the process of deciding to build our thought was initially to just sell our home and buy a smaller ranch home. Truth was that with our kids in college or close to being in college, there was no need for 4750 Sq. Ft. anymore. Well there never was a need for that much space to begin with. What was I to do, but say; “Yes, Dear.”

One of the issues with building new is finding contractors. I was amazed at how hard it was to get in touch with certain contractors. As my clients and regular referring agents know, I keep a trusted contractors list, so when they need repairs, I have somewhere to send them. And as you might imagine, this provides these companies with a significant amount of work each year. Anyway, even some contractors on that list let me hang with no return calls for weeks. For obvious reasons those folks are no longer referred to my clients.

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After a few months of getting bids, we had all of the sub-contractors set up, except one. A drywall guy, we still needed to find someone to hang and texture the drywall. My initial thought was to hang it ourselves and just find someone to finish and texture. Then as we got a late start because of all the rain, I thought we better hire the whole job to save us time. I mean, we were already 2 months behind schedule. So I got a referral that actually answered his phone, he was very responsive, and seemed like a good fit. That turned out to be a big mistake, but only the first big mistake I made with regards to this particular sub-contractor. The best attribute this guy possessed was talking, he was a good talker, but wasn’t much for doing the actual work.

As we got ready for the dry-walling to start, everything seemed to be in order, he was given 4 weeks notice that the job would be ready on September 10th. (Please note that as of this writing the date is November 14th). September 10th came and went. I was assured he was just finishing up the previous job. I found that reasonable as I know how scheduling things is generally really difficult when dealing with multiple parties. Finally the drywall was delivered and was being hung, well for one day at least. The first day I thought these guys will have this done in a week. For a 3 week job I thought that was really great, we would be in the house by late October. That’s when the wheels came off so to speak. The owner and principal at this company was the one who did the finishing. Every day that I stopped by it seemed like there was a party going on, the music was blaring but not much was being accomplished, so I asked my carpenter what was going on and he informed me that he only worked a few hours a day and much of that was spent on his phone. I figured that to a gap in generations as he is older and he was exaggerating. But then when the man sprayed the texture, I was shocked that anyone who calls themselves, and I have to get this right because it is printed on their trailer… “Interior Wall Specialists” that they could actually see that the joints must be smooth to not show. I was told: “No Dude, you just gotta spray to see what ya got.” I have been in residential construction over 20 years (I started at probably 10 years old), and never heard that out of any drywall professional. This was a watershed moment for me. I realized that this cat, was an amateur, and had no idea how to finish the job.

After this time, I started to get a little more aggressive in pushing him to the finish, but withheld his last payment because he has over 50 areas to repair. So he calls me one day and said: “I have been waiting for a check and they tell me that you have it.” I said, “Yes, I do.” “Well, I need to know what’s going on around here.” I was thinking, “Well gee, not much, you’ve been there 2 months and it looks like a 4 year old finished the joints with a cheese grater.” I didn’t say that but should have. He then said: “What do I need to do to get paid?” I chuckled a little and said, “Finish?”, “You’ve been camped out for 2 months and it looks really bad”. I’ll be there all weekend and get it knocked out.” I said, “Great, I’ll be there tiling the bathrooms.”

This is where I made my big blunder. I assume people will do what they say they will do, because that is how I operate. If I say it, I do it. So, this guy gave a sad story about he had to pay his guys and that he needed the check in order to buy ceiling paint since he used it all. This was the finished paint on the living room ceiling ( I know it’s hard to see in the picture but really…?):

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So he came in like a rock star and asked what needed to be done, I said: “Again, there are many areas in need of touch up and the ceiling looks really bad, please get the ceilings finished so we can do the hardwood floors.” I’ll get this done this weekend, but I really need to get that check into the bank by noon. I need to pay my guys and buy paint and other materials for my next job.” I fell for it. In a moment of extreme poor judgement, I gave him his check before he was finished, He came back that afternoon, and for a couple hours the next day but I haven’t heard from him since, after many attempts to reach him by phone, text, email, etc. He basically abandoned the job after full payment without finishing (he was supposed to mud the garage as well, I guess he forgot?. Here are some of the other images of his completed work and his mess made on the new siding:

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I am fully willing to share his name and company name with anyone who wants it, but the point of this post is not to blast him, although he really deserves it. The point of this post is to learn from my mistakes. Being the general contractor on your own home build is not an easy task, and probably should be avoided by most people unless they are regularly used to dealing with scheduling, managing many people, and are very familiar with the building process. I was trying to run my inspection and rental companies, as well as run this job efficiently. Depending on people to be (and do) what they say they will do is a challenge for sure. I have had really good luck with my other contractors, they have all done a good job and finished, or are finishing in a timely, quality manner. And guess what? You probably already guessed, they are now on my trusted contractor list and will likely get a fair amount of work from my clients.

I hope this post was informative and helps you avoid the issues I have dealt with over the last few months. As always, if you have any home related questions, send them my way via email, aaron@zuehlkeinspections.com, and I will help as much as I can.

-AZ

Aaron M. Zuehlke is the owner and inspector at Zuehlke Inspection Service, LLC, a full-

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service home inspection company serving Southern Wisconsin. Specializing in Home inspection, Radon Testing, Mold Testing/inspection and Residential Thermal Imaging. He can be reached by email at Aaron@Zuehlkeinspections.com or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.

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