Make sure your contractor knows exactly what you want. Spell it. You do not want to come back to your house and find the garage walls not painted, because your contractor thinks that your garage is not a part of your house. Yes, I know it is attached. Your painter might not care about linguistics.

Additional Sources

Construction Horror Stories

What happened – Poor Paint Job done by Contractor Helper

Sometimes the scope of the project is beyond a good general contractor.  The contractor you hire might be an expert carpenter, but not much of a painter.  When there is only a little bit of painting, the GC isn’t necessarily going to sub out to a professional painting business, nor are the busier painters necessarily going to be keen on the work.  Every now and then this sort of situation can lead to some sub par painting like that displayed in the pictures. Huge drips and non-speckled nail holes are some of the signs of a generally bad painter or a good one having a terrible day.

Lesson Learned

There is only so much one can do to control the outcome above and beyond making sure that the contractor either paints themselves or has one or a few good painters on call.  It’s helpful to have a good grasp of the scope of the job, so that the contractor has plenty of time to make sure that all the relevant and necessary skilled workers and sub-contractors are ready and available for the project.


What Happened – Columns have been installed upside-down.

As silly as the example looks, experience has taught that it is apparently not safe to assume that all sub-contractors and day laborers are going to have deep familiarity with decorative elements.  Just marking out the location of columns isn’t a surefire method of correct installation!  On a really busy job, sometimes this is all the time allotted for explanation.

Lesson Learned

Placing column capitals at the base is a pretty rare screw up, but incorrectly installing wall fonts, Victorian tracery, and other decorative elements isn’t.  Like many construction snafus, the best way to avoid this sort of problem is usually to hire as competent a contractor as possible, and one who has a solid grasp of the decorative elements that are to be used.

Link to Picture

What Happened- Door swinging in upon a toilet.

Not so common, really- at least not in N. American residential construction.


What Happened- Tiling Contractor From Hell

The pictures speak for themselves! Uneven tiles, overflowing grout lines, unsealed edges, and poorly done corners all come together to produce one of the worst bathroom tiling jobs of the century.  In this case, the bad job was the product of hiring out to a friend instead of putting the job out on the market for competitive bidding.

Lesson Learned

The most important part of taking bids and estimates is collecting them in the first place.  This is totally obvious, but so many people have been down the same road of giving the work to the first person that comes along or to someone we know socially, but not professionally.  While keeping the money “in the family” by hiring out to a friend, can bring a lot of pleasure and deepen bonds, it can also end up severing them.  Unless we have a good idea of the general quality of people’s work, it’s best to stay professional when hiring out projects.


What Happened- Atrocious paint job after purchase of house

Blue tape stuck in the corners, paint on the wood wall boards, and paint on the molding and baseboard trim are conspicuously less than professional moves.  So many people ask if this is normal and acceptable and it most certainly is not. This job was carried out by a crew with an otherwise good reputation, but one of a million possible elements seemed to have brought it downhill. This is the type of job that ought to be pointed out on the final walk-through, and that a good contractor should be promptly fixed with a discount on the labor cost.

Lesson Learned

There are two main areas of challenge with a final walk-through: knowing what to look for and skillfully dealing with the elements that don’t meet the acceptable standard of quality.  This paint job was obviously a bad one.  If it was done by a generally good team, a prudent approach is often to talk with the paint person, get a sense for what went wrong, and if it seems anomalous, have the best painter on the crew go through and fix it.


The advice is to be exhaustive at first, and then focus on the most important tasks.


What Happened – Badly Botched Tile Job in Master Bathroom Remodel

Botched Tile Job- the tiles in the shower basin are completely off in this picture.


What Happened – Bad tile job after chunks of money are being paid up front.

It just about goes without saying that it is really important to become familiar with the range of work that your contractor or handy person is capable of doing.  Do they have a portfolio? Check it out. Know anyone who they’ve done work for? Go and take a look in person.  If contracts are being made, and chunks of money are being paid up front, it’s prudent to know as much as possible.  I’ve seen plenty of tile jobs like the one below, that were botched for a variety of reasons.

Lesson Learned

Nobody is keen on redoing a bad tile job, especially if contracts and prepayment are involved, so engaging in as much vetting as possible is nothing to be ashamed of.  A verifiable string of jobs well-done of the same or similar nature is an excellent augur for future peace of mind.

What Happened- Contractor walks out with deposit money while under contract.

In the case of the below nightmare project, the contractor walked out with their deposit with a claim that they had fulfilled the minimum requirements of the contract.  Believe it or not, this is wholly possible when a poorly written contract and a less than scrupulous contractor are combined.  There can be cases where minimum outcomes aren’t well delineated, and a bad contractor can either wrangle through a contractual loophole or might even gamble on whether or not they’ll be successfully taken to court by the owner.

Lesson Learned

The best way to avoid this problem is to hire someone who is very well known to you and/or possesses an overwhelmingly positive reputation. With such people, contracts are often made redundant.  When entering into a contract, it’s best to be as specific as possible with the outcome of the project and how much money is to be pegged to one or more distinct stages. This is especially helpful when large amounts of money are paid out in an initial deposit.


What Happened-Picked the wrong color hardwood that doesn’t match the existing flooring!

There are more than a few ways to select the wrong material in a remodel or renovation project: aesthetic, functional, or otherwise.  One of the most common mistakes happens in matching the color or grain of flooring. The picture below is a pretty extreme example of missing the mark with hardwood flooring.  The fix for this could take a little time, as matching a new stain to an existing floor is a little bit tricky.  Both floors will probably need to be sanded down and stained together.

Lesson Learned

It’s extremely helpful to be able to select materials, with a piece of matching material in hand, whether it’s tile, flooring, or paint.  Whenever possible, it’s best to head to the warehouse, and go through the material pallets one by one.  This is the case because packed pallets often contain bits of material that might not be of the desired color, grain, or pattern.


Typical story of a remodeling that went well:

Never had a really bad experience, but I do take my due diligence seriously. References, background checks, permits, licenses and registrations, insurance, lists of personnel allowed on my property (to weed out the ‘hired for the day’ subs), etc.

My best advice would be to put everything in writing. Scope of work, schedules, contingency plans. Outline (and budget) both best and worst case scenarios. Even thou you cannot know in advance what exactly you’ll find behind the walls, a good professional familiar with the building stock in your area should know more or less what to expect and what to look out for.

I never had to resort to legal action, but insisting on detailed contract helped weed out those unwilling to commit to a demanding client. I am not difficult to work with once you’re hired, but getting hired is a challenge. On the upside, I was told twice after major renovation what a pleasure my project was to work with, because all details were worked out in advance and communication channels established. Needless to say, I never went for the lowest bidder, but those I ended up working with were never the highest bidders either.


What Happened- Placing the new ceiling fan too close to the door!

I’ve seen this more times than I can count, and have been called in a few times to cut a new hole in the ceiling in order to mount the light in a functional way.  Luckily, the wiring and studs were right where we needed them to be, so the job was very straightforward. On another occasion, it was not so easy, requiring large sections of sheet rock to be replaced, extra blocking installed, and several hours added to the bill. While some people could simply forego a ceiling fan, others absolutely need one.

Lesson Learned

The lesson here is an addition to the old carpenter’s maxim of “measure twice, cut once.”  Placing a new fixture in a room requires a fresh appraisal of all the ways the placement might not work out.

What Happened – Cabinet drawers are installed in a way that jams them against the new door frame.

This is so common, especially when a different people are installing the cabinets and the doorframe.  With whole contracting businesses devoted to installing cabinets, the chances for the right hand not consulting with the left hand tend to go up.  With an eye toward avoiding dings and scratches, doorframes are among the last elements to be installed.  Sometimes there is an easy fix for this and sometimes people learn to live with a cabinet that doesn’t fully open.

Lesson Learned

Whatever the case, this is an error of poor planning or poor communication. It’s very helpful to have a clear and detailed vision of how the various components work together.  Having that, communication of the master plan with everyone involved and conscientious attention through the remodeling process tend to ensure a snag free project.


What Happened – Sheet-rock gone bad!

Sheet-rocking is frequently one of those jobs that ambitious DiY-ers elect to tackle themselves.  It’s also one of those jobs that owners and contractors alike attempt to low-ball by searching for the cheapest subcontractors.  These are choices that can lead to some fairly unfortunate results.  The residential building and remodeling world is filled with some really horrendous sheet-rocking jobs.  While slightly crushed corners and wide seams can often be forgotten behind a good muddying job, larger errors aren’t so easily covered over and need to be replaced before the drywall is taped and muddied.


Lesson Learned

It might seem like the simplest of grunt work, but there are 1,000 different ways to screw up the drywall process.  Paying for a high-quality sheet rock installer is the best way of avoiding one of the million drywall disasters that populate the world of home remodeling.  Another way shoddy sheet rock jobs get done is when the drawlers and the mudders are two different teams, working under a schedule that is too tight.  The time crunch can cause even seasoned drawlers to rush too quickly through their work.  Having some play in the schedule or hiring a drawer who also mud  have both made projects move along smoothly.



What Happened – Outlets placed in ways that they can’t be used.

This almost always happens when a contractor does their job exactly right.  The blueprints require an outlet placed in a specific location, and there it goes.  Sometimes the placement is initially perfect, but a midstream design change calls for a new sink with a completely different faucet arrangement.  In the case of the attached picture, that was precisely what happened, and the outlet was consciously sacrificed for the sake of the new kitchen arrangement.  When the owners absolutely need that outlet for a working kitchen, it becomes a fairly big headache, or at least an expensive problem to fix.

Lesson Learned

Sticking to the original design scheme isn’t always possible, and if there are enough outlets to go around for kitchen appliances, it’s not always such a big deal. When a blocked outlet is an outright mistake, the big lesson is to make sure that the subcontractors are sufficiently aware of the desired finished product that they make any necessary adjustments required for creating a functional space.


What Happened – Dishwasher installed in a place where its non-functional or less than functional.

Appliances are often only thought of near the end of the planning process, if they’ve been considered at all. This might be the most frequent kitchen mishap, since the stove and oven are often placed near the center of the work space and the dishwasher is placed away into some corner- or wherever the convenient plumbing hookup might be.  The walls of nooks, semi-walls, kitchen islands, and door trim are the main culprits that keep the dishwasher door from properly closing.  It’s just no fun for most people to bend over and reach deeply into the dishwasher in order to load or unload the dishes.

Lesson Learned

When planning out a kitchen remodel, it can be very helpful to make a plan or even an additional plan that revolves completely around the major appliances.  Doing this will probably eliminate 90% of bad placements.  The other 10% might belong to those small house or apartment kitchens that were put together in the days before dishwashers. There are some spaces that can only take a small dishwasher or none at all.


What Happened – Faucet that doesn’t reach the sink.

This is what can happen when a fixture designed for another basin is put with a different basin. For a contractor or a handy person, this isn’t usually such a big deal, since the faucet can generally be easily switched out for a more suitable faucet.  When delivered as is to a homeowner, especially a non-mechanically inclined homeowner, it ranges from a minor annoyance to a genuine imposition upon those who need a sink that doesn’t spill over the floor.

Lesson Learned

When choosing faucets or any fixtures, it’s important to take proper measurements of the space.


Why you might need to change the drywall…

Your best source is our guidance (pdf) on identifying homes built with problem drywall. (There are many reasons that a home could exhibit similar symptoms to a home with problem drywall and it is important that you correctly identify the source at work in your particular circumstance.)

Briefly, the identification process for identifying whether problem drywall is present in a home is a two-step process.

Step One: A visual inspection must show:

Blackening of copper electrical wiring and/or air conditioning evaporator coils and
Drywall installed between 2001 and 2009
If both of these are present, look for corroborating evidence.

Step Two: Corroborating Evidence: (if drywall was installed between 2005 and 2009, must have at least two of the below. For installations between 2001 and 2004, at least four of the following conditions must be met:)

Elemental sulfur in the drywall core (requires outside lab testing)
Copper sulfide on coupons, grounding wires, and/or air conditioning coils (requires outside lab testing)
Chinese markings on drywall (This does not imply that all Chinese drywall or that only Chinese drywall is associated with these problems, but that among homes with the characteristic corrosion, Chinese drywall is a corroborating marker for the characteristic problems.) Such markings may not be present or easily discerned in all problem drywall homes.
Elevated sulfide gas emissions from drywall (requires outside lab testing)
Corrosion induced by drywall in test chambers (requires outside lab testing)
If your home has problem drywall, see our remediation guidance (PDF).


The Top 10 Most Outrageous Fails I’ve Seen as a Real Estate Investor

Real estate investors see and hear a lot of ridiculous and downright humorous things. We are probably exposed to more sheer lunacy than virtually any other profession.