On our second home now, my significant other and I still find it hard to believe that getting a really good and honest contractor to work with us is like pulling teeth. Even with the advent of organizations like Angie’s List and Home Advisor, it has been a rare occurrence to find worthy craftsmen, handymen, and general workmen out there. I won’t even begin mentioning Yelp, where, as a contractor, you can simply get a bunch of friends to beef up your rating with false entries in the tens, or even hundreds. And where the age of the average user seems to hover around twelve. “Like, you know, like, pre-teen, like, awesome!”
First of all, let me simply say that we have never met a female in this realm. Sure, they have answered phones and set up our appointments. But no woman has ever graced our doorstep to actually do any handy work. For the sake of this article, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. Good because I believe women would actually show up on time, do great work, and clean up after themselves. As a general rule. Bad, because guys suck and I only wish that women were in this workspace as well as men. Guys do not give a shit about being on time, do not treat their work as a craft, and almost never clean up after themselves. Not to mention the ones who are simply scoping your house out for a robbery. It is a fact stated by Police officials and Detectives that the most common house burglar, rapist, and murderer turns out to be a contractor. Someone who had access to your property. Saw your lifestyle and belongings. Someone who learned the layout of your home, and, possibly, your schedule as well. Even if they themselves are only forwarding information to others for a fee.
Without naming names or businesses (since I pretty much always review our experiences anyway), I will attempt to run through a few of our scenarios and memorable experiences for your edification and/or amusement. Perhaps you have had the exact same or similar experiences and will just smile through an aneurism as you read this. Feel free to tell your stories in the comments at the end of this article. New home owners need to understand how rampant the behavior is. And, hopefully, this article and subsequent responses will save them a lot of time, agony, and money in the future. Perhaps some of you can offer information that will help even me – a hardened, cynical home-owner who is disgusted with it all.
Shall we begin?
One of the biggest gripes I have involves about 99% of all of the contractors who ever graced our threshold. It is their lack of neatness and cleanliness. Even contractors we love seem to have a blind spot for neatness. My Art Teacher used to always tell us: “Being an artist is not an excuse for being a slob!” Man, that phrase has always stuck with me. If only I could get these guys to follow a few simple things along that line. Like: Wipe your fucking boots before you go into someone’s home! No, really. As a contractor, you have been in some really crappy places (sometimes literally) during the day. Who knows what filth you are carting around on the soles of your boots. Dirt, grease, glues and epoxies, waste water, urine from public restrooms, grime from the back of your van, and flecks of metal that will scratch the shit out of newly finished hardwood floors. Is it so hard to have just a little imagination? And care?
Next is the hands. We know contractor jobs are difficult and extremely dirty. But, contractors know this as well. And when they leave a finished job, why do they consistently leave grimy handprints all over walls, towels, tissue boxes, mirrors, doors, woodwork? I don’t get it. The worst part is that their fingerprints are involved so WE KNOW WHO DID IT! Is it supposed to be a way of signing their work? Shouldn’t that be saved for signing the check I write out to them?
The most recent contractor at our house was a “handyman” and helped to patch odd holes in the walls and ceilings from an electrical upgrade. The actual work involves cleaning the shape of the hole by cutting the edges more squarely, filling the hole with a matching piece of wall board, and plastering over that to even the surfaces. There’s tons of dust and debris. Our guy laid a tarp out at each spot. But when he finished and prepared to move to the next hole, he folded up the tarp so all of the debris fell out right where he stood! There wasn’t one moment where he looked up at me and apologized or tried to at least act like he was attempting to clean up the new mess. Never. After he finished the final hole patch, he again folded the tarp (this would be the fourth location), and again all of the debris simply fell onto the floor he had originally protected. He saw me staring at the mess and actually had the nerve to ask me if I wanted him to clean up. Wow. Isn’t that par for the course, dude? What a class act. I replied by saying: “Meet me at least half way.” He didn’t even have a dust pan or a vacuum. Unbelievable. This is how guys are as a rule, it seems. Most are not thoughtful. Most do not care what other people think. Most do not care how their actions affect others around them. Kind of like smokers… But that’s another article.
Most of the people who have worked on our homes have fallen into this lump of classless dimwit. Even the best electrician I have ever found installed our main electric panel at a slight angle. Oish. And to this very day, I still find bits of copper wire and plastic sleeves cut from the wire all over the house, the yard, and the driveway. It’s maddening. I can only imagine what kind of debris is lying around in the house’s crawl spaces.
But wait! My diatribe continues.
Just when you thought WordPress and RSS feeds had a word count limit…
Our worst nightmare was realized when a person calling himself an “electrician” started work on our house replacing all of the old knob and tube wiring. He showed up with two teenagers (oh, great. Teenage boys are the best at understanding peoples’ needs. And caring). The first faux pas was when he pulled his work truck into the driveway which has beautiful inlaid pavers. Why would you do that? Your truck may leak oil. You will be dragging things in and out of the vehicle all day, inevitably dropping bits and pieces of wire, screws, and metal everywhere. And being guys, you know they won’t pick them up at the end of the day. They won’t even acknowledge they dropped them in the first place. So why do it? Is this the dog rule? I’m pissing to mark my territory? Grow up. Please.
They proceeded to lay down craft paper on the newly-refinished wood floors instead of a heavy fabric tarp. So, boot toes scraping, they went to work. They destroyed the baseboard in two rooms and the wall over the mantle in two places. They were careless, wreck less, feckless. They were assholes. It felt personal. As if the owner decided he didn’t like us for whatever reason and was going to teach us a lesson. There are some photos of proof here for your perusal:
Of course I fired him. All it took was one morning of “work” to ruin a beautiful 1922 home with original woodwork and stone. If he was so jealous of us or angry at us, why even take the job? I don’t get it. This was to be the first time we had ever used his services.
A final entry here is on my experience with getting quotes for work. Now I know contractors have to actually see a scenario in order to fairly cost out work, but why do I always get the feeling that my bill is based on how nice my home is and what car is in my driveway? I lost count of how many times I have been given a general quote on the phone only to have some slob come out to the house and suddenly the price doubles. Really. It’s unbelievable. We aren’t rich. We have sacrificed and worked our entire lives to be in the home we are in. And it’s always a struggle to get money together for projects. No one sees or respects the path we have taken to get here. I don’t drive a Mercedes or a BMW. We are normal, everyday people. I’m tired of being measured this way.
I guess in the end there is no moral to the story. There is, however, a giant ball of apprehension and distrust in allowing strangers into my home. I don’t even want pest control or chimney sweeps in my house. I simply wish “men” would turn on a little sensitivity and care when what they do and say affect other people in such an intimate way. Where are their Mothers? Is this how they were brought up? It certainly seems so. What else is someone like myself supposed to think?
Just once, I would love to experience the complete trifecta of home improvement:
1) A fair and honest quote from trustworthy people. Not people who “appear” trustworthy.
2) A job well done and treated as “craft” by the workman.
3) A clean house when they leave.