contractor issues: when to call it quits?

Katie Hulka
July 12, 2017

We are on day 3 of our remodel/additions. Should be day 5, but no-showed on day 1 and 2. We are under contract with a design build firm owned by a licensed architect, who is also our contractor. We also have a secondary contract with a pool company. We drew up our rough designs, hashed out a few minor details, signed the contract and submitted permits. When roughing in the foundations I got concerned that there was not enough room in the bathroom for the items we wanted. One area will only have 18" of space to walk through. I brought up my concern to the contractor while his plumber was working on the main plumbing lines into the house. He said, "let me go stop him before he lays any bathroom plumbing". The next thing I know, both their vehicles are gone. They walked off the job. Not returning calls since.

If we cancel the GC contract, we have to find a new firm, redo our whole financing process for both the house and the pool.

How do I know at what stage I should address concerns? Or when to decide it isn't working at all? This is our first project of this nature and we have had multiple communication problems, but we keep being told things will be addressed down the road.

Any advice?

Comments (78)

  • bry911

    But if folks would quit that wishful dreaming interfering with sound decisions, they'd quit hiring them, and they'd go away. Bubba's exist because someone wants to believe that they will get something for nothing.

    HAHA! Good one.

    No they wouldn't. The idea that bad contractors exist because consumers want cheap things is not accurate.

    Any time there is asymmetric information the market will produce adverse selections at every price point. In other words so long as people don't have sufficient knowledge to price a project on their own, there will always be an almost equal number of good and bad actors that pass a screening process.

    The only sufficient guard against that is self monitoring by knowledgeable professionals (self-monitoring of the industry) which the construction industry has not been willing to do. I am not even sure they reasonably can do it, and certainly not the way projects are done today.

    Even reviews don't work, the average consumer simply doesn't have the necessary tools to even judge quality of work. A contractor can work years doing inferior work and rarely have a consumer question them, so long as they are on-time, and talented at explaining away problems. Many quality issues will not even emerge for years after the contract was completed.

    Like it or not, the OP investigated the contractor and found that contractor sufficiently acceptable. The risk of that happening at a higher price point is almost exactly the same. There is no amount of money that the OP can pay that will assure a proper job. Markets just don't work that way. So long as the contractor knows significantly more than the consumer there will always be contractors who are screwing over consumers.

    I don't know how the OP could have stopped it. Sophie's advice wasn't really a guard against it, unless you are suggesting that an anonymous person on the internet should have more credibility than a licensed architect... If that is, in fact, what you are suggesting send me your money to help you invest, I am a pro on the internet after all.

  • Katie Hulka

    We actually did significantly increase our budget and reduce the scope of work in the past year, prior to hiring this contractor. Frankly, prior to scheduling appts with contractors, I could find no way to reasonably estimate the cost of the type of work we were looking to have done. There is no magic formula for homeowners that I could find, but if you have a source for one, I would dearly love to see it. So the homeowner is pretty blind to cost, yet supposed to tell your maximum budget to someone who does have that info and may or may not be honest about the actual cost of the project. If I went to a car dealership and told them I had $50,000 and asked what I could get for that price, they could easily hand me the keys to a Fiat if I had no information to verify the value.

    And hiring a design/build firm was done on the advice of this forum. And yes, we did seek someone who seemed like someone we could work with, not the guy who would only look at my husband when we talked, even though I am the one at home through all of this.

    We were NOT given the opportunity to sign off on plans beforehand. He had rough plans, but would not draw official drawings for plans until we signed a contract. We did because we trusted him, paid him thousands of dollars as a deposit to draw the plans, then did not see them again until he told us the city needed and additional set of plans for the permits, but he could not get them there so I needed to run them up. He emailed them to me, I had them printed and delivered them (the city already had 1 copy at that point). I immediately called him to tell him I had concerns about several things on the plans and he told me that it was only the walls, structure, plumbing and electrical that the city was concerned with and "you will have plenty of time to work out the details after we have the permit." There was one week between permit approval and start of work and I asked multiple times about pricing for counter tops, details on the shower design, bathroom layout, kitchen cabinet placement, etc., and heard increasing frustration from him each time. We had also asked repeatedly for a rough weekly construction schedule since we are living here and have pets (turtles on land and in water that cannot be relocated but are fenced from construction, and dogs that had to go to a kennel every day, nothing that would be underfoot during work) and even the day they started he said they would get that which was a simple lie at that point. We had first asked for updates on scheduling phases when we signed the contract 8 weeks prior.

    I had written 10 or 15 known things about our house so he would not forget, like where incoming water lines were, old greywater lines, filled in septic locations, etc, yet when the concrete guy arrived and saw where we had exposed the incoming lines that required relocation (stated right off the bat when meeting with each and every contractor and knowing it would be major expense, and discussed repeatedly with our GC and spelled out in writing), he said "Is that plumbing LIVE?!?! why is all that in my way? I have to dig it or work around it? " I told him the GC was aware of it and to call him. First 5 minutes of our build I was getting yelled at by a sub.

    Subs who, by the way, were paid unless the GC withheld payment. After we decided to stop the contract, he offered a legal document stating neither of us would seek further comp from the other, as well as an invoice showing part of our deposit as payment for trenching and forms. If they did not get paid, it is on HIM, not us.

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    Steve from BeautifulRemodel has given you excellent advice as well.....................the suggestions that I gave do seem over whelming, but in your instances this could basically consist of a one or two page contract at most........it doesn't have to be a War and Peace novel length document. In this case it could very well be the following: 1. Your name, address, site address and your phone number. 2. His name, his company name, his license number and his phone number, his insurance information and his bond information. 3. A summary description of the work involved, the area to be worked on, the materials to be used and the quality expected (i.e if he's doing an overlay for a finished floor you want a levelness of 1/4" - 1/8" per 10' depending on the finish floor materials selected). 4. The contract amount for work covered. You said it was about $10,000. Show a 10% deposit payment due at signing of contract. A materials payment when presented with a receipt for said materials. I suspect the reason he want to be paid in cash, is this is an off the books jobs for him and the daily payments are for the day labors he will be using........... I can tell you no commercial job is paying him cash on a daily basis. I'm not really big on paying daily.......this is a good indicator he's using day labor to do the work and that's iffy as to experience and quality. Don't get me wrong, I've used day labor myself before and been very pleased with their work quality........I've also been totally disgusted with the work quality and fired them before lunch. The key is this, is he going to be on site supervising the job the whole 5 days or is he just sending out day labors to do the work while he's on one of his commercial jobs? I would require his daily supervision on the job and that all payments other than the deposit would be made minus a 10% retainage to be paid at the end of the job. Whether or not you pay in cash is your call.........I would advise against it. 5. Since he says the job will take 5 days, this needs to be shown on the contract........the start date and the finish date. This could take a single page or two at the most.........the main thing is you want the particulars spelled out in a written contract. Should the work be defective or the work not completed on time without anything in writing you have nothing to stand on. If he has problems with these conditions and signing a contract, you should see red flags and fireworks going off telling you that this is not a good fit...........find a new contractor. Although I'm pretty much retired now save the occasional custom residential design, I still do some small home repair jobs in my neighborhood for my neighbors who are mostly elderly and living on fixed incomes (i.e replace a window or door, replace a sink, add a storm / security door). I usually do the work for the price of the materials and a very minimal labor fee (I could make more working at McDonalds). Most of the jobs, if they buy the materials I'll do the work for a pie or a cake........and let me tell you, there are some good cooks living around me, all home made......but even with this, I provide them with a one page contract. Any contractor who would object to a simple contract like this is suspect in my book.
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  • Katie Hulka

    Going forward, we have hired and paid another design build firm to finish the plans for which we already have city permits. He seemed happy to do so and knows the plans only need some details worked out. The overall plan is workable, we just needed more detailed measurements on exact shower wall and counter placement, etc. We will own those exact build plans and they will be signed off on, then when, we shop for our next contractor, they can see exactly what we are dealing with. Apples to apples, so to speak.

    We have our pool permits approved and ready to go and it is $52000, so our original plan there was only about $5000 off, which I don't think is bad for people outside the field.

    What sucks is that I STILL don't know how we would have known all of this beforehand. How on earth does one know if, by giving your budget to a total stranger, if they are selling you a Fiat for the price of 4Runner, or if you actually are going to get what you pay for?

    With our new detailed plans, I want contractors to tell ME what it costs to build, then let me decide if it is close enough to my budget to work. I assume that may be completely unreasonable, but I would like to know why.

    I did come here for advice, and I have adapted what we have heard to the best of our ability, but yes, I do mentally shut down when someone who has never even seen my home, let alone busted their butt for 15 years to take care of it, categorically states to tear it down, just because it is the cheapest option. And an awful lot of assumptions were made about our scenario. I did not start with the novel that would detail out the last 5 months, but maybe I should have, my bad.

    It is an extremely sketchy field of work with a ton of bad apples and the "caveat emptor" attitude doesn't help. I still don't know how to verify if anyone we speak with is worth hiring or not. Original opinions were all over the map, and all over the price range, yet oddly always right around a 10% plus or minus of our budget, even as we changed our budget and scope. It seriously seems like they just take the budget and work it backwards.

  • bry911

    Katie -

    Without hearing the other side of the story, you did little wrong, at least little that you could reasonably correct. Frankly, I don't care what the other side of the story is, you still did little wrong.

    Any service provider has a responsibility for a reasonable level of customer care, and that actually is a legal and actionable responsibility. There is a reason that the construction industry has one of the highest incidence rates of fraud. The idea that any consumer could battle their way out of that when commercial construction contracts can't, is ridiculous.

    I think you made the right decision in the right time frame. While I am not there, I know when the relationship between myself and a client or myself and a service provider is beyond repair. If you felt that the relationship was beyond repair, then firing him immediately was the right decision.

    In the scope of things you had a small problem, it is smart to act on the warning signs before small problems become big problems. In reality, you should terminate a business relationship anytime the likelihood and cost of a problem exceed the termination cost. Too many people let too many things turn into big problems because they are already invested.

    Katie Hulka thanked bry911
  • Katie Hulka

    I received notification of some apparently deleted comments. I don't know what that is all about, but I ask again:

    How is the average homeowner who works in a completely different field with nothing to do with construction, supposed to tell who is honest and qualified, from one who puts on a good show?

    Is there a book I can read about it? I did everything I read online and still made a terrible choice. I admit it and do not want to repeat the same mistake.

  • Jim Mat

    If you can't get along with people, a couple of books: I'm OK, You're OK, Don't Say Yes, When You Want To Say No.

    Re honest and qualified, references! I had my roofer take me to 6-8 of his customers, I met 3 of them, who were home at the time.

    Re contracting: you are hiring the "president of your $xxx company"

    Management is common sense and experience.

    Regarding construction terminology and methods, I recommend: Sunset Books, different books for different areas, cost $10 ea, maybe 10-15 books, I think Time (who now owns Sunset) has something similar.

    Readers Digest Home Repairs, there are a few, DIY, FIY, Home Improvements.

    Magazines: Handyman, This Old House, Sunset.

    When you read things online: do not rely on forums, go to the manufacturers site and read the instructions. Often, a manufacturer belongs to an association.

    Proof of licenses and insurance, flow down terms and conditions to subs.

  • Katie Hulka

    I did most of that, I think I am generally easy enough to get along with until I get really mad, but being female, I do know that sometimes I can say the same words in the same tone as a man and it will be perceived differently.

    We have built decks, installed built-in appliances, built sheds and greenhouses, replaced eaves and fascia boards, flooring, doors and all kinds of other DIY. I need help with contract steps. People were stating here things that "ALWAYS" happen, but we don't know what we don't know.

    We did check references from multiple contractors. I probably spoke with over 50 people with similar projects to ours, deciding between different GCs.

    We did check insurance and the guy we hired was the only one in the area that had a license of any sort as it is not required in Texas.

    I appreciate the advice and will look into the books.

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler

    A simple way to gauge if your budget is enough for your wish list is to read well respectedindustry sources like Cost Vs Value. It is broken down by National, Regional, and Local data for several common remodeling projects.

    Having the design work done first, so that you have an apples to apples specification to give to contractors for better communication of your wants, is imperative, if you are going to go the ''bid'' situation. Bids are counterproductive in many cases cases though. It creates consumer focus on price rather than quality.

    What Your Contractor Can't Tell You by Amy Johnston is a good start for a read. Houzz is another. Read between the lines on the reviews though. Ask to see work in person, and meet the folks who had the work done. Every single contractor that I've worked with over the years has people lining up to give them great reviews.

    None of those stellar contractors were $1.98 kind of guys. That's the biggest disconnect here. Sometimes you don't get what you do pay for, but you never get what you won't pay for.

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC

    I just got an email from potential complaining my rates are too high. I emailed her back with to some links showing what needed to be done and the consequences of not doing so. I feel badly that my salesmanship is not good enough to convey value. She thinks she can stop a leaking undermount sink with a scraper and a Craigslister with a tube of caulk for $100.00.

    Just had to tell a lady that her husband's attempt to repair their blown reinforcement rod with epoxy may have cost them their countertop. How am I gonna get that crap out of the crack and still have a good looking repair?

    People don't know what they don't know.

  • Katie Hulka

    I am getting the Amy Johnston book this week. We are by no means looking to find the cheapest bid, and never were. Yes, our initial budget was off, but only because we had zero baseline information. I had found several articles from recent local publication about our real estate market and home improvement, and I had added 50% to their average price/sf for each project. And our needs are considerably simpler than the average McMansion build in this area. It seemed logical at the time.

    We were looking for an honest price for good work. The two are not necessarily tied together. I don't know how else to interview someone to find out if they are a good fit without asking about both ideas for the best way to do the job and cost. Awareness of expense is just being responsible. I will not, and cannot, just say, "build it however you want and bill me later."

    We are using a home improvement loan program initially and refinancing after it is done. The bank issuing the loan has guidelines on cost vs value of the home. They seem quite reasonable, but it is information we simply must have in order to proceed. And I am not telling my budget up front. They can have the plans and tell me what it costs this time.

  • roarah

    You are your biggest obstacle if you do not meet with GCs with budget restrictions honesty. I so do not get not being upfront with your budget! You are wasting people's time and your results might be because of this unnecessary insistence.

    This worked for me maybe it might for you. I met with contractors to discuss my ideas of adding a bathroom and where. We were torn between turning our loft into a master suite and adding above an existing sun room which abutted our present master bed room. I told them how much I had to spend on each idea. I was willing to spend more on the third floor due to added sq footage and an extra bedroom but still had a max number.

    Contractors honestly told me the loft, due to joists, was not an affordable option so we focused on the addition and they gave me estimates not final costs quotes at this venture.

    I, then knowing we could afford the project for the estimates were more than twenty percent below our max and thus allowed a contingency fund, hired an architect to design the addition. Told him only two things, we wanted no bathtub to allow for more storage and we wanted it to blend as well as it could with our existing house exteriorly. Then I shut up until he showed us his ideas for he knew more than us.

    That last bit of advice is I believe the most important. I saw his plan and had a few questions and concerns when we met I listened to why he did the things he did asked if a few things could be changed he said yes to some no to others he redid the plans to mesh my hopes as well as possible and resubmitted a draft to us. We finalized the second one and signed off and paid him.

    With plans in hand, I contacted my chosen GC he than gave me a fixed cost quote in accordance to these plans along with an estimate cost section to account for my finishing choices and tile patterns etc. we accepted that quote and then signed a detailed contract.

    Did we run into any issues, yes, especially with tile but my GC handled them all without arguement and instantly. One issue came up even after he was paid in full. When an issue did arise I calmly notified my GC, explained what I was worried about, listen to his thoughts on it and waited to find out more from him about the problem.

    A good relationship does take two. I tried really hard to trust, listen to and respect the person I chose to use. I tried to stay out of their way when not on my project, i.e. I never called after four pm only emailed. If something were urgent, a leak maybe I would have broken this rule but nothing urgent happened really. I tried to be organized with the things that fell on me like tile, vanity selection, fixtures and made certain my lack of knowledge, in decisions, and even lack of funds never got in the way of my crew's schedule nor time!

    I believe being a good customer is as important as choosing a good contractor and no the customer is not always right when it comes to structural, budget and building knowledge.

  • Katie Hulka

    I am quite gun shy at this point, more about quality than price. It will be difficult for me to trust anyone, but I am happy to explain why without naming names.

    The way I see it, if they have all the plans and know my maximum budget, as well as being the only one who knows if they are honest and qualified, not only do I not have any power, but apparently I also have to have a winning personality while my life is in shambles. Everything I own is in storage, we are months behind, 2 of my pets lives are at great risk if that area of the yard is not sound and quiet by fall, and I have to give a total stranger ALL the information and trust my gut again. Information about my budget is just about the only thing I can totally control in the negotiation.

    I can think of no other consumer service that requires the customer budget up front without some kind of real pricing reference. Home buying has listed prices, cars have listed prices, just about any service has a fee schedule including medicine and most services like plumbing, electrical, etc. GCs are the only ones doing business this way that I am aware of. I dealt with people every day who could afford our gold star services, but we would give a treatment plan for their pet, then discuss options and find out what they could afford and were comfortable with. Never once did we start a service conversation with "how much do you have to spend", even when some of the services ran many thousands of dollars. It was a cost of doing business to look at the animal first and then talk about money. We also had licensed professionals and a board overseeing the industry to ensure good practices are the norm and not the exception. I would even be happy to pay a few hundred dollars for a consult with review of plans and an on site visit to get an honest estimate of cost, thereby avoiding wasting anyone's time. We are not cheap, just very wary.

    I feel completely at the mercy of a corrupt industry looking for a needle in a haystack to find both competency and honesty. All the cards are stacked against the consumer. Every single person I know has had extremely negative experiences with few positives. None of the contractors with personal references from people we know are even doing residential work at this time.

    I do appreciate the advice here.

  • roarah

    Maybe start than discussing budget and wishes with just an architect have them draw you plans. Give those to independent contractors to bid on. Check work in person and try again.

    Or is cleaning up the trench and keeping the house as is an option. You state you love your house maybe these are signs telling you not to make changes at this time to it.

    Good luck there are many trustful and decent contractors out there just like there are many decent homeowners. One reason contractors need a lot of info upfront, i.e. Budget restrictions, exact plans, etc before giving exact quotes is that there are so many variables to cost. Material prices can fluctuate quickly, inspection and zoning can become problematic, unknowns to existing structure can change everything...

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC


    The contractor you want will politely not work with you without a budget immediately. I know it's the most difficult thing for you to do right now, but you must be less adversarial.

  • strategery


    Did construction start without approved plans?

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler

    I ask you once what your budget is, and you don't answer, you get the one strike. I hand you the Cost vs Value Report, ask again, and no real answer, the you move straight to third strike, unless you immediately redeem yourself with an offer of a truly hefty retainer for project development.

    Projects come in all levels. If someone won't share at what level they are envisioning, then there is no point in moving forward at all. No good contractor has time to do a bunch of 20 hour estimates for HGTV fantasists. There is plenty of information available out there for project costs. Refusing to believe that it applies to you is what got you into your pickle to begin with.

  • Katie Hulka

    Roarah, that is exactly what I stated we are doing. We are paying another designer several thousand dollars to put the details in the plans.

    And everything we did not sell is in storage, thousands of dollars worth of landscaping is in temporary pots, gates and fences have been removed, and the trenchers tore up the bottom slat of crappy existing siding the previous owner had installed, so if it gets wet it is going to swell and rot. We removed a valuable tree and a 20X20 cedar deck so our back door opens to dirt, and it cannot be rebuilt until the rest of the foundations and framing are done. We spent the past 90 days preparing for construction, with me doing it as a full-time job.

    Postponing is not an option, even though I really, really wish it were.

    Strategery, yes. Construction started without approved plans. We did not see what he was working with until the city already had one copy. We did not see it until he informed us that the city needed an additional copy and he was not able to get it to them. I had 1 hour before they closed to get 11x17 copies and get it to the city before closing, and that was the first we say of anything more than sketches. We had approved a written scope of work prior to that because we were told that is how it works. When we questioned glaring errors on the plans, like doors that were 4 feet the wrong direction, shower with no shower heads, exterior wall measurements that were off by over a foot, existing double windows drawn as singles, etc. we were told the wall structure was all the city needed. And other than one engineered beam and column, apparently that was all they needed since they approved it. We were lied to repeatedly about how the process works and at every step we were told the things we were questioning were not relevant at that point. Until it was, then he was mad. I found tiny little pieces of our plans in the construction area. He or the plumber tore them up before they left without a word. And I was just out mowing, and found that the placement for markers pillars in a patio for a future pavilion are about 2.5 feet off from where they were drawn. Guys, HE NEVER MEASURED OUR HOUSE! He used our rough measurements not knowing if they were measured as interior or exterior. We were just trying to articulate our vision and repeatedly told him so.

    Sophie, our budget it $192,000 for the laundry, bath and kitchen, all of which are varying degrees of basic. You don't know my house, you don't know any of the specifics, so it did not seem terribly important to give you the specifics. We had estimates ranging from $105-$350 with $192 being the second highest. Most were in the $105-150 mark. it is a tiny basic 60s home, we know it well, and unless they find termite damage, there should not be a lot of unknowns. There is some weird plumbing to be corrected, but we explained that to each and every one of the people we spoke with as a top priority of the build. It is all outside of walls in the backyard, under the crawl space or in walls that are already being opened, so access is not an issue. We already have all kitchen appliances and our French doors on the way. HVAC will be mini-split as there is no way to run our down-draft under the slabs of the additions, so no duct work. We have nixed granite counters and are going with ct at around $3 a square foot in the kitchen and Allure flooring in the laundry. This is not a fancy or large build.

    My statement about giving the budget up front is borne of frustration over multiple issues. Seriously, there is no other industry in the world where they say, "I have to know how much money you have before I will even talk to you." Most industries have known ballpark figures for different levels of service. I called dozens of GCs in the beginning and most asked my budget as the VERY first question, even before scope of work, let alone seeing the house in question. Sophie states clearly that there are a thousand variables, yet insists that my budget on this forum will give an accurate accounting of our preparedness for the project. And the Cost vs Value info did not give any square footage cost, only averages for the area, which even in my own neighborhood, the average home is well over twice our size. When you consider the larger area, most homes are considerably larger than that. We made appts with people who seemed willing to work on a smaller older home.

    We have approved permits from the city in our name, we will have detailed and approved building plans a week from today and we have started construction. We are trying to keep the humble original lake house feel of the rest of the house that is not changing. Even the original 1965 finish currently on our oak floors is remaining the same. Primary plumbing weirdness is currently open in the yard and visible at a glance. We know our breaker box has to be upgraded and moved outside. We are not expecting anyone who sees it in person to guess what kind of project this is.

  • Katie Hulka

    And I can't stand HGTV BS, for the record. Mike Holmes was the only show that ever seemed remotely realistic or worthwhile and I haven't even seen him in 10+ years. You make a lot of assumptions about me.

    And the next time I tell someone I have $190,000 to spend, I have absolutely no way if they are going to do a $100,000 job and just play with numbers on paper and talk a good game. Texas requires no kind of licensure or credentialing to be a GC. There is still no real way to know who is doing a quality build job, and who is doing a quality con job. There is literally NO recourse for the contracted homeowner who gets conned. I do NOT understand how none of you can see this from the homeowner's perspective. Yes, it is the way it is because you, as an industry, have lobbied to deregulate your own field, creating a perfect breeding ground for fraud, but it does not make it right.

  • freeoscar

    First off, submitting plans to the city without getting approval from you is not standard practice, and I think it's a good thing you moved on from him. Second, I hear you - it's a frustrating process. Theoretically the architect is the one who should be giving you a good idea on what is and isn't feasible for your budget (and since he/she is probably getting paid a rate independent of the overall budget they are objective). That worked well for us - the bids came in above what we had hoped, but still in line with what we expected. Unfortunately from some other threads on here that many architects are shamefully unaware of construction costs and often design plans which end up costing well above the homeowner budget.

  • roarah

    Freeoscar, she stated above that she physically brought a set of plans to her town offices...

    "We did not see what he was working with until the city already had one copy. We did not see it until he informed us that the city needed an additional copy and he was not able to get it to them. I had 1 hour before they closed to get 11x17 copies and get it to the city before closing"

  • jellytoast

    In this case, the architect and the GC were one and the same.

  • veggiegardnr

    Katie, you might consider making a complaint to your state contractor's license board. I have read all the comments here and, from what I've seen, you are basically being ganged up on by a few "pros" who obviously aren't listening to you and who seem quite intent upon defending your contractor and the building industry, in general. Judging from their other posts that I've seen on these boards, that's what they do here. I don't think you are going to get anywhere by continuing on, trying to get them to actually listen to what you are saying. If I were you, I'd contact some of the other people who gave you bids on the job. I'd call the state contractor's license board in your state and report your contractor who walked off the job. You will need to write up the specifics of his incompetence, prior to him walking off the job. Be detailed. The complaint would be about all the incompetence, etc. prior to him walking off the job.

    If you need to get additional bids and they insist on knowing your budget, give them a range and a general idea of what you want and ask what they can do for that amount of money.

    Katie Hulka thanked veggiegardnr
  • bry911


    she stated above that she physically brought a set of plans to her town offices

    The OP also said,

    the city needed and additional set of plans for the permits, but he could not get them there so I needed to run them up. He emailed them to me, I had them printed and delivered them (the city already had 1 copy at that point). I immediately called him to tell him I had concerns about several things on the plans and he told me that it was only the walls, structure, plumbing and electrical that the city was concerned with and "you will have plenty of time to work out the details after we have the permit." There was one week between permit approval and start of work

    Nothing in that post makes you think the OP signed off on the plans. Everything in there leads you to believe that the OP was questioning the plans from the moment they were seen and was told "you will have plenty of time to work out the details after we have the permit."

  • roarah

    She also states she drew the orginal plans that the architect used. She implied many times throughout this thread that she saw plans during the design phase of the process. She states, " We sent him photos of our thoughts, he loosely translated that into plans (that we thought had all the little details worked out, because we asked if those details were corrected and he said yes)." She continues with adding " To the untrained eye, it looked good on paper".

    She even admits that she did not account for walls. She called the plans he got to keep HER plans. She held the plans and handed them to zoning how does some one bringing their own plans to zoning not imply that she approves of them? She signed a contract pertaining to those very plans.nShe implies anger in the orginal op that the crew started two days late, implying she was anxious to start work not revise....she should have insisted all plan revisions be made before the big dig began and been happy for the delayed start otherwise.

    i can go on pointing out many more inconsistencies in many of her posts. Her story changes with every "woe is me"explanation. There are two sides of responsibility here and if she hopes to avoid this again she needs to look at her end of it too In order to avoid the same thing happening.

    edited to add, I am sorry for you situation but reading between the lines and seeing you explain your end of responsibility away every time an opinion is given differing from yours leads me to believe hammers will keep falling on your toes.

    I also want to add that someone mentioned that architects knew pricing. In my area architect's build estimates are always very low compared to actual build costs. My neighbor's were off by 200,000 for a 800 sqft addition. That is why I went to GCs with my budget first and than hired the architect. Also you mentioned hiring a designer. They are better after the structure is planned by an architect. They help with the interior better than the structural technicalities in my experiences. I used both but the architect first.

  • freeoscar


    I am assuming that you are (rightly) soured on design-build, so for the next go-round you'll be going with architect/contractor. That is what we did, and here is how it worked out and we were very happy with the results: Our project was a gut-reno (down to the studs) of our existing 1400 sq ft split and a 1600ft (+ basement) 2-story addition. All-new almost everything.

    1) Interviewed a few architects who had recent experience in similar work, and chose one whose work we liked, had a compatible demeanor, and of course good references.

    2) He drew up plans based after discussions on our wants and budget. We went over finish options like siding types, window types, flooring, doors and trim so he could advise on cost/benefit of those and we'd have it narrowed down so bids would be apples/apples. At one point he sent the plans over to a contractor he has done work with the get a rough estimate on costs so we'd know if major revisions were needed. Once we determined what we could afford, he finalized the plans and we sent out for bid.

    3) We had chosen a couple of contractors through references from friends/family, and also included the contractor from the architect who had given us the mid-process estimate

    4) We ended up going with that contractor. His price was in-line with the others, we really liked his professionalism, references were great, and the fact that he had a good working relationship w/the architect and was familiar with his quality expectations was important to us. One thing which really impressed us was that several of the references had used him on multiple projects. Funnily as we were submitting some docs to the town we ran into a fellow resident and discovered that he too was using the contractor (for the 3rd time) and had nothing but great things to say - and this wasn't even a reference!

    5) Project went off very smoothly. There were a few minor things which came up during demo and he and the architect handled it together w/out issue.

    Obviously we were lucky and I'm grateful for that. Our focus was on getting professionals who were experienced in our scope of work so they had a very good idea on what real costs were. Having a separate architect and contractor is important for give and take to make sure we spent money efficiently. And finding someone whose demeanor matched ours was important. We had little doubt that our 2nd choice contractor would've done a good job, but our personalities were already clashing during the bid process with him clearly not understanding what was important to us, even if it wasn't important to others. We didn't want to be fighting with him for months.

  • Katie Hulka

    When he called to say they needed an additional copy, he emailed the docs to me. That was the first time I saw the "finished" plans. I did not even realize he was redrawing them from the sketching we had been doing on our plans. I had no idea what finished plans are supposed to look like. The finished product certainly looked more polished and professional, but still full of glaring measurement errors and no measurements under 5 feet listed at all.

    The city already had 1 copy before we ever saw his "final" plans.

  • jellytoast

    Sometimes it is difficult to "read" intended tone, and sometimes people read it differently. I don't see any indication of a "woe is me" attitude from the OP. On the contrary, she has been extremely patient in trying to describe her problem fully and seems interested only in solving her problem. If there is a lesson to be learned here for the OP, IMO it is to not trust anything that isn't in writing and don't sign off on anything that isn't completed and understood.

  • Katie Hulka

    What is the difference between a design/build and architect/contractor?!?! The guy we hired called his business X Design Build, but is a licensed architect! This is one example of screwing the consumer. How on earth are we supposed to know the difference in stupid subtleties like that?

    I freely admit we made a ton of mistakes, but it is just getting muddier here. Apparently the only consistent thing is to have the customer learn by trial and error. We trusted our guy, we signed our contract on WRITTEN SCOPE OF WORK with only very rough plans. We were assured multiple times that details would be worked out later. I don't know what is inconsistent.

    "Listen to the professionals" is immediately followed by "you should have known..." on here.

    The current plans we have WERE drawn by and architect, and they are NOW in the hands of a licensed interior designer for the interior details. We have spent over $8000 only to have no idea if we will be able to proceed. Our financing has to be started over and we are in a serious time crunch. I am stressed and have not slept in weeks. Forgive me if I am not using all the correct industry language and making myself clear.

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC

    " That is why I went to GCs with my budget first and than hired the architect."

    Smart. This is how projects like this should be done. Architects are subs.

  • Katie Hulka

    Also, the comments are showing up out of order on my feed. I don't know if it is my computer or not, but it makes it difficult to address each question specifically.

  • roarah

    Katie, one other thing that I found helpful was paying the extra fee for the architect to be involved with the build. My house is 90 years old and thus there were surprises it helped avoid issues having the GC and architect work things thru together. if your architect offers construction observation (technically called contract administration) pay for it it is worth the fee.

  • Katie Hulka

    I don't think you are reading my posts. I have stated repeatedly that the guy we hired is the ARCHITECT who owns the DESIGN/BUILD FIRM. That is how all of this happened. I honestly thought that would be the most thorough and professional service level we could get. Then roarah tells me to hire and architect to be involved in the build. Well, gee whiz, I sure wish I had thought of that.

    My story does NOT change. Certain people are not reading it.

  • roarah

    Again no, you do not understsnd what I was actually advising. i am suggesting hiring a seperate architect and independent gc but pay the retainer after youhave plans to keep the architect involved with the construction but independently from each other for expert second opinions... i dislike all in one companies for I like a checks and balance systems with big investments.

  • jellytoast

    Of course we are only getting one side of the "story". Since when do we get both sides on this forum? I can't think of a single instance where the other side weighed in and said, "No, it didn't happen that way."

  • freeoscar

    I guess I wasn't clear enough. We had an architect who was totally independent of the contractor. First we did plans through him, then we bid the work out to several contractors. We happened to have chosen a contractor who we initially met through the architect, but they are totally independent of one another. That way there are some checks and balances.

    I'm still flabbergasted that the architect/builder submitted plans w/out your knowing about it. Firstly, I don't even think that would be possible in my town - the owner is the one who submits the plans and signs the documents. Second, even if he had you pre-sign something, it is, imo, very unprofessional and frankly something I've never heard of before.

  • Katie Hulka

    The suggestion to use an "all in one" came from this forum many, many months ago.

    Every other permit we have gotten (HVAC, water heater, etc.) was submitted by the person we hired to do the work. We had no reason to think that was unusual.

    The city did allow my husband and I to argue a setback zoning issue for ourselves with the city planner. I knew enough about the details and history of our neighborhood to win that argument without having to have a hearing before the entire board.

    When I attempted to pick up the permits, they would not let me do that either. He had to fill out a form and sign them over to us. The city told us that before work begins, we need to have the new builder come in and register as "approved" builder for the city before we proceed if they are not already on the list. Ostensibly, this is for our own protection. I think they just want their fees.

  • roarah

    Unlike Katie, who admittingly, did herself submit a set of plans into her town offices, I never stepped into the zoning and planning building. All permits were submitted and pulled by my contractor with the architect plans I approved. Each town has different procedures. Maybe the firm had her bring the second plans because her town has a similar procedure as freeoscar's where the homeowner must submit plans in person as a way of confirming they wish to use those plans...

  • Katie Hulka

    And again, I am receiving email notifications for comments that are not showing up in the forum. That makes it kind of difficult to address every question. I cannot tell if they have been deleted, or if I just cannot see them.

  • bry911

    Each town has different procedures. Maybe the firm had her bring the second plans because her town has a similar procedure as freeoscar's where the homeowner must submit plans in person as a way of confirming they wish to use those plans...

    Or it could just be what the OP said it was, a request for a second set and the architect couldn't get them there in a timely manner. My town has two different permitting offices and requires two sets of original plans sometimes, sometimes they don't. It depends if the city planning office feels the county planning office needs to approve.

    You have given a lot of very good advice but running through many of your posts is this undercurrent of the OP being at fault and you searching for that fault.

    What are you even saying with,"Katie, who admittingly, did herself submit a set of plans." What exactly is she admitting? She took plans to the city when she was asked, she didn't have time to review the plans at that point. Upon review she found problems. For there to be an admission there needs to be an accusation. What are you are accusing her of?

  • jellytoast

    Some posts have been deleted.

  • Katie Hulka

    Unless they recognized me from the previous appt with zoning, the city would have had no idea who I was when I dropped off those documents. I did not sign anything or show any form of ID. All I did was tell them "this is the second copy of plans for xxxx address that you requested." The zoning dept, and presumably the building permit office, had already had access to the same documents for 2 weeks before we met with the zoning dept, and it was the end of the following week that he said they needed the second copy by the end of the day. I don't even know why they needed them. I just did as I was instructed in the 1 hour time span I was given. There was not time to verify the scale of those drawings or scrutinize them in any way. It was later that evening that we printed out the plans at home on 8X11 printer paper, because we don't have 11X17 capability at home, and noticed doors in the wrong places and other glaring errors, that we had also pointed out on the rough drafts and had been promised would be corrected later. There were no fine measurements of walkways, etc. When we asked him about those he still said there would be plenty of time to correct them, he was just trying to get permits done in a timely manner.

    I don't know why I am being cross examined when every poster here has a completely different idea of what steps a homeowner should take, and how things should proceed through various processes, and what pro should be hired for each step. Every company has a different title for the work they do, they all want different descriptions of the scope of work or they won't return calls, they all use different terminology and methodology to get to the end result. I chose badly and got someone who gave us bad advice and I believed them. I freely and openly admit I did NOT have a clue how all of it was supposed to go. I STILL don't have a clear answer of how I should have gone about it, just a lot of emphasis on how wrong I was. I am where I am now, with a basic outline of our plan now in the hands of someone who is supposed to be qualified to fill in the details. Next week when that is done, I have to find another contractor to trust, but no real way to verify if they are worthy of that trust.

    I do appreciated some of the advice given here, but I don't see much to restore my faith in the industry.

  • bry911

    I will attempt to give you specific advice that may or may not be helpful, but will at least be non-accusatory.

    The biggest hurdle you are facing right now is time. The 'time is of the essence nature of your project' is going to add a premium to your project and will eliminate many of your best bets. The best thing that you can do financially and for job quality is to reset the clock on the job. This may cost you a few thousand dollars in loan transaction fees and simply undoing the physical preparations you made but at this point you need to change the way you are thinking. You are creating hurdles that may not really be hurdles.

    You need to ignore every penny you have spent and every action you have taken so far. All that money and effort is gone and it isn't coming back. Try to remove those things from the equation, you need to look for the thing that will give you the best result at the best price with acceptable sacrifices on your part. In other words look only at the effort you will have to make, the money you will have to spend and the quality you will get for it in the future.

    Next, you need to get plans drawn. Whether you want a design build firm to draw them versus an independent architect versus a designer (draftsman) really depends on options available in your area and what you are looking for.

    If you want something original designed and are open to suggestions and ideas about functionality, aesthetics and budget, then an independent architect or a design/build firm are both viable options. There have been many discussions about the broad differences between the two, but honestly it depends on the quality of either in your area. There are many areas with very strong and original design build firms, while in other areas those firms may be nothing more than builders trying to make more profit. The same holds true for architects, some areas have helpful, original, and cost effective architects and some areas have overpriced unoriginal architects designing what they want and charging you a fortune. I can't really give you advice on either.

    If you are not open to advice and you simply want your idea put into plans, then foregoing an independent architect or a creative design build firm and hiring a designer to turn your idea into buildable plans might be your best bet. Again, a design build firm focused on buildable projects might also work for you. Really without being in your area I can't help you.

    For recommendations, I prefer to start at lumber yards. Find the guys at lumber yards who are doing plan take-offs and ask them if they were building a house who would they hire. You can get recommendations on plans and contractors from them and I have always found them willing to recommend someone, having moved around a lot this has always worked well for me.

    Next, I try plumbing and electrical contractors. I drive around find the subs that I see working on new construction, call them up and ask them the same question. Very quickly you see a few builders who are mentioned over and over again. Of course, they are biased for people they work with but you would be surprised how fast they will recommend someone that they rarely work with who they respect.

    When meeting with the contractor, I personally never give a fixed budget. I often reveal a number for what I want to spend on a project but usually indicate that I can increase that figure if needed. However, this may not work all the time, budget isn't really a constraint for me, so I don't have a very hard ceiling. I usually discuss my goals for the project and what I believe those goals will cost, and offer them a chance to have budget input.

    There is no doubt that contractors tend to design projects to your top dollar and bid projects up to your budget. However, a contractor isn't going to waste his time putting together a bid for a project unless he knows your budget is feasible. So in reality you have find a way to assure the contractor that the project is within your budget and you are ready to act on a good proposal.

    I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions.

  • Katie Hulka

    I will heed your advice on how to start finding contractors and try to do my best on the negotiations, finding that line between not too specific or vague on pricing.If the details of the final plans work out with our overall ideas, we have to go with them. We have neither the time, money or flexibility to reinvent the wheel with completely random ideas. If they don't work out for some reason, we will address the issues at hand and go from there before we approve the plans. This designer will said he is not finished until we are completely confident, and the plans are ours and shoppable to whomever we choose.

    As far as the timing, after thinking about it, there is a 30 foot wall on our south aspect that is in the turtle garden. If we can get the breaker box relocated, the sewer cleanout extension trench finished and refilled and the 17 feet of siding (the rest is existing brick that will remain unchanged) done in the next 60 days, the rest of the project can take as long as it wants or needs. Or I will sub the sewer extension and electrical myself and request waiting on the siding until spring if I have to. Then they can still work on the back, roof, laundry room, pool and all interior.

    I would rather spend extra money to get that done than a jerry-rigged restoration. We have sold so much furniture that until we have cabinets built we can't even bring everything we own back from storage, even if we wanted to. We are living in 2 rooms, and the rest is empty. The yard will not be safe from harboring snakes and rats without either throwing away or replanting over 100 perennial plants. Our dogs are walking out the back door onto a few pavestones, then plain dirt where the deck used to be. Can't replace the deck until the foundations are done unless we tear it off again. Can't use the backyard at all with nowhere but grass and fireants to put chairs on. We cut down the single largest tree in the yard, so not even a shady place to put them. We simply have to keep moving forward, but I will relax on the time if my turtles are safe. One already died early this spring after the neighbors put in a new fence during the transition from winter to summer. Fall to winter poses the same risk.

    Thank you very much for the specific advice on finding contractors, and for the designer info, even though I hope that part is not needed.

  • roarah

    your present wheel is square...it needs reinventing at this time if you wish to successfully roll forward

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC


    Never have I heard of a person who needs an excellent general contractor more than you. Your attempts to hire and coordinate your own subs will not end well, especially considering your time constraints.

  • Katie Hulka

    I have to work with what I have. I def need an excellent contractor, but if I can't find one, I HAVE to keep my pets safe. I would never sub the entire job, but the two items that effect my turtle garden the most have to be done no matter who does the big job. Not my preference, but as a last resort, I will.

    I cannot just put my house back together and try again next year. Not that I don't want to. I can NOT. We have gotten rid of appliances, new ones are arriving in 3 weeks and will not fit in existing space, yard issues, missing furniture, torn out flooring and closet doors, etc. Literally 90% of our belongings are in storage. I am not bringing them home just to take them back again.

    There is no where else for the 2 rooms or the kitchen or additions to go. They have to go where they have to go, and they have to hold approximately what they have to hold. There is no reason to start over with some second story addition, or a complete tear down, etc, just because the previous guy put our closet written as 5 feet on one aspect when it was actually 6, and drawn to scale at 6, etc. I am not going back to square one after already paying the interior designer to clean it up. It would be stupid to start over with some random design when the overall effect was what we have wanted for 15 years. We just need accurate measurements for if our counters are 3.5 feet or 3.75 feet, Shower at 42" or 48" square, etc.

  • roarah

    Just read this on houzz today. Looks like Texas on average has a 3 to 8 week back log for contractors. Your 60 day time line might not be realistic especially without any one lined up. Do you have a way to relocate your turtles?

    Data Watch: New Research Shows Renovation Pros Have Big Backlog · More Info

  • thatsmuchbetter

    KT I admire your resiliance perhaps we can coin a name for you, I vote for "The Hulka"

  • Katie Hulka

    thatsmuchbetter: how original

    roarah: no. They go into a hybernation-like phase called brumation in reptiles. They live outside and will not adapt to a small captive container over the winter, and it would have to be until March or April, no matter what was happening outside. One is in a 300 gallon sunken pond. It cannot be moved.

  • thatsmuchbetter

    Roarahs got a point and the last thing you need is to rush back into a poor hiring decision

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