Bad Reno or Avoidable Mistake?

By: Janice Clements

If there's one thing I love the most about writing a regular column, it's the feedback I receive.  Hearing your questions and concerns makes me know there is a common and ongoing need for information and communication about home maintenance and improvements.

Several weeks ago, a reader called to invite me to see her newly renovated kitchen.  She sounded frustrated and her questions about quality and trade responsibility peaked my interest in her dilemma.

Upon entering her kitchen, all looked fine on the surface.  It was the story she and her husband relayed to me that had all the makings of renovation nightmares many homeowners fear.

Only three months after being installed, the new kitchen cabinet doors started to warp and pull, their raised panel mouldings separating and cracking.  The crown moulding at the top of the cabinets began pulling away from the ceiling.

The technicalities of why this happened and the ensuing arguments with the supplier aside, I was interested to hear some of the tell-tale signs that this project might not go the way the client expected or wanted.  There were many lessons learned by this couple who entrusted their home to someone they expected would be trustworthy.

The homeowner admitted there were red flags going up in her mind during the preliminary conversations with the cabinetmaker.  As with many people trying in earnest to get a renovation underway, their instincts were ignored for the sake of moving the project forward.

As we all know, there's a reason we have instincts - they tell us when things aren't quite right.  Experience tells us what can happen when we ignore that little voice inside.  Today, the homeowners have the clarity of hindsight and recall the warnings that should have been heeded:

The verbal commitment/unwritten “guarantee".  When asked to discuss the warranty that came with the cabinets the cabinetmaker said, "My word is my guarantee."

The cabinetmaker discussed jobs he didn't complete.  The gentleman used phrases like, "I walked away in the middle of a job because...” When there's lots of complaining about previous clients, this is a pretty strong indicator that references are a must. 

No offer of references.  "He was our neighbour,” the homeowner explained "and we thought we could trust him."

Poor or no communication.  The cabinetmaker would not use email and did not have a cell phone.  When they attempted to reach him by phone, their calls would go straight to voicemail at his office. The client felt uncertain when trying to communicate throughout the process.

A bare bones contract with no work process defined:  Once signed, the clients heard little from the person with whom they had been dealing.  The person who booked their work became completely uninvolved in the process and another set of hands took over the job.  Not every contractor or kitchen cabinet maker manages their own projects, so it’s your job to find out who will be running your renovation.    

Progress payment schedule missing from the contract.  When the cabinets arrived, the clients were surprised to be asked for full invoice payment prior to the actual cabinet installation.

No detailed drawings were submitted for approval. Despite being a custom kitchen, the cabinetmaker did not provide drawings indicating what the kitchen would ultimately look like.  For me, this is the loudest clanging bell going.  ANY custom work planned for your home requires drawings of some kind, whether they be engineer approved, shop drawings to guide the cabinetmaker or scaled plans to show where a custom sofa will physically fit into your living room.

He was a cabinetmaker not a contractor.  The client’s perspective was that the job was left unfinished, with drywall unrepaired and baseboards missing.  Know that a kitchen company may not necessarily offer general contracting services and may not be qualified to do all the work required to complete your project.

Renovations are a messy and often complicated business with many steps, elements and details.  If you’re uncertain and do not have experience renovating, hire an experienced professional to guide you. 

If alarm bells go off during the process, bring in an outside professional to provide some feedback and to ensure you are asking all the right questions. 

An imperfect process, renovations involve people and where people are involved, mistakes can be and often are made.  

There are some really good trades out there.  I know because I work with them every day.  But for every great trade, there is one who gets in over his/her head.  Protect yourself.  Check references.




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