A broken hammer

That small project could easily mushroom into a costly endeavor.

Oftentimes, homeowners don’t devote much care or attention to selecting a contractor to work on a minor repair or simple project. After all, they assume, it’s so small. They reason that it doesn’t matter if they hire a friend, someone just starting out, who doesn’t hold a proper license or who lacks vast experience and financial stability. At least, that’s what they think. Unfortunately, if you hire someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, that small project could easily mushroom into a costly endeavor.

We recently talked with one couple who hired a man for a relatively small complete kitchen up fit who was just launching his own business. They got a “great deal.” He gained needed experience. What could be wrong with that? Unfortunately, this person ordered cabinet-grade finished crown molding for their ceiling crown (and then painted it), when regular crown molding with the same profile was readily available. So instead of paying 60 cents a linear foot for materials, this couple paid nearly eight times as much. He never pulled a building permit, and we noticed potential electrical and plumbing code violations and other sub-standard work. That small up fit, which should have taken 6 to 8 weeks at the most, ended up taking 4 months. Then, they had issues with cabinet doors not closing properly and sheetrock damage that they hired us to repair. While none of these issues was earth-shattering in and of itself, you can see how the expense, aggravation and inconvenience mounted quickly. Not to mention the fact that tense situations like this which involve friends or family members can strain or even end relationships.

Particularly for small projects, the apparent savings of dealing with a cut-rate handyman can be tempting. Homeowners assume that surely any kind of handyperson can effectively tackle small projects, and they turn a blind eye toward the risks. While we were doing some interior remodeling work for one family, we saw the work being done by the contractor they hired (before finding us) to build a front porch extension. Unfortunately, he used white wood – essentially OSB sheathing – to frame a portion of the steps that was later to be covered in stone veneer. That wood was in direct contact with masonry. We told him that over time that exposed wood would absorb moisture and eventually rot, inviting termites. When we came back several weeks later, as we had predicted, the wood was already starting to swell. The contractors working on the project had just stopped – the homeowners hadn’t heard from them in 6 weeks. That was actually fortunate, since if the project had been completed as started, the homeowners wouldn’t have realized there was a problem until the stone started to fall off or they discovered an insect infestation.

Also, it’s essential to hire a contractor who can look beyond exactly what you ask for to grasp what really needs to be done. After all, he or she is supposed to be the expert – so they should use their knowledge to your advantage. For example, we were doing an interior repair for one family, and as I was waiting for them to answer their door, I noticed that their wood trim and front door molding was drying out and cracking. I simply pointed it out, explained that they could take care of it now, when it was truly a minor repair, or let it slowly rot out and replace the entire frame later. Likewise, if someone completes a small repair incorrectly – we’ve seen interior grade wood used to repair the exterior of a palladium window – that minor fix can mushroom into a huge project ($6,000 to $8,000 to replace the water-damaged window).

In the end, it all boils down to experience. While they may excel at work they typically handle, some contractors are simply not adept at handling repairs or small projects, because they don’t know what to look for and it’s simply not their forte. So before you hire that sweet little old man from down the street to handle your “small” project, think twice, and then have someone address it properly the first time.