“we’ve gotten the help of a lawyer to terminate our contract and start the process of getting our money (and cabinetry held hostage!) back”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Phil

“Dear PoPville,

After 5 months of a terrible experience with a contractor for our 6 week kitchen reno and historic house rehab, we’ve gotten the help of a lawyer to terminate our contract and start the process of getting our money (and cabinetry held hostage!) back. (And no, we’re not holding our breath).

It seems that everytime I ask for recommendations for a new contractor, I get the “I know someone NOT to use” response. Anyone out there actually have some glowing reviews to offer for a general contractor? A big plus if they have experience in maintaining and rehabbing original character elements of a historic home.

Thanks — Displaced Petworth Peeps”

28 Comment

  • Something Different Contracting (somethingdifferentcontracting.com)

    they specialize in old rowhouses. They are not cheap but they do excellent work. I’ve used them for my H st. NE area rowhouse twice already.

    • Seconded. I had them do a smallish repair job for me (big enough to need a contractor, but on the small side of home projects) and they did a very nice job! I found their prices reasonable…they were in the middle of the pack on quotes for that job (a couple testimonials from friends convinced me the small premium over the lower quotes was worth it).

      • Also should note that they were not at all put off about the scope of the job being on the small side. I had a couple contractors basically tell me they wouldn’t get out of bed for a job less than twice the size (read: $$$) of mine, and a few others note that they had a (rather hefty) minimum I’d have to pay even if my job was below that. Since my job was only one day, I told them I was flexible with the scheduling so that they could squeeze it in between other jobs (I needed the repair, but my home was fully functional and livable), and they had a date for me about a week after I contacted them that was just a couple weeks away. They showed up on the appointed day and I happily had a perfectly repaired home that night.

        I’m now on the cusp of doing a substantial reno (all cabinets/fixtures/counters in a small kitchen, a few improvements in the bath, refinishing floors, a couple other odds and ends and repairs) and I know who I’ll be calling. Building relationships can pay dividends.

        • I have to agree about Something Different Contracting. They have done two jobs for me, and have been excellent.

  • we had two great experiences with Bob Nunes from Residential Renovators.

  • Impact Construction did our pop-up (in a historic district, not visible from the street) and essentially gut renovation of the rest of our house and were great to work with. Justin Sullivan is the owner, you can google them.

  • Safa Interiors. They did a full rehab of my historic DC home in Shaw; down to the studs and they did it for a lot less than anyone else quoted me.

    They did two full bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, staircase, reconfigured the second floor layout, and did two bedrooms up there. Everything turned out great. I didn’t have them do much rehab work; they did preserve the historic plaster molding when exposing bricks in our hallway, and replaced the stairs while preserving the historic (really cool) railing. They did it while I was living there with my wife, which was extra tricky. A lot of contractors won’t even do that.

    I can do my own electric, plumbing and framing (project was just too big for me to do myself), so I kind of knew what to look for if anyone was cutting corners. It was my intention to live in my house for the rest of my life so the stuff behind the walls was important to me. These guys did everything right. I’m bringing them back to finish my basement when I save up the cash.

    Ask for Steve Ardekani; he was the point on my reno and he was great to work with. You can check out their work on their facebook page, or on their website safainteriors.com.

  • I totally feel your pain. We have worked with several contractors and found most of them through Angie’s List (and they all had an A rating!!!). The contractor who did our kitchen/bathrooms dragged it out for five months (after being told it would take one month) and we’d come home to limearita cans littered all over. Sometimes they were visibly drunk (which made me quite uncomfortable being a female and having to deal with them). We made the mistake of paying them hourly rather than a set price and it ended up costing 3.5 times the original estimate. We love our kitchen and baths, but it was a huge headache to live through- not to mention 1.5 years later we had a few problems with the plumbing connections in one of the bathrooms which essentially caused a flood.
    This past year we hired a company to redo our back porch. We paid a 20% deposit and for seven months they made excuse after excuse of why they couldn’t give us a start date for the project (meanwhile it was supposed to have been completed within three months of the date of the contract). Finally we threatened them with legal action and they gave us our money back. Second company we hired for this project appears promising compared to the other one (they actually started, albeit three weeks after they said they would). Though I have worked from home a few times and observed them pulling up at 12:30 and literally sitting in their van for two hours before they got out and did any work. I remain skeptical of them finishing in the allotted one month based on this.
    Honestly, I think you just can’t win. Even “highly rated” contractors have their pit falls. Best of luck with your renovations- I hope you find someone good!

    • HaileUnlikely

      I highly recommend Consumer Checkbook over Angie’s List. On the surface they appear similar, but a couple of major distinctions are that Consumer Checkbook does not accept advertising from the same contractors that they rate, and the ratings are presented in aggregate plus a “comments” section with reviewer name and city only (not date of service, amount spent, etc) such that the contractors can’t easily identify the customers who are reviewing them.
      I subscribed to Angie’s List for a couple of years, but I had numerous experiences like you describe here (bad service from highly-rated contractor), and contractors often tried to pressure me to write positive reviews, minimize negatives, offer discounts in exchange for positive reviews, ask me to name the individual technician in my positive review because he’d get a bonus, and all sorts of sh!t like that that just undermined my confidence in their ratings being meaningful. And then if I go log in to my Angie’s List account and fill out the review form, everybody including the contractor can see that “Haile” in “Takoma DC” spent $XXXX on a job on November X, 2013, then a sketchy mofo who knows were I live can see what I write about him (I don’t let that stop me, but given my experiences with some of their highly provided providers, I suspect that many do.)
      In Consumer Checkbook, reviewers’ identity is better protected, Checkbook does not have a financial relationship with the contractors it rates, and contractors don’t pressure customers for positive reviews (which would be pointless because the contractors cannot identify their individual customers’ reviews in Consumer Checkbook unless reviewers go out of their way to identify themselves or give details that would make their identity obvious to the contractors). And interestingly, when I’ve gone into Consumer Checkbook to check out providers that I found on Angie’s List, hired due to their glowing reviews, and then found myself dissatisfied with, I invariably find that they have substantially less favorable reviews in Checkbook or else aren’t even in Checkbook at all.

      • Thanks for the tip! I’ve been very disappointed with the quality of contractors from Angie’s List so I’m definitely going to check out Consumer Checkbook.

  • These are timely since I’m planning a reno. Thanks everyone.

  • so i feel really good about doing my kitchen by myself. Three weeks later, I’m 98% done.

  • I can’t recommend my contractor highly enough. His work was incredibly high-quality and he’s a New Englander who has that kind of stereotypically parsimonious approach to life, even in terms of spending my money, which was nice. He rolled with the fact that I was “designing” my house on the fly and worked pretty quickly. The total cost after many, many changes (“I want to tear the ceiling out of my bedroom and make it into a loft”) was noticeably higher than his first estimate and yet barely higher than the estimate I got from two other contractors BEFORE all the changes. And he did all the work that no one sees but make a difference — repairing hidden damage, insulating the porch, etc. I would be happy to let anyone look the place over and give you the full pitch, but it has to be tonight, tomorrow or after Labor Day. Let me know here and we’ll figure out how to communicate

  • Angie’s List, don’t go with anyone with less than an absolute A+ rating and cross reference that rating with reviews on Yelp and other sites.

  • I’ve been hiring Cesar Villegas for over five years now. Fresen Contractors. 571-235-1293. He’s great! He does good work, but more importantly, he’s honest and trustworthy. He has my keys and alarm code, and I just call him and have him do work when needed. I’ve recommended him to my neighbors and friends, and everyone really liked him. Oh, and he would take my dog out to pee when he was doing work at the house and thought the dog needed to go. Nice guy! Highly recommend him.

  • I had good luck with John Edwards of Century Contractors. Tell him Priscilla McClain of Mt. Was any recommended him.

  • Any contractor who can start in the next 3 month is no good. There is a ton of demand right now and “I can start next week” is a huge sign of trouble to come. Take things slowly and actually visit other places they have worked on.

    • this is, sadly, so true. demand waaaaay outstrips supply of competent, honest contractors in DC. Makes you wonder why the school system isn’t aggressively training carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. Except for the foreman, every single worker on our renovation was a latino, most only spanish-speaking. the fact that the dc school system has failed to prepare kids for $20-100/hour jobs in construction is very sad.

    • Best tip yet. Absolutely true.

  • Fajen & Brown – Small company that does excellent work.

  • It’s hard for an individual to find a good contractor at a middle-class price point–the trades have been doing great with construction in DC. Contractors who do great work can move up the value chain ladder with all the rehab and new buildings going up. Given the market, you can get talent, but you have to pay for it. Go to the Midwest and there’s tons of cheap trades labor because they have not been growing and building like the DMV area.

  • I really have to recommend MK Development, (www.mkdevelopmentllc.com). I have seen nothing but amazing work from them. Currently, they are building my friend’s custom home out in Arlington and the their designs are really cool and fresh and the craftsmanship cannot be beat. Plus MK offers great pricing since they are a small, locally owned business. Since you have already spent so much money on your other contractor, they’ll work with you to keep costs down. I highly recommend at least checking MK out.

  • I wanted to throw in my recommendation here. We worked with Four Brothers Carpentry (https://fourbrotherscarpentry.com/) to redo a bathroom and they did a great job. They’re not cheap but they did the design as well – with our input – and fixed some big problems in the bathroom related to the lousy flip job done on our rowhouse condo.

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