Thursday, June 07, 2007

Contractors: The Pros and The Cons

Encounters with real pros have been scant; encounters with cons, numerous.

I present to you the work of Richard "Rick" Ford, an Alabama man who moved to New Orleans, land of opportunity and the opportunists to seize them, just after Katrina. I should have taken pause by, if nothing else, the fact that he looked a lot like Rachel's father, had a daughter named Rachel and had just married a local named Lisa. There's just something foreboding about that set of coincidences, but I ignored it. He's a very nice and friendly guy and that makes his job of taking my guard down much easier.

Rick Ford claims to know all aspects of construction and renovation, including plumbing and electrical work, after working in construction for more than 25 years. He came into our lives after a friend of Renard's sister used him and was happy with the work (at first). Renard got bids for tornado damage repairs on his house and decided to use Rick. There were a few problems, some bigger than others, but most were eventually remedied. My mother hired Rick to renovate one of her bathrooms. Most of the work was done singlehandedly by one of his guys with little or no supervision from Rick. There were a few minor problems and a couple that could be bigger than they seem. I fixed most of the minor ones myself rather than wait on him. He said he'd fix the others when he came back to do my mom's gutters. (That will never happen.)

I'd like to note that I did not pay Rick Ford for all the work done, which is a good thing because none of the work, paid for or not, has been done correctly. He did get many thousands of dollars, though, because I didn't know how much of what he "completed" was wrong until after I'd paid for it. And his plumbing debacle has created far more plumbing woes than what I had following the leveling of the house. Fixing it will cost a bundle. (It's so hard for me to write all this without spewing a lot of expletives.)

On Rick Ford's bids, he refers to himself as The Craftsman. I want you to see this fine craftsmanship and the work of his two sidekicks. Exhibit A, his defining creation, is the plumbing conundrum shown in the picture at the beginning of this post. It speaks volumes. The monkeys from Audubon Zoo could have done a better job than this guy.

If you'd like to see more, (and you should, for the laughs and entertainment value, alone), please peruse the small handful of examples I loaded into this Flickr set along with a cursory explanation of each problem.

I have spoken to at least 4 more contractors since Rick Ford. Two gave me outrageous bids and told me they were licensed. One admitted he only had a license with the city, but just try to check it out on the City of New Orleans website. Really try it. I dare you! I don't know what will happen by the time you do this, but every time I've tried, I get a drop-down menu to choose "state" and the only state on the menu is California. Forget about the "city" menu. (Just one more reason we need Ashley as the city's CTO.)

The second contractor, who I just call $200,000 guy, explained that he was licensed under another contractor. Rick Ford tried this line on Renard at first, then said he was "in the process" of getting his license. This is B.S., folks. It doesn't work that way. You contract with the person licensed, not someone who "works under someone else's license." But he was a no-go anyway, with his 25% sub-contractor mark-ups and a bid that was about twice what I'd gotten for the same work from a licensed company I haven't mentioned yet.

Number 3 claimed to hold the State's "Home Improvement Contractor" registration, and while there is such a thing, he's not in the database. I'm still waiting for his bid and am interested to hear the explanation of his absence from the state database.

What's with these guys?

And then there are the pros. As they go, I've been working through due diligence with a guy that I really like. His company is licensed and insured and that's been verified. But he wants $10,000 just to sign the contract and another $30,000 on the day work begins. I think that's too much to chunk over before the first nail is driven. And I just can't really tell if the price is fair or not. I will still have at least $50,000 more in expenses for things not covered in his contract. I've already paid close to $30,000 for foundation and roof, not to mention somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 that Rick Ford took to mess up my house. I cannot afford to overpay.

So, one of my biggest questions remains: How do I know if I'm being charged a fair price? I've heard of people getting bids for the same work that differ by as much as $100,000. This is insane to me since no one accepts a lower bid with the expectation of inferior work. And there's no guarantee that paying the highest price will get the job done right, either. Presumably, there is a right way to do something and many wrong ways and whatever one pays, the expectation is that the job will be done right. Bids shouldn't vary by 100% or more and it just shouldn't be this complicated.

Please, someone, tell me whether or not the allowances published by the LRA for Road Home calculations, (Home Evaluation Protocols -PDF document), is a reasonable tool to use in assessing the fairness of the bids I'm getting. Please!

Getting this house fixed properly will be a loaves-and-fishes type miracle, but it will happen.

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Blogger GS said...

Lisa, contractors are a nightmare at the best of times - for you, these are the worst of times!

Amusing aside: I just got back in the people who did my bathroom a year ago because the grout inbetween the tiles beside the shower is disintergrating. "Oh yeah, its the soap. It's alkaline and eats the grout" he said. If they knew that why did they use it in the first place?

You are maintaining your sanity and dignity, beyond endurance. Hang in there.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa, I wish I knew the answer. Unfortunately, I don't. I hope someone responds. Good luck!

8:11 PM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

I'm gonna ask our property manager about proper contractors who don't pull this kind of shit. We've got a good one who did our roof and is now checking on house painting estimates for us. I'll see if he's got some room in his busy schedule.

That's the problem with this time in this city. Too much specialized work and not enough competent specialists to go around. Perfect time for con artists to heap damage upon damage.

I'm so sorry.

6:16 PM  
Blogger mominem said...

Construction is a market. Unfortunately the home repair and improvement part of it is the least efficient part of an inefficient market.

I've suggested to a few people we need some kind of neutral online place where people can check references and find a community to exchange information with, unfortunately I don't have the expertise or resources to set it up.

Work is worth exactly what you're willing to pay and no more. Unfortunately you can't see the finished product before you buy, because it's not done yet.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Get with me privately and Betts and I will check with our contractor. He might be able to fit you in as our new pillars and foundation needs to cure before they get the upper level finished.

I've seen houses that they have worked on, and it's quality stuff. (and two friends from Ohio just moved down here and are working for him)

2:26 PM  
Blogger pi22seven said...

It makes me very upset to hear about this charlatan who obviously is not what he claims.

Perhaps there is a way to drag his name through the media/mud as a warning to others?

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recheck the name on his license. looks like you may have hired Rube Goldberg for the plumbing.

1:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about your troubles. I am all too familiar with them. Please, please, visit and fill out a "rating" on your contractor. The more people that use this ratings database, the better. It may help prevent him doing to another what he's done to you, and you may find an acceptable replacement.

9:35 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

I hate it when I post a comment and go back to find it gone. I guess Blogger reverted to a cached version from just before my comment was posted. That was days ago but I just noticed it wasn't here. This is not the first time it's happened.

Thanks to you all who commented. I just don't have the energy to reproduce what I posted right now.


5:01 AM  

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