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When a job goes bad, is the contractor the only one at fault?

Joe and Delma MendozaThere’s a story being reported in newspapers and TV stations around Southern California about a solider who returned from Iraq to find his house in Highland, California, a disaster from a remodel gone bad.

You can see different versions of the story on Contractor bails on soldier’s renovation on KABC-TV, Who do you trust? Not unlicensed contractors in the Highland Community News and Soldier returns from Iraq to nightmare at home in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. There are tears and blame and recriminations from the soldier’s wife, who was overseeing the project.

So here’s where we all say in unison: That bad contractor! Shame on him!

But as I scour each article and get different parts of the story, I keep wondering about the missing information. What exactly did the contract say? How much was quoted for how much work? What were the agreements from each party? Information about that critical document — the contract, if there was one — is nowhere to be found in these articles.

But here are some parts of the story, as indicated by the various news-gathering organizations, and some added thoughts.

• First and foremost, one article quotes the "contractor" admitting he is not licensed as a contractor at all, but as an architect, and he had various reasons why that was so. In this state, it is illegal to do more than $500 of home improvement work without being licensed by the California Contractors State License Board.

But what I didn’t read in any of these articles is how this contractor came to be hired by this family. When they checked on his license status and they found he had no license, why did they hire him? And if they didn’t check on his license status, why not? Do they also hire unlicensed attorneys and doctors? Even a beautician should be licensed.

• Also, the various stories quote the homeowners saying the contractor took $86,000 for the work and didn’t complete it. The contractor is quoted as saying it was a $103,000 job and that the homeowners ran out of money to finish it. I have no idea what the real story is, but I can tell you that both scenarios are plausible. Ask any legitimate, trustworthy, successful contractor and you’ll find stories of homeowners who, for one reason or another, did not fulfill their part of the bargain. It’s not always the contractor who is at fault.

• And finally, the homeowners are quoted as saying that other contractors have come by and told them only $25,000 to $30,000 worth of work had been done. I’d like to point out that these contractors have no skin in this game, are not testifying under oath, and the lower the number they come up with, the more justified the homeowners feel in their anger. I would be highly suspect of these numbers.

Obviously this is a tragic event, and this soldier and his family deserve a serene, nurturing home to live in. But simply defaulting to the "contractor is a bum" position does not help any of us avoid getting ourselves in this situation.

The real issue is: How much time and effort did this family spend researching their contractor? It’s been said that people spend more time researching a $100 hotel room than they do the contractor who will execute a $100,000 remodel.

It is my hope that nobody reading this blog will ever put their home, their family and their finances into such a risky situation. If you need help researching a contractor, e-mail me at podblog@aol.com and I’ll give you some tips on how to do that.

(Photo: Highland Community News)

3 Comments on When a job goes bad, is the contractor the only one at fault?

  1. lil_gaucha // June 10, 2008 at 6:14 pm // Reply

    Until there’s a contractor referral service, like there is for lawyers, there will be people duped by unlicensed contractors.
    The guys’ an architect, why wouldn’t they trust him?
    And why is it always the home owner’s fault that they hired someone who LIED TO THEM? Can we please put blame in the proper place? The average home owner has zero experience in the contracting world, why should they be expected to know what to look for?
    With zero outreach from the contractor’s community, it’s no wonder this stuff happens all the time. And it will continue to happen until the contractors give back a teensy bit to the community by doing some outreach.

  2. Lil Gaucha, I am intrigued by your response. When you mention that contractors should be giving back to the commuinity by doing outreach, what does that mean to you? What does that look like?
    For instance, if licensed contractors were doing exactly what you think is appropriate to help homewners not hire unlicensed contractors, what would they be doing?
    Contractors have formed associations, like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and they try very hard to educate homeowner. What are they not doing that you think they should be doing?
    And there is the California Contractors State License Board, where you can go to check on licenses. Do you think they should be running more ads or what? I’m really curious.
    Thanks!

  3. Frustrated // June 30, 2008 at 11:16 pm // Reply

    Hey I know everyone needs to watch there back but what ever happened to the day when everyone was proud of there work. I recently had a large amount of cement poured for my longtime dreamed new garage and shop.
    I specified what I wanted but not down to a gnats behind assuming (my fault) that they would do the standard and not cut corners. Got the quote looked good, not even thinking that it wasn’t super specific but it’s not like it said concrete 12,000 either, I mean it said what they were going to do. I talked to him and said wanted rebar but it was not put it and was not on the quote…. but unfortunately I assumed … why wouldn’t you put it in….. why wouldn’t you not have expansion joints… these are licensed contractors why can’t they do there job like this is there property, it’s not like I am not willing to pay for good work. My point is why can’t you hire someone that does there job for a LIVING and expect them to do the job the best possible …. you don’t go in to get an oil change and have to tell them to put new oil in or how much oil to put in or that maybe they should put the plug back in when they are done…. this is all assumed because this is there job, well this is a contractors job….. do it right we shouldn’t have to ask you to do it right!!

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