A walk on the wild side*

We have had several significant home renovation projects in the past year with different groups of workers. This post is about our deck guy. For those following this journey, he had been the music room guy and the kitchen window guy. He also was the broken-hearted guy when his wife dumped him for the local feed farmer (that was a story which required medications).

He does great work but has some idiosyncrasies that can make you stark raving mad when exposed to him for any length of time. We had other project crews that showed up early, worked hard and left late. His crews were not one of those.

The language was salty; the radio was loud; and the butts were flowing. That’s how they rolled.

He did three projects for us. The first two were small ones. Both took longer than expected (and that would be a theme with all his work). Each morning he would come with one or two guys. Most of these guys don’t have cars. Transportation is a big issue. When he had to pick up people he got here late.

No one like this showed up!

Sometimes he would go to pick them up and they didn’t show. Fridays were a particularly bad day because there was a Thursday night bar activity that required the workers to get stinking drunk. You don’t want anyone like that working on your project anyway.

Some were chipper and eager to get started but would lose interest fast. Really fast, like by 10 a.m. on the first day. In one case he sent someone home because it was so obvious the guy didn’t want to be here. Redoing work done carelessly was also a recurrent theme.

No one in his worker pool wanted a “steady” job. No secure paycheck coming in. Several were on disability so working a day or two was “beer money” (possibly for Thursday nights). They only worked when they needed to. For perspective these were middle-aged white guys aged 40 to 60.

A few were supported by “the old lady.” In this case “old” could mean 30. It has nothing to do with age. It refers to the paramour du jour who is willing to support someone who prefers not to work. A current day gigolo. None of these guys were handsome. Not even in a rugged way. Some were missing teeth. Others had trouble articulating a sentence. There were no six-pack abs. If I were to have a gigolo, my standards would be much higher. They weren’t homely though. I would call them aging hippies, longish hair but balding with dew rags wrapped on their heads. As the horse folks would say, they were ridden hard and put away wet a few times too many.

One guy did not want to work more than 12 hours a week. That’s all he needed to sustain his lifestyle (because his old lady was carrying the burden of rent, utilities, food, etc.) He never worked more than three or four hours a day on my project. He showed up on his motorcycle in time for lunch and left by 2 p.m. and never more than two days a week.

Everyone smokes. Non-stop. This isn’t the 50s. People know the health hazards of smoking. (These guys do not have health insurance. That would require working more hours!) There is also the expense. (Maybe the old lady supports this habit too.) I found cigarette butts in planters and all around the deck site. Most were cleaned up at the end but not a day before.

My contractor did not believe in cleaning up day by day, wasting good time that could go toward the project itself. He also didn’t believe in working full days. He rarely worked five hours a day (which contributed to the time delay). He was doing drafting for an architect in the afternoons.

Even when he wasn’t doing that, he never stayed later than 2 p.m. It was as if a bell rang. They dropped everything and ran for the truck. Tools were left in place, scattered around. One day a full pack of cigarettes were left out to get rained on. On another, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lay unfinished on the wood pile. My mice would have liked that. My eyeballs rolled so hard I wasn’t sure I could get them front again. It reminded me of school. That school bell rang, and everyone ran to the buses.

The deck project (which turned out great) was predicted to be a two-week job. It took eight weeks. That was partly because the contractor cannot judge work time; partly because he had trouble securing workers who would show up; and the short workdays. Many days he worked alone. When someone did show up, he spent considerable time coaching them on what to do. Sometimes he ripped out what they did and redid it.

I suspect that because of his short workdays he couldn’t get quality workers who would need a full day’s pay to support their families. His work style dictated who he could get. I want to say bottom feeders but the guys were nice enough, just not ambitious.

This did not reflect what I saw in the kitchen contractor, the landscaping crew or the painters but many of them were immigrants. My advice to the contractor (after one of his many rants about getting good help) was to drop the part-time white guys and find a crew of immigrants eager to work. He admitted that would be a better work crew but would require a lifestyle change on his part.

He tried to poach people from the landscapers, but they wouldn’t go. Let’s see, they have a steady full-time job with benefits. Leave that for a crazy contractor who would give them five hours a day max? Not a tough decision.

Our job is done. It’s beautiful and we are happy, but I need to recover. It was as if the circus came to town and parked on my front lawn for eight weeks! Total chaos!

*Author’s note: This is not indicative of all contractors. We’ve had several good experiences. Our deck guy is smart and talented and gave us a good product but he marches to the tune of a different drummer.

 

50 thoughts on “A walk on the wild side*

  1. I am laughing out loud! How did you ever find this guy in the first place? Your patience astounds me. On the other hand, the finished project did turn out to be beautiful, and the workmanship is quality. I guess putting up with the drama was at least well worth it in the end. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s terrible and I can just picture the “crew” based on your excellent description. The “old ladies” dumb enough to support these modern-day gigolos need their head read. Just working enough for beer money ….

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  3. Well, management does set the tone. You do indeed have a lot of patience, Kate. I’d have probably ruined everything by making a stink about his lax commitment, and then he would have never come back. I’m glad his work product was ultimately what was promised. I’m now on the prowl for a contractor to do minor things in our bathroom. I’m learning no one wants to do partial projects at the moment. – Marty

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    • We made some fusses but it never was productive. Fortunately, although a big project for us, it wasn’t like we were building a house (oy vay!). He didn’t do some things he said he would. He overused the word “awesome.” The deck is indeed nice but the project is relatively routine. I wouldn’t use awesome. Maybe it’s because he didn’t do the awesome things he said he would. He wanted to put a design in the floor for free just so he got to be creative! I declined that one because I could see it taking all summer. I would recommend going with a company that does decks all the time. It would have been a 2 week job. As for your bathroom, we tried to find someone to do small changes in our kitchen. We went through 6 different contractors but no one was interested. One said they only do projects where they rip out to the studs. We actually didn’t have to do that with our kitchen but we did get a new set of cabinets. It’s a weird time.

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      • I think you made a good decision regarding the design, given what you now know of him. I think “awesome” is best used by those under 25 years of age. Shockingly, we heard back from a handyman — TWICE! — who has a contract with our condo community (to install light figures), and he said he’s happy to come look at our bathroom. I emphasized how small a job I was talking, and he texted back that was perfect for him. I’m both excited and dubious now.

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  4. All I can say is I truly know how beyond frustrating and difficult this guy made your deck project. I felt like I needed medication after our redo. I am happy you get to spend this summer on your beautiful deck. I get a kick out of “There are clowns lurking in the bushes.”

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    • I am methodical and driven when I’m on a project so it was beyond frustrating. I watched in wonder as his tools rusted and his drill bits got lost in the grass. I have never liked the circus and I didn’t enjoy it at my house! Sometimes you have to do a redo. We believe this is our last house purchase but you never know. I can’t do this again so if for some reason we have to move, it will have to be good enough to live in as is.

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  5. I admire your patience Kate. I don’t think I could have put up with all of that, but it reminds me of why I don’t renovate anymore. It was bad enough five years ago. So many people don’t seem to want to work anymore, or don’t want work to interfere with their lifestyle.

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    • We had built our last home so when we moved in all I had to do was cosmetic stuff like painting and wallpaper. We have a very small project — a wall to separate the office area which will take about a week. We’ll do that in the fall wither ourselves or with our kitchen carpenter who was wonderful. The last BIG project is redoing our master bath. I can’t do that for a few years though. A friend is having hers done and the contractor told her 2 months. It involves moving our bedroom upstairs and using the upstairs bath. Can’t even think about that now. Maybe in a few years I’ll be excited about it. Everything else will be maintenance.

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    • One of the things about this guy is he also runs over budget. During the last two weeks he wanted to increase the cost by 20%. We negotiated a smaller amount. We aren’t unreasonable and know that costs of basics are going up but if you quote a project, you should stick with it. I think he could have saved money by being more efficient.

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  6. Where did you find this guy? Did he have references? I haven’t had any major work done in my condo. I did have new kitchen cabinets installed. Just the upper cabinets. The installers were ok but the person who measured and ordered wasn’t. I don’t know if she was new or just lax but the cabinets were ordered wrong and the replacement measurements were wrong. Took six months to get the job finished. Still not quite what I wanted but I did get back 1/3 of the cost of the cabinets.

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    • Sounds like you got a deal. To answer your question, he had done work for us before and yes he had high references. I saw his work. It’s beautiful. He’s a craftsman. He did the next door neighbor’s deck and pergola and it’s wonderful. My final product was ok. It took longer to get there than he said it would and his work style was crazy. He did our music room in August without issue (he had the radio but cleaned up every day). Something happened between then and now.

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  7. Yeah, umm, I’m glad you’re satisfied with the finished product, but with a review like that, I’d never hire the guy (if I lived in the area). Especially since it’s proven that there are other contractors who are more professional with their work.

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    • That would be a wise decision. He does work that other contractors turn down. He lowered my kitchen window and no one else wanted to do that. It was an easy job but since it’s second story, no one wanted to do it on scaffolding.

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  8. Your experience reinforces the notion to NEVER, EVER contemplate a construction project. If I need to improve something, I’d be better off moving. I think there’s a sainthood waiting for you in the distant future, Kate for putting up with contractors like the deck guy. Congrats for keeping your powder dry and not needing legal representation for deserved bonks on the heads of crews like that. Now that it’s completed, it’s easy to say it was worth it. The deck project is gorgeous, it’s the getting there that deserved numerous medals. 🎖

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    • It was a throw back to the 50s? 40? sometime for sure. I learned a lot about disability folks. I’m sure his sidekick couldn’t do his original job which was probably physical but could do “fetch and carry” and nailing.

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  9. You aptly described this as a “circus” and apparently the contractor was the “lead clown”. I’m trying not to audibly snicker because I don’t want you to think I’m laughing at you, but it IS a funny story!

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  10. Kate—I would have fired this crew a long time ago and not have them tackle another project. There must be a reason why you continued to aggravate yourself with this crew? Even if his costs were far less than other contractors, I wouldn’t be able to justify using this crew. You have far more patience than I.

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    • I don’t know about the patience but getting on a contractor’s queue around here takes 6 months to a year so I wasn’t going to fire him in the middle knowing it was just a few more weeks of hell. He did the deck for my next door neighbor and it’s gorgeous. I talked to her about it afterward and he was at a different place. Even with our first 2 jobs, he didn’t do the short days so the projects were quickly done. One took 2 days and the other 2 weeks. Maybe the wife leaving affected him more than I know.

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  11. Wow. That is a fascinating look at different lifestyles, management, etc.

    Our contractor did fantastic work, but died in his late forties. One of his buddies told me that it was common–went with the lifestyle of work hard, play hard, drink a lot, and never see a doctor.

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    • Yes the doctor thing. He had an episode and had to go to the doctor. He needs a stent but doesn’t have insurance. If he gets it now, he says his heart won’t be covered going forward because it’s “pre-existing.” Not sure what he will do. Even the testing is $$. It is a different lifestyle. I haven’t heard the term “my old lady” since I was a kid. My mom would have bashed his mouth but then again, maybe she calls him her “old man.”

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        • I thought they were but I’ve been out of the benefits business for 10 years! He doesn’t like docs. Not surprisingly since I’ve known him which is less than a year, he’s had a panic attack that required an ER trip, an inner ear infection and now the “OMG I’m having a heart attack” issue. He needs to do smaller jobs (something he is comtemplating) or just be honest about when it’s going to get done.

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    • How do you know I wasn’t. There were more Starbucks trips than usual for sure and I walked a lot. Had he said it would take 2 months when he started, it wouldn’t have been as nerve wracking but it was always “I’ll be done next week.” The final product is great although I’m finishing the painting myself today. I just couldn’t have him back for anything I can do myself. He has to replace something on the low wattage lighting but that’s it.

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  12. I hear ya…….We’ve been fairly lucky with contractors but most of THAT involves outside the house work like landscaping, etc. I’d go insane if I had a crew INSIDE the house. I’d have to take a vacation (secluded island/hammock kind of vacation) to survive inside stuff and admire you for not grabbing a plane and doing that! Seriously though, deck looks fabulous and while I’m sure you hesitate to get involved in another major project I think we learn something each time that helps us (sometimes) stay away from the worst of the pitfalls. You deserve a rest (with a hammock maybe).

    Hugs, Pam

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    • You are right. I did learn a few things. There were a few things that he said he would do, then didn’t. In checking the contract, they weren’t specified. Get it ALL down in writing! This guy was so personable that I let my guard down on that. By contrast, my kitchen guy was great. My problem with leaving was that I didn’t trust them. Not that they would steal but I didn’t want them to kill more grass or scrape more of the outdoor furniture than they did. Also I couldn’t leave the cats with that going on. And of course, I had to clean up the peanut butter and jelly sammies. (I did complain about that and it never happened again.)

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