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Diary of a Mad Renovator: Renovators Beware!

Written by Jaqui Lividini

As you’ve probably surmised from this blog already, renovating is not for the faint of heart. Believe it or not, I had my first trip ever to a police station last weekend—all the result of an unfortunate situation with an electrician. I’m hoping you will all gain a bit of wisdom from my mistakes.   Our original contractor had hired an electrician whom I directly gave quite a hefty down payment. Once we parted ways with that contactor, we were instructed to work directly with this electrician. When we contacted the electrician, he told us that he wouldn’t refund our payment, but that he would do the work—which was, ironically, the last thing we heard from him for quite some time. How convenient for him! Things went radio silent—no answers, no work. Though he had my down payment he never showed up, never returned our phone calls, and seemed to temporarily have forgotten his email address. At this point, we decided there was no way we would ever be working together.  

Despite our difficulties with the electrician, we did continue to make progress on other fronts. Here, glass doors are installed in the great room.

It’s amazing how lawsuits have a way of bringing people out of the woodwork (quite literally.) Soon after I hired a lawyer to get my down payment back, the vanishing electrician randomly showed up on site. As a result, I went to the police station and was forced to file a complaint—and suddenly found myself in the real estate version of Law and Order. I was brought into the interrogation room, my friend Katie was forbidden from coming with me, and I suddenly had old crime movie flashbacks (you know the ones, where they’re under that big shiny light). Happily, my fears were completely baseless. The Branford police department could not have been more professional and polite. A special shout-out to the police officer assigned to my case—he was a true gentleman.  

The upstairs bathroom being framed.

You might ask how a fairly intelligent, seasoned renovator could be so incredibly stupid as not to have a contract before handing over a check for thousands of dollars? I have absolutely no answer. At the time, it just didn’t seem as big a lapse of judgment as it does now. Renovations consist of thousands of decisions both big and small. Occasionally one bad decision turns into an afternoon at the police station. Thankfully and hopefully that is a rare occurrence.

So, in the “lessons learned” category, here are a few of my favorites for fellow renovators:

  • Be careful about handing out down payments—do not do it in advance. Wait until the day the work begins.

  • Always have a signed, written contract with the contractor and only pay him. Do not pay subcontractors directly. Having nothing in   writing can lead to, well, questionable circumstances.

  • Last but not least, you should be personally involved in all hiring and firing decisions, rather than leave them up to someone else.

So there you have it. Just when I thought, “How could anything else possibly go wrong with this house?”—it did. If these walls could talk . . .  

With my friend Katie—who did not know her visit to our cottage-in-progress would include a trip to the police station.

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