Ripped off by contractor, what do we do now?

My husband and I recently purchased a home and so my husband is fixing up his own house to sell. Actually my husband is the least handy person I know so our real estate agent recommended a private contractor. At first he did fantastic work and we were pleased. The last thing left to do is carpet the house. My husband gave the contractor 3K to purchase the carpet and install it. Then all of the sudden, no work was being done and the contractor would not return our calls. Our real estate agent got through to him and he claimed he was very ill.

Well we have not heard from this guy since last October. I did a web search and found his Facebook page where he looks really well (and newly engaged). Unfortunately my husband only had a handshake agreement with this contractor, although we do have canceled checks. We live in PA. I want to send the contractor a letter informing him that he needs to contact us immediately to either finish the job or refund the money. But what is the next step after that?

IANAL, but without a written contract you MAY be S.O.L.

Is this contractor licensed?

When I was on Grand Jury duty I saw several “contractors” indicted for taking money and not doing work.

Are you willing to take him to court or to swear out a complaint with the authorities?

The canceled check for $3K should suffice as a form of documentation that work was to be done. What will get messy is proving that it was for future work and not for work that had already been done.

Do you have documentation of prior work and payments made? If you can show that the prior work was paid for, then it should be obvious that the $3K was for future work.

You’ll probably have to get a lawyer and sue. Call the small claims court in your area and ask for their advice. I think $3K is greater than their limit, but they may be able to offer advice for suing a contractor.

Get the book Make it Right: Advice on Home Renovations. It goes over how to pick a contractor, what to look for, and how to handle the money. It’s by Mike Holmes, who has a great show on HGTV called “Holmes on Homes”. He fixes contractor screw ups, and you’ll learn a lot about how renovations should be done. Basically, assume the contractor will scam you at some point. If it’s not with the money, it will be by taking shortcuts, not doing things to code, or doing sloppy work. For large renovations, I would advise hiring a home inspector to inspect the contractor’s work before making the final payment.

Thank you!
Yes we have other checks for previously done work done by this contractor. I am a first time homeowner so I am woefully ignorant about such matters and my husband is far too trusting of a man. Yes we are willing to go to court. My husbands house must get done sometime as I am currently paying the mortgage and all the bills at our new home and once he hopefully sells his house, he can help me with the bills. Our home will need a roof this year and now I know to look for someone who is licensed and to get a written contract! Hindsight is indeed 20/20. :smack:

What if I were to say that all homeowners want work done for free, think you are the greatest contractor ever until they get the invoice, are impossible to please, will threaten to write a bad review unless you give them a discount or freebie, blame you for the material selections they made and don’t like now, etc.

You would be offended. You would say I was painting with a very broad brush, and you’d be right.

There are a lot of us out there who take pride in what we do, and we do it well.

Most homeowners are awesome. But honey, I’ve got stories, yesindeedido.

fisha, Mn contractor with an A+ rating. (The A+ signifying I’ve taken it up the ass at least once.)

Contact contractor, tell him you are going to report him to whoever licenses builders in PA. That should work.

No doubt homeowners have unrealistic expectations, but the contractor is not paying them for a job to be done. The contractor is free to not take the job if he thinks the requirements are too great for the amount being bid.

I didn’t mean to insinuate that all contractors are scammers. Rather, the homeowner should not assume that the contractor will do the job as the homeowner desires. The homeowner should oversee the contractor to make sure that the job is done as they want it done. Even if the contractor completes the task, they may not take the time to make sure that the details are correct.

For example, you may have a contractor remove the popcorn from your ceiling and repaint it. But there’s a huge range of what is acceptable quality of the ceiling when the job is done. If you don’t set requirements and supervise the job, likely you’ll end up with a ceiling with a number of imperfections and a paint job with flashing and lap lines. It doesn’t mean the contractor is dishonest. Rather, he’s a business man and his idea of good enough may not match yours.

So a novice homeowner is better off assuming that the contractor is a scammer and act appropriately so they don’t get ripped off. They should protect the money so he doesn’t run off with it. They should supervise the work to make sure it’s done well and to code. The contractor may be great and do the job perfectly, but the homeowner should never assume that.

You don’t have to get a lawyer for small claims court , for this case, it would be unnecessary and a waste of money.
FTR I believe the limit for small claims court is $5000 in most juristictions.

While reading that book is good advice, have you read it? That advice is not what Mike Holmes recommends.
What he does strongly suggest is for people to do research, check references, and go see previous work sites.
He stresses the importance of permits which protect the homeowner from substandard workmanship.
He is a proponent of the “Do it Right” approach, otherwise known on the SDMB as the Brotherhood of the Right Way and that minimum code is usually not good enough.

A general home inspector would be almost useless and a waste of money as they are limited in their scope and at the completion of your job wouldn’t be able to see much of anything anyway.
Proper electrical, plumbing, and structural permits and their subsequent inspections by municipal inspectors is the proper course of action.

…bolding mine.

You say you don’t want to insinuate all contractors are scammers, then go on and on with the assumption that they are.

Starting any renovation assuming your contractor is a scammer is ridiculous, in fact, if you have done your your research, checked references, discussed expectations and payment this should not even be a concern.

Homeowners should always sign a written contract detailing the budget, insurance, work to be performed, plans, permits, timelines, etc…
Payments should consist of 1/3 deposit, 1/3 when job is initiated, and 1/3 when the job is complete.

This right here is your problem.

No reputable contractor will take more than a token deposit for work to be done; they have in their back pocket the power of a mechanic’s lien and your RE ain’t goin’ nowhere. Paying a contractor or tradesman in advance is just about a guarantee you are going to get poor service, shortcuts and a long-term invisibility act.

Good luck.

A handshake as a contract??? How naive!

Yes I know, my husband is WAY too trusting of a person and like I said, as a lifelong renter, I was woefully ignorant about such things. I normally would have been more suspicious but I was recovering from a near fatal car accident that totaled my car, and left me with fractures from head to toe and I was a bit out of it when all this was arranged. You better believe there will be no more handshake agreements in the future - I will make sure of that!

OMG sorry about your accident! Hope you’re feeling better now.

Yes, sad to say, sometimes the woman has to be the Voice of Reason when men want to seem manly and trusting …

Sorry to hear that, I hope you are OK now.
I would always be wary of someone who asks for payment before any goods or services are delivered. If they have insufficient funds or credit to cover materials and/or labour for a small job like that, the red flags should be raised. If they are successful and profitable, there should not have any solvency issues.

No, it is very sad to hear that someone would make such a sexist, stereotypical statements about women and men.

It was an honest mistake to trust the contractor. I’m sure her husband had other things to worry about so he made a quick decision to get the carpets done as they had a previous relationship with this contractor and were happy with the work he completed in the past.

Please keep us updated with how things are going. I’m sure there are lots of people who are in the same situation and will benefit from hearing what happens.

Yes I will keep the board updated. My husband wants to send a letter first when I dutifully authored, printed, and submitted to him for his approval. Now he wants to give this contractor to the end of the month until we send the letter. Hello! This guy hasn’t returned any calls in over 3 months and as I can see from his Facebook page, is not on the brink of death as evidenced by his happy face pictures at the bar with his brand-new fiance. Meanwhile hubby continues to pay the mortgage on his house, pay the utility bills on it while I struggle to pay the mortgage and all the bills for this house. Oy vey! Thankfully, I have a good job and can afford to do so but it would be nice to save money for a new roof and chimney repair!

You got this contractor as a referral from your real estate agent? Mention the problem to the agent; if he ever wants a referral from that agent again, he’ll fix things ASAP.

Sorry, was meant as a commiseration with the OP. I retract that. Gosh, some of my best friends are men!

I would send the letter now. It sounds like your husband wants to avoid conflict and will just keep putting it off. I would also keep pushing this with your RE agent. Show him/her the contractor’s facebook page and ask if it looks like the guy is really that ill. Your agent should be trying to make this right for you.

This is the question that sent me to this board – how to deal with unsatisfied expectations. Because I am not in the business of remodeling nor really any home maintenance, I do not know whether my expectations are reasonable. My immediate problem: We recently paid a friend, a professional handyman/home remodeler, to paint several rooms. Our house is 30+ years old and the walls had scratches, dings, etc. which he repaired – and since he painted, every single patch and fill area can now be clearly seen through the paint. Previously, over the years, my husband (an amateur at best) had also patched and filled and repainted with semi-gloss, and though some unevenness in the wallboard was slightly visible, the walls otherwise looked good. Now the walls look blotchy and “spotted” and considerably worse that before they were painted. Our painter warned us that semi-gloss would show flaws, but I had no idea he meant that every single place where he repaired the walls would stick out like a sore thumb. I requested semi-gloss for durability and reflectivity (and because we had been happy with it before), but I hate the way the walls look now.

I do not know if this paint job has been done incorrectly, and should not look blotchy and patchy, or if I have simply gotten the natural result of having chosen semi-gloss. I guess I will ask our painter friend if the quality of his paint job is all I can expect, but he has charged us for every coat he painted on the walls (another question – is that normal pricing practice?) so I do not want him to try to fix the problem by adding a new coat – would that even fix the problem? – and charge us more.

I know the dilemma I face is compounded by the fact that our painter is a friend and I do not want to embarrass or offend him. I never dreamed that I would have been so unhappy with this paint job, and I do not know what to do. Unfortunately for our friend, I will not be asking him to do any further work in our house. I certainly wish we had asked him to do only the smallest paint job to “test” his skills, but again, I never dreamed that that should be necessary! He makes his living doing this sort of thing!

Sorry to hear about your experience. I don’t think your expectations for that job were unreasonable. The painter should have been clearer about what he meant by “show flaws”. You assumed it would be just some minor imperfections that weren’t noticeable unless you looked for them. But the painter actually knew that the big flaws would be visible and he should have conveyed that. You, not being an experienced painter, didn’t know what the result would be or even that you had to ask for what you were expecting.

It seems reasonable that he charged per coat. Each coat will take him a certain amount of time, so paying per coat is like paying him by the hour. However, I don’t think it would be fair to ask him to come back and fix it for free. It sounds like he did the job requested (paint the walls) and that work was done properly. If there was a problem with the paint job itself, like dripping or flaking, he should fix that. But this situation seems more like a miscommunication of requirements and expectations than of faulty work. An unfortunate lesson in home improvement.

Ask him what it would take to fix, but don’t be surprised if it’s more than what’s already been done. I would guess sanding, 1-2 coats of primer and then 2 coats of paint. Consider doing it yourself. You can get a pro level result with just a bit of time and effort. Teach yourself by watching youtube videos. You can learn how to do any home improvement project there.