Thursday, June 26, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part One

Mention home-improvement contractors, and most homeowners roll their eyes and groan. Not everyone who’s lived through a home remodeling project reacts that way, of course. Some just chuckle sadly, shaking their heads with weary resign. Others run screaming from the room, ripping at their hair.

Maybe they’ve had an experience like the White Plains, NY, homeowner whose upstairs bathroom remodeler flooded the living room. Oops! Or the Scarsdale, NY, couple whose painters polished off pretty much everything in their liquor cabinets—-including a bottle of Perrier-Jouet—-and very kindly hid the empties in the heating ducts around the house. Heh, heh, heh. Or the Hartsdale, NY, woman who had to eat $1,000 worth of one-of-a-kind designer tiles because her contractor mismeasured a bathtub frame. “You should have measured yourself before you ordered the tiles,” was his response. Huh?

Even homeowners who don’t have horror stories readily admit that these projects are invariably an adventure. The White Plains homeowner with the swimming pool in her living room, took it all in stride. “That wasn’t fun,” she says. “On the other hand, it wasn’t the contractor’s fault. The house was built in 1923; and when you start messing with pipes that old, things happen.”

She and her husband are serial home improvers, having remodeled four bathrooms, the kitchen, the family room, and the entire third floor of their home in the 14 years they’ve lived there. “Nothing has gone perfectly,” she observes with Zen-like equanimity. “You just have to assume that the unexpected happens and that you will go over budget.”

Another woman, who spent three months renovating her family’s home in Katonah, NY, tells about the carpenter who sent them a bill a year after the job was completed. “He just forgot, but it was a punch in the gut,” she says.

Still, it’s hard to be calm when you turn over the house keys to a gang of muscular strangers with implements of destruction hanging from their belts. Beefy guys who are going to occupy your family’s private space for months, do violent things that you don’t understand to the most valuable asset you own, and then collect a huge check when the job is done—if it ever is. Home improvement is a trip when you’re watching it on HGTV, but can be a terrifying journey when the makeover is happening under your own roof.

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