Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Where Has All the Good Work Gone?

Last week, my husband and I replaced the old, rotting deck that came with our house when we purchased it. Last fall, I hired a contractor that came highly recommended by the owner of our landscaping service. I met with him and he showed me pictures of several other projects that his company completed. He was licensed and bonded and his other work looked solid. We discussed what we wanted for our new deck and he said he understood. When we received his bid for the job, the amount seemed reasonable and in comparison to the other contractors that I had met with, I thought that we would do best with him.

After several delays resulting from our town's permitting process, (including the acquisition of a plot plan and an architectural drawing of the deck), demolition and construction began. In total, it took eight days to demolish the old deck, put down new concrete footings and build the new deck. We paid him 50% of the total last week and have withheld the remainder until job completion.

My husband and I finally got a chance to look at the deck today. Structurally, the deck is solid. The huge disappointment is in the finishes. Our deck is mahogany. It's a beautiful warm color. They used stainless steel nails instead of the rust colored ones that are available on the market. As a result, there are silver lines where the nail heads lie all along the floor of the deck. Instead of placing the holes that they use to secure the railings to the posts on the bottom-side of the rail, they are on the top. So, if you look at the joints, you will clearly see three large holes drilled at an angle -- at every attachment point. They didn't even finish sanding the ends of the wood railings before they installed them. In several places, there are wood spikes hanging out of the railing ends. Even the finishing caps that sit on top of the posts are screwed up. They aren't supposed to have four nail holes in their tops. They are supposed to be secured without being an eyesore. We had them make a gate for the deck so that our dog, (and any small children that visit), won't be able to run down the stairs. The gate they made is very long - instead of being in two pieces with hinges. They secured it with hinges to the entryway -- and the hinges are not going to hold that gate for very long - the gate weighs too much.

What is surprising to me, is not that the workmanship is poor. What is surprising to me is that I expected to not be satisfied with the finished product. While my husband lamented over all of the things that were wrong with the new deck, I couldn't help but think that I wasn't surprised by any of it. It wasn't that we didn't pay a lot for the deck, because we did. I wasn't surprised because I can't remember the last time that I thought that any contractor did a great job. Our landscaper shows up regularly to mow the lawn and supposedly apply fertilizer and weed killer -- but we still get weeds in our lawn. Our painting company is one of the most reputable in the area and while their work is mostly good, the last couple of jobs that I had them do here have had issues that they have had to correct. Our plumbers are slow in getting parts for our projects. Our electrician rushes and sometimes misses things (luckily nothing serious yet). I fired our interior decorator because she was a flake and thought that $5,000 was a reasonable price for a love seat for our family room. Does anyone take real pride in their work anymore?

My expectations for this deck were pretty low. I have to say that the work came in below my expectations. My husband is pretty bummed out. I am not sad that the deck isn't perfect. I'm mostly bothered that my husband isn't at least somewhat satisfied. It's not like we can make them re-do all of the nails or re-do all of the railings. The idea that I half expected this is pretty sad. When you find a contractor that does a good job, you want to hang onto them. Despite their issues, I am keeping my painters, landscaper, plumber and electrician - their work is mostly solid and I guess that's all one can expect these days. The guys that put up our deck are going the way of the interior decorator. I really never want to see them again.

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