Q&A / 

Kitchen Cabinet Remodel

DEAR TIM: My kitchen cabinet remodel job has turned into a disaster. I contracted the job through a national home-center chain who demanded I pay in advance for the entire job. There are numerous issues, and the granite top is sagging in the middle of my sink. My complaints are going unanswered. The installer will not come back, and my calls to the home center are getting me nowhere. Is it time to call an attorney? Should I sue to get my money back? What went wrong as I trusted the large national company? Andy E., Lexington, KY

DEAR ANDY: If I had a nickel for every letter and email I have received like yours, I would have my own private jet. The Better Business Bureau statistics echo this as complaints regarding home building and remodeling are always make the Top-Ten List of consumer issues. Let's put on the rubber gloves on and do an autopsy to discover what went wrong. It's important to find the cause, so this never again happens to you.

You undoubtedly had lots of anxiety going into this project as you indicated that trust was a major factor in your decision who to hire. My guess is that you did not know exactly what needed to be done on the job, so you wanted to go with a large branded company you thought would make your life easy. This, in my opinion, is a huge mistake. You always need to investigate what is involved, how things work and how to spot a pro from the get go. This way you protect your interests at all times.

A granite top like this must be installed on kitchen cabinets that are level and sturdy.  PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

A granite top like this must be installed on kitchen cabinets that are level and sturdy. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The actual cause of death was you making the payment in full at the beginning of the job. When you do this, the only leverage you have to make sure your kitchen remodel dreams come true is hope. You "hope" that all goes well and you "hope" you get what you paid for. Never again pay the full amount in advance for any remodeling job. It is unnecessary, and it puts you in grave financial risk.

It is reasonable to have to pay some money up front in rare situations. Your kitchen-remodeling job is one of them. If the cabinets you ordered were custom ones that are not normally stocked by the home center, then it is reasonable for them to request a 50 percent deposit to order the cabinets. It is reasonable for them to ask for a similar 50 percent deposit for the granite top as it will probably only fit in your kitchen. You should not forward any monies for installation labor - never. You only pay for labor once it is complete and satisfactory.

When you have the money in your possession, you have the power to get results. You can create a fair payment schedule that distributes a certain amount of money as the work progresses. If this means you have to make smaller payments every three or four days on smaller jobs, it is worth the inconvenience.

You said the home center demanded payment in full before the work progressed. I don't doubt that, but the marketplace is so competitive, it is possible you might have negotiated special terms that allowed you to make staggered payments as the work progressed. Use the economic law of supply and demand to your favor whenever possible. There are many other smaller professional remodelers who would have agreed to take your money as the job progressed.

As for calling an attorney, you can do that as a last resort. I believe you will discover that you will have to pay the attorney's fees no matter what happens. It is entirely possible you will spend thousands of dollars to get the same results as that you might do on your own by becoming the squeaky wheel that ultimately gets the grease.

Start by contacting your local Better Business Bureau to see if the national home center is obligated to enter into arbitration. Then contact the headquarters of the home center, fill out online complaint forms at their website, contact any local consumer reporters at your media outlets, visit websites where consumer complaints are lodged, etc. In other words, don't look like a doormat or otherwise you will become one.

When you decide to remodel your kitchen or any job for that matter, you can use professionals who will not demand full payment up front. They don't require this as they know the job will turn out fine, and that you will be satisfied with their work.

The key is to spell out in the contract what monies are due when. You must always hold back enough money to be able to finish the job at any point. If you give the contractor too much money, you loose your leverage. Imagine what might happen if the contractor gets injured on your job and you have to bring in another company to finish. You must always have that money needed to finish in your possession.

It is critical that you make timely payments when you say you will. This is paramount to the two-lane trust bridge between you and the contractor. You are trusting that the contractor will do great work and do it on time. The contractor trusts that you will do your part and make the correct payments on the day they are due. Remember that excuses are reasons for failure. Do not fail your contractor and he will not fail you.

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