Common remodeling gripes

Last reviewed: August 2010

The economic downturn has meant an upturn in contractor quality. "As the industry has pulled back, only the best of the best in communities have survived," says Craig Smith, CEO of ServiceMagic.com, which connects consumers with contractors, architects, plumbers, and other home-service pros. But even good pros can give clients headaches, and vice versa. So we asked homeowners and contractors to tell us their troubles. Here's what they said, plus advice from our pros on how to avoid the problems:

Homeowners sound off

General contractors were significantly more aggravating than subcontractors such as plumbers, electricians, and painters, though not quite as annoying as the cable or satellite guy, according to a nationally representative survey of 913 homeowners conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Failing to show up was the top complaint. Also annoying were not taking the time needed to do the job right, not listening or understanding requests, and leaving a mess. Surprisingly, cost overruns were at the bottom of the list.

Contractors' pet peeves

"Kids and pets," says Michael Hydeck, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. "People have to remember that a remodeling site is not a playground." Other complaints include homeowners calling at all hours of the night and not appreciating the minor imperfections that come with handcrafted work.

Keeping the peace

Miscommunication and mismatched expectations are the cause of most of those problems. So don't underestimate the importance of a good rapport. Establish guidelines for hours of work, cleanliness of the job site, which bathroom can be used, and whom to contact when an immediate answer is needed.

Once the work gets under way, keep in touch every day. E-mail maintains a paper trail and avoids those after-hours calls. Create a separate account for the project, or at least a dedicated folder, to track the correspondence. But don't take the entire relationship online. "There's still no substitute for live conversations," says Candi Hilton, a remodeler in Naples, Fla. And if there's a problem or concern, speak up. The longer you wait, the more expensive it can be to fix.