Tough building lessons learned
Tony Grasso’s Kingsbury dream house turned into a nightmare about a year ago when he discovered poor workmanship in the 4,100-square-foot structure.
After trying to cajole his Carson Valley contractor into meeting his expectations, he filed a complaint with the Nevada State Contractor Contractors Board.
The dispute culminated with threats and pages of reported structural problems in a report that took months to produce.
“He told me he was going to burn my house down,” Grasso said.
Grasso ultimately hired a new contractor to finish the job that requires some dismantling. He estimates the project will be complete in a few months.
“Everybody thinks they’re savvy until it happens to them,” Grasso said.
Contractor disputes are more common than one would think, said Gary Leonard, an investigator with Nevada’s contractor board. The agency handles 2,700 complaints a month.
Leonard handled Grasso’s Nevada case, which closed with the contractor ordered to make repairs and relinquish his license. It was after the contractor made some repairs that Grasso hired the new contractor.
The investigator said that even if Grasso, a spa contractor, wanted his builder to make further repairs, the builder would be unable to do so.
“If the contractor is fired, they’re not allowed back on the property,” Leonard said.
Leonard advocates using as much communication as possible to enforce an agreement.
“You cannot have too much information on the contract,” he said.
Verbal contracts are legal in Nevada, but those who put their expectations in writing have a better case.
He also encouraged consumers to hire a contractor licensed in the right discipline. There are 42 different types of contractors licenses.
In addition, don’t take a low bid on an elaborate job, Leonard stressed. And, don’t pay in full before the job is done.
Leonard said down payments vary with each agreement. The California State Contractor Licensing Board recommends paying 10 percent up front.
“Our biggest problem here (in Nevada) with consumers is that people don’t have a written contract,” Leonard said. “It’s the first thing the judge asks for.”
South Lake Tahoe general contractor Steve Yonker agreed.
“Ninety percent of this job is communication,” Yonker said.
He urged people looking to remodel or build to “nail down every detail.
If the contractor can’t do that, they don’t have a handle on their business,” he said.
Yonker and Leonard also agreed that a consumer be skeptical of accepting the lowest bid, if it’s significantly lower than the other bids.
Yonker said shop around. In a small town, a consumer’s best weapon is word of mouth.
“The best way to find a contractor is to talk to people around town. Talk to material suppliers. Talk to the chamber (of commerce),” he said.
He added that South Lake Tahoe makes for a breeding ground for contractor disputes. With a short construction season — deemed the fourth season of Tahoe — contractors are busy and not cheap.
“If you’re shopping for bids, you’re probably going to get an off-the-shelf bid,” Yonker said.
In Tahoe, it’s also wise to establish whether the contractor’s crew is seasonal or stable — the latter being the preferred.
Californians spend more than $10 billion on construction and home remodeling every year.
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