What to Do if You Hire a Bad Contractor?

What do you do when things go south with a contractor? We're diving into that today. From identifying red flags to managing expectations, we've got you covered. We'll discuss how to navigate tough conversations and what to do if you're at an impasse with your contractor. Plus, we'll share our advice for managing expectations and addressing issues head-on.

Listen in as we explore the ins and outs of dealing with a bad contractor. You'll learn how to spot warning signs early on, set realistic expectations, and handle challenges effectively. Don't miss out on valuable tips for protecting your home and finding resolution in difficult situations.

This Episode Will Cover: 

• What to do if you hire a bad contractor.
• Red flags to look out for.
• What is actually a concern versus not a concern.
• Expectations of the word perfection.
• The importance of having conversations about expectations.
• Why you shouldn’t pay for labor that hasn’t been done.

Learn More About Ashley, Michelle, & Simply Home: 
• About Ashley & Michelle: www.simplyhome.co/about
• Website: www.simplyhome.co
• Podcast: simplyhome.co/podcast
• Instagram: @simplyhomeaustin
• Facebook: @simplyhomeaustin
Episode Transcript

This is the Simply Home Podcast - Ladies Who Build, a podcast for women by women.

This is Ashley Wainscott and Michelle Mullins.

After spending the last 10 years revolutionizing the construction industry and raising the bar of the contracting world.

We are inviting you on our journey as we continuously learn how to be extraordinary and thrive in this industry.

Now, come hang with us.

Michelle Mullins (2:57.476)

Welcome to season three, episode 26 of the Ladies Who Build podcast. Today we are talking about a very fun topic about what do you do when you have hired a bad contractor? What would be your next steps to take? So this is a really important topic because we still experience, unfortunately today, clients that come to us.

that have had bad situations in the past with contractors and ways that they have tried to mitigate those problems. And a lot of them are very legitimate concerns and kind of how we deal with those. But you might be going through a similar situation or you know someone who might be going through a similar situation and there are some key questions and actions you can take to hopefully remedy the situation. Some key points we're gonna be covering are what would be the red flags.

and what are not the red flags, and what would be a concern, what's not a concern. Expectations of the word perfection, what it really means in construction, how to go, how to work through a tough situation, how to talk to a contractor, how to have really open conversations with them. And we'll also share what it's like from our perspective of having different situations with this and with different types of clients, and that it's not necessarily all bad. So, all right, let's dive in. There's a lot to cover.

Ashley Wainscott (4:36.079)

There's so much to cover. I liked that you said that there are action items in like what the remedy is, because I think that's exactly what we're gonna do is like Dive in and figure out what the problem is. And that's like putting on her diagnosis hat, you know, like what do you consider to be bad? Because, Michelle and I were talking about this and You know, there are actual bad contractors, but

When you're in that situation, what are you considering bad?

Michelle Mullins (5:9.673)

Right. And bad does not equal the same thing for everybody.

Ashley Wainscott (5:15.127)

No, every person is so different. And it's like, is it actual bad quality work? Or is it an unreasonable expectation of, you know, work that is completed by humans that will not be completely perfect?

Ashley Wainscott (5:35.975)

And is it something where a contractor is constantly not delivering on time? And they're making promises that they're not keeping, but overall the job is going well. So overall you have like high integrity.

Or is it a situation where you can't believe anything that they say, everything that comes out of their mouth feels like a lie because they never honor any of their commitments. So is it that kind of integrity issue? Is it pricing? Right? Is it like, they keep coming back and asking for more money?

Michelle Mullins (6:12.354)

Yeah, that's yes, all of those things could be true. I think like in the beginning, starting out, what you said was, do you trust your contractor? Because, you know, to your point, you know, there's a lot of hands that are working on this project, right? And so as the project manager's job, it's to wrangle all those together and make sure that they're delivering on time and communicating to the client. So in that, something might be missed and that's okay. Like having an obvious conversation about it of, hey, this got missed, okay, we're gonna remade it and it's not gonna happen again. So is it those things that are happening? Because what we talked about earlier is that's not necessarily bad. That's kind of just part of the process. And sure, communication can be stepped up, right? Like things don't get missed more often than not, right? So those things are true. But if it's consistently, like you said, happening where promises are not being kept and they say they're going to fix it at a certain time, they're going to fix it and it still doesn't get done, but consistently happening over and over and over again. That's a red flag, right? And so that's a concern that that's kind of how they're operating and they're over promising and under delivering. So I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to address that and bring it up with your contractor in person to say, I see that this is happening over and over again. What's the issue? I'm losing trust. Help me out here. What's going to be the solution? You know?

Ashley Wainscott (7:55.091)

So that would be step one then, right?

Michelle Mullins (7:58.001)

Right, that's how I'm thinking when you're here.

Ashley Wainscott (8:12.511)

Like the conversation is step one. Have the conversation. And there are so many clients I can think of Michelle that are courageous enough to come to us and be super transparent. And then there's so many clients I can think of that avoided confrontation and would either completely not say anything but you could tell there was an elephant in the room or they would tell their designer or a third party that would have to come and tell us and then we'd have to start the conversation.

And I get that, like, not everybody wants to have that kind of conversation. I totally get that. But I feel like to help someone understand where you're coming from or what your issues are and to give your contractor the opportunity to address them, then you have to bring it up. Because how else are they going to have the opportunity to apologize and attempt to address them if you don't bring it up?

Michelle Mullins (9:7.957)

Yeah, I mean, if you're gonna go, if you're gonna make the conclusion that you've hired a bad contractor, now what? Then that step has to be taken. I mean, you have to address all these things up front with your contractor and give them a chance to fix it or show you how they're gonna fix it or whatever the case is. Because if you don't give them that, then you can't, I mean, what are you gonna do? You're just gonna walk away and fire them? Like, that's gonna cause way more pain and suffering for you in the long run. And so, and it might have to come to that. We're not saying you have to be forced into this relationship if it's totally not going well, but at least give them the opportunity to address it and fix it. And then of course, if they don't and it continues to happen, then there's some recourse you can take, right? There's some future actions to maybe be made.

Ashley Wainscott (9:56.295)

Yeah, and is the grass greener on the other side? Like, like is it, you know, I feel like most of the time it's probably no. There's going to be some situations where someone is clearly stealing your money and they're never going to show up to your job site again. And that I mean that I feel like you would know in your gut. This is

bad situation and I need to remedy this and move on. But for most situations there's a there's some reasonable like margin you know so whether it's like timeline so okay sure they told you your project would be done on this date it's been a few weeks

but things came up on the project, maybe they didn't communicate things how you would want them to, right? So I feel like there's some margin that's reasonable. Obviously if somebody's taking like six months to do a bathroom remodel, that's simple, or six months to do a kitchen remodel and they told you to.

then that's a bigger issue. That's not the margin I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of just like a smaller margin.

Michelle Mullins (11:19.069)

Yeah, you know, I think of it as like, is there progress consistently being made? Right. Because at the end of the day, we all, the contractor wants to be done. You want to be done with the project. Like nobody wants to drag on a project. Everybody wants to get paid and move on. But, you know, I think we've been in situations where, yes, we have gone over timeline, but first we've communicated them, but also our biggest thing was to our project managers on the back end was like, you have, if we're over timeline, you have to consistently have something done every single day at that house, even if it's small, it needs to show that we're showing progress and that we're all like, this is really important to finish up. Right. So that's a different story than taking, you know, months and months to months to finish up something that's very basic, like you said, about bathroom remodel.

And so I think, but again, like all of that just goes back to communications and expectations. So if your contractor is not great at giving those, a lot of them are not, then you can take it upon yourself to act to set those. And yes, maybe you have to do a little bit more hand holding because you're in a situation where it wasn't great in the beginning, but at least it's following up of did this, are we doing this today? Or when is this getting done? And kind of just keeping a record of what's left.

Ashley Wainscott (12:38.159)

Yeah, the dedication is huge when somebody's showing effort.

then I feel like, I mean, it's kind of like a relationship. You know? You can't feel like you're putting in all the effort and the other person isn't. Obviously it has to feel 50-50. And that, I mean, that's kind of what it should feel like here in that it should feel like they're really putting in effort. Maybe things aren't going as planned. Maybe they're not doing the best job in a lot of ways, but being understanding.

Michelle Mullins (12:49.170)

Mm hmm. Yeah.

Ashley Wainscott (13:13.935)

if they're truly doing their best is honestly the best thing that you can do because they may not be great but are they like bad?

Ashley Wainscott (13:28.271)

And it could be work. I mean, our industry just has such an extreme of like either really good or really bad. And the really bad are like thieves and people that belong in prison. And so in that range, when you get somebody that's kind of medium, it's like you might as well just stick it out and work through it depending on what the issues are. It might take years off your life, but like.

Michelle Mullins (13:57.921)

It's taking years off ours.

Ashley Wainscott (14:1.095)

Michelle and I, like imagine how youthful our skin would look if we...

Michelle Mullins (14:11.713)

Weren’t in this industry.

Ashley Wainscott (14:13.475)

Right? I was trying to think of a graceful way to say it. I'm like, if we chose another path.

Michelle Mullins (14:20.009)

Yeah, or... Yeah.

Ashley Wainscott (14:24.402)

Or if we just didn't clean like condos and do vendors jobs for them when they didn't show up.

Michelle Mullins (14:30.645)

Right. It would be a much better world. I think. Yeah. So I think in addition to kind of another red flag that would be concerning is like what you mentioned earlier is like, are they continually asking for more money, but you're a not seeing progress or be you're not showing a rundown of what they're charging you for. So, you know, we always tell people. Some people need money down to buy materials. And so that is okay. But what I would request, especially if you don't know them or if you're maybe on the fence about who they are, I would always ask for like an invoice of those materials and it doesn't, if it, if it's not from the factory or the company, so be it, that's fine, but you need an invoice then from the vendor to show how much of your material line item cost is, and then how much is your labor. So if they're charging you $20,000 per cabinetry, full kitchen cabinetry. So what if that is materials? Okay, well, I don't know, $10,000, whatever. Okay, great, so I'm gonna pay you $10,000 and that's gonna be material, right? When is that material gonna be in? Oh, next week. So you can kind of gauge when they're gonna start having that stuff in. And then I would not pay for any labor that you have not seen completed, right? They don't need labor money upfront.

It doesn't happen. If they need money to pay their guys, that's on them upfront. So if you have paid for labor upfront and they say that they have to have it to pay their guys and you've already been there, fine, but make sure that the work that they are saying is going to complete it for that amount has a hundred percent can be completed. And you walked through it to say, this is acceptable. I like it, or make these few tweaks and we're good to go. Then you can give another draw. But, I think

that's where people get into the most hot water situations we've heard is, and people just don't know and that's okay, but they just don't know that they don't really need all that money upfront. And they give them way too much and then they run away with it.

Ashley Wainscott (16:33.063)

They really, yeah. Financial, the financial piece of all this, when people give up too much money, I'm like, but that's your card, that's your upper hand, if you will, as a client is the money. And so, and we both know contractors in general are motivated by money. So that's the way in which you can really get them to move through a process of like, I will give you this when this is completed, or I will give you this next payment when this is completed. And that's really what they're there for is the money.

Michelle Mullins (17:14.101)

Yeah, I mean, that's what we still do with our contractors today is like, you show me what's done, give me an invoice for that, I'll go check it and then I'll pay you. I mean, that's still to this day. And there are like, we work with a lot of vendors that we trust and love and we'll give them the down payment they need because we know that they're legitimate and they're real. We know what they're, you know, they're going to come through with it. But for most of our guys, no, they have to do the work and then they have to show it's complete. We check it that it's been completed.

Ashley Wainscott (17:40.635)

It's true. And these are people we even trust. You know, so I'd go back to like, do you trust them? Why or why not? Have you conveyed that to them? And of course you have to be honest if you don't trust them when you have to tell them. And why? And...sometimes people are even surprised because they'll get a referral for their contractor from their neighbor and they'll be like, they're, but my neighbor had the best experience and now I'm having the worst experience and they're not showing up for me, you know, and they're confused and bummed. But I mean, you and I both know contractors aren't the most organized. And so just because they're showing up on your job, also not being organized, that may not be because they're sketchy, it may just literally mean because they've taken on way too much on their plate and they can't get organized, or they left their tool at another house and they planned on getting it done today, and now they have to wait till tomorrow and this stuff happens all the time. So it may not be that they're trying to actually rip you off, they're just maybe really unorganized.

Michelle Mullins (18:51.467)

Oh yeah.

Michelle Mullins (18:57.197)

They're just disorganized. Yeah. And like we've worked with those guys too, but they produce such good work. And I'm like, I'll just be organized for you because I want you to do the work. But you, you got hot mess on the back end, you know.

Ashley Wainscott (19:4.827)

Yes. Right. Like we all know you're a hot mess. We're not going to let the client see that, but we all know you're a hot mess.

Michelle Mullins (19:13.185)

Yeah. Mm hmm. Right.

Ashley Wainscott (19:18.359)

Yeah, so then you also had pointed out earlier and had on here about when it's actually concerned is drinking and drug use on the job

Ashley Wainscott (20:2.187)

And no one should be drinking on your job site because that's a huge liability. Like, I mean, I make some really dumb decisions when I drink and I can't imagine if I were operating a tool.

Michelle Mullins (20:9.593)


Michelle Mullins (20:19.890)

No, it's like not okay, yeah.

Ashley Wainscott (20:21.875)

I mean, I want all my limbs. So like, I don't want them all. So then, okay. So then you would talk to them, depending on how many times you have to have this conversation, it probably has to happen multiple times, right? Because not everybody will get on the same page after one conversation. And then if it just continues to escalate, then it looks more like...

Okay, do you need to bring in someone else? What does terminating look like? Do you have an agreement with them? Is there a way in which they can finish out certain work that you trust them with? Or do you want them completely off your job? You know, what can that transition look like? If it's something where you very much don't trust them, then you should obviously change the locks or...

you know, terminate it in a very professional way, and then hire somebody else, depending on how deep you are into the hole, the financial hole.

Michelle Mullins (21:35.365)

Yeah, and I think with this too, I'm not saying this like as a 100% true statement, but before you hire someone else to do the work that you had already contracted this person to do, you also can't expect anybody to give you money back, right? Like, I would love to say that a contractor would be honest and say, you're right, I didn't complete that work. You did pay me for that work. Here's your money back. But in all reality, they're probably not going to give you that money back and so if you have paid them a substantial amount for work that they have still needing to complete, what you could do is take away a section that you haven't paid them for. So let's say it's like, finish out, right? Like installing the vanity toilet. I'm just thinking like a bathroom remodel. You could hold that reserve and say, listen, you know what? I think I just, I'm gonna probably get this, the rest of this work completed with someone else. But anything that you've already paid them for, I would try to push for them to go ahead and complete.

Because I just don't think asking for their money back. I mean it's different if it was us like obviously if we didn't do work I'd be like sure obviously no problem Majority of guys are not gonna be willing to give you any money back sad to say but

Ashley Wainscott (22:49.612)

No, not individual contractors because honestly, they most likely have spent it or, you know, it's not something that they're willing to let go of and just be like, sure, here's all the money. I mean, they kick and scream when you ask them for money back. If any of our guys have ever made a mistake on a job or caused timeline delays and they therefore owe us money, we usually have to get that money back by them working on another project. They're not going to hand over money. So I think that's a good point that you should have them finish the work if that's something that's still doable for you. And you know.

Michelle Mullins (23:22.846)

That's so rare, yeah.

Ashley Wainscott (23:36.987)

you're not past that point of the deal breaker. Obviously handle this before you're at your breaking point because when you're at your breaking point, you're not gonna be emotionally stable or logical or rational. And Michelle and I have been there many times as a homeowner or a, you know, general contractor that manages other vendors. We've been there many times where we aren't at the place to have a rational conversation anymore or to think about this rationally. And that's when like a spouse can step in and be really beneficial. Our experiences with the clients who want perfection.

Michelle Mullins (25:19.773)

Okay, where should we begin?

Ashley Wainscott (25:22.335)

to think that we, those clients should not ever hold a reel of blue tape.

Michelle Mullins (25:32.681)

Oh, okay. Yes. Okay, so typically we know, we can tell what clients are going to be a little bit more demanding or have a little bit more of a judgmental eye towards the work, right? So we would not give that person a roll of blue tape, what we would do is do a walkthrough with them. So we can walk through to say,

Yes, this is a reasonable thing that needs to be touched up. I'm in agreeance with you. Or that's pretty standard. It's not gonna get better than that. You're probably gonna make it worse if we start messing with it. Because how many times, well, not how many times, but remember the times when we walked into a house and you can't even see the paint on the walls because there's so much blue tape markings on them.

Ashley Wainscott (26:21.455)

so much blue. I mean it was like a polka dot blue tape world. And I'm like, do I need to get my eyes checked or am I seeing this? Is this what I'm seeing?

Michelle Mullins (26:33.277)

Uh huh. And they're like so serious. You walk in and their face is like, sorry, I did the walkthrough. I'm like, oh yeah, you did. Yeah, you did.

Ashley Wainscott (26:39.043)

Yeah, yeah. And sadly, they spent hours on it, right? Thinking. And this is back in the day more so when Michelle and I didn't have like expectations or standards of work and performance that we'd preset with clients. So I will put that disclaimer on it. But, you know now there's a standards of work performance where it's like if you can't see something with paint six feet back from a wall then it doesn't qualify for a touch-up but back then i mean clients would be up against the wall or crawling on the floor blue taping things and that's what we're here to say is not that's not reasonable because all of this is hand done work. There's nothing that is going to be completely perfect. And especially in a remodel, right? I'm not saying new builds, you should expect perfection either, but we're a remodel, we're just usually building off of what was there in a lot of cases. And it's all hand done. This is not like...the we're not using like the robot machine, whatever that company is here in Austin, you know, that builds the 3D homes and things. That's an actual robot. We're not robots that I know of.

Michelle Mullins (27:59.269)

Yeah. Yes. I'm really going I'm really taken back here. This is a trip thinking about some of these projects. But yeah, we do have that expectation ahead of time for sure. But you know, at the end of the day, like you are not going to walk into your bathroom and crawl on your hands and knees and look at that tile the way no, you're going to be standing. typically a six foot man and below is gonna be standing looking at the floors when you walk in every day, right? So you are not gonna see these little minuscule things that you're gonna only see like upfront at the certain hour of the day with a flashlight showing on it, oh, here it is. You know, it's like, you just not gonna see it. So yeah, there's just definitely expectations. And I really appreciate when clients ask, like they'll say, is this...

a realistic thing I should be asking for or what do you think? Because we're going to be totally honest with you. Like if we're going to be like, yeah, I would if this was my home, 100%, I would get this fixed and we're going to fix it for you. We're going to tell you straight up, because leaving a project looking good is our number one priority because well, among others, but because we want to leave a lasting impression. So when your friends walk in, and they say, Wow, your bathroom remodel is stunning, who did your work, we want you to be proud to say us, we don't want them to walk in and be like, Oh my gosh, who did your work? So, Leading quality work is massive for us. So why would we want anything less? But we will tell you honestly like, hey, that's just standard industry. It is what it is. Or yeah, that's not great. Let's fix that.

Ashley Wainscott (29:33.203)

Yeah, Michelle and I are the first, and our team, are the first to be like, no, that is not okay. Let us come in here and fix this, and this, or hey, wanted you to know we found this. We're going to fix this. We also have standards and we also have to sleep at night. And I don't want to be embarrassed by a shower we did.

Michelle Mullins (29:52.327)

care, we have standards.

Michelle Mullins (29:56.929)

Yeah, of course, no. That's like, so we are very particular and we'll tell clients sometimes, even they don't see things and we'll say, hey, we're really not happy with the way that this turned out, whatever it is, like a one tile or whatever. Hey, I don't really like how this turned out. I'm gonna go ahead and get it replaced. And a lot of times clients are like, oh, I didn't even see that. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. So there are things that we handle even if you don't see them.

Ashley Wainscott (30:22.971)

It is true. Yes, we do. There are many things we catch in the background. And I think even, you know, I know this podcast is we're talking more about, you know, you hired a bad contractor. What do you do? And this perspective where Michelle and I are talking about being the contractor for a remodeling firm, right? A little bit different than just a vendor or contractor on their own.

But we're sharing this perspective because I think it's always nice to have a well-rounded view of what it's like to be the contractor on the other side of it. So if you're in this situation, hopefully we can share some insight into, you know, what it's like being us on the other side. And Michelle and I have always appreciated having a conversation and having that opportunity. We've always appreciated having

I mean, I guess the best word is the opportunity to create a plan forward, and really so we can hear the client and try to meet their expectations or at least communicate what's reasonable and what isn't. And...

You know, reiterate standards of work, reiterate performance standards, reiterate our processes, and that's why we have these weekly meetings, is we always want the opportunity to address something as it comes up. And the real trick of it is having reasonable expectations for...when things come up that are unforeseen, right? Like a vendor has a personal emergency, a vendor can't make it, something comes up on the job site that we couldn't see in the walls. I think all of the best clients we've worked with have had that margin where they understand what it's like to be reasonable and they can relate to the contractor and say like, oh, I know this must not be easy. I know they're having to reschedule all these things. I know they're doing their best. Like keeping our best interest in mind, just like we keep your best interest in mind is important for us.

Michelle Mullins (32:42.909)

Mm-hmm. Yeah, I agree. I think also if you're on the other end of it too, where you haven't hired a contractor and you're trying to figure out how to hire them or what questions to ask, we did do an episode on this in the beginning. So I would definitely go back and listen to it if you're on the other end of it about to hire someone. So you can ask really legitimate questions.

Ashley Wainscott (33:7.387)

Yeah, and then you can mitigate this and you don't have to have a tractor.

Ashley Wainscott (33:14.355)

Here we are, we're just saving the world, wearing our hero capes.

Michelle Mullins (33:19.045)

Yeah, one episode at a time.

Ashley Wainscott (33:20.979)

My hero cape fits perfectly today. It is, I made it from blue tape. With all the blue tape on all the walls, I put it together.

Michelle Mullins (33:28.013)

Okay, well Perfectly doesn't exist, so...

Michelle Mullins (33:40.925)

Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah. True stories for sure. So, um, that was like the high level. If there is anything that you listening to this have are going through or have gone through and have questions and we haven't addressed it, please reach out and let us know because we most likely have a good answer for it. So, um, we'd love to hear if, if anybody and y'all are going through this and if there's anything that we can do to help. Oh, we've helped clients that are, have called us that aren't using us for a certain job and have asked us what to do with their contractor in a situation. And I totally loved helping in that situation because I just don't ever want to see someone get taken advantage of. So no biggie, we don't mind.

Ashley Wainscott (34:21.255)

Yeah, so true. I do love helping everyone even if they're not our client. Y'all should absolutely reach out and let us know if there's a weird situation that we can try and help, you know, give advice or our insights on. Okay, until next time.

Michelle Mullins (34:39.497)

Yeah. All right. That wraps it up. Adios.