Blessing In Disguise!


6 minute read

January 17, 2012

My renovation nightmare turned into a financial windfall!

Who knew that the lazy, unprofessional work of a never-to-be-hired-again contractor would leave me smiling in the end?

Back in November, I wrote a post called “Prefer To Refer” in which I detailed my frustration with individuals in the service industry who work one job at a time instead of trying to satisfy the client and gain praise and referrals.

I mentioned how I was having trouble with my carpenter whom I had hired to turn my 1,200 square foot concrete eyesore of a terrace into a foxy wilderness.

Well, we’re into January, and the work isn’t complete.  But I’m happy as a pig in, well, you know…

Let me start from the beginning.

As many of you know, I purchased a condo at Vu Condos last year which featured a fantastic, unique, 1,200 square foot private terrace.  The only issue with the space was that it was incredibly boring and untouched!  It was nothing but a concrete slab with rust-stains from the previous owner’s negligence, and I intended to transform the space into a masterpiece.

My plan was to build a “deck” in the corner of the terrace that faced southwest – about a 20 x 15 foot section, and that would be the “seating area.”  Then I’d build planter boxes all the way along the 50-foot width of the terrace, but stagger them and have them different sizes.

Here’s how the terrace looked before the renovation, although don’t be fooled by the shiny green furniture from the previoius listing – it’s nothing but concrete underneath, and it was ugly as hell:

Having hired and fired tradespersons before, I knew I had to do things differently this time.

I met with my carpenter, Johnny, at the soon-to-be-mine condo in July of 2011, and asked him, “Can you get start work on September 30th when I take possession?”

He said, of course, “Yes.”

He also told me that the work would be completed within 2-3 weeks maximum, but not to worry because the bulk of the work would be finished in a couple of days.

His quote was for $10,700, and I agreed.

I paid him an up-front, $5,000 deposit on the work in September, and I took possession on the 30th.

But one week later, Johnny’s wife emailed me and said, “We made a mistake in the quote – it was supposed to include four custom lattice-panels which are $872 each.  Please adjust your quote accordingly.”  So now my quote was up to $14,000, or maybe $12,000 and change if I could do without two of the panels, which is what I thought we had agreed on.

Johnny started almost on time – October 1st, but it took longer than expected to finish the deck, which was something he promised he would have completed within 2-3 days.  We wanted to have a housewarming party for October 15th, which didn’t seem unreasonable given that he said the ENTIRE project would likely take under three weeks, but as days passed without any work on the deck, I started to grow concerned.

Johnny was very good at taking my deposit, and very good at explaining all the work he would do, but he wasn’t very good at actually, you know, showing up for work.

Two days before the housewarming party, I told Johnny that he MUST finish the deck on time, but I stopped short of a meaningless, hollow “or else,” since he had $5,000 of my money and the deck represented about 20% of the overall job.  Johnny brought six guys with him one afternoon, and they banged out the deck in less than two hours.

Here’s my mom and Jenna sitting on the deck back in October:

It looked fantastic!

A beautiful, durable, white-cedar that smelled like a sauna!  I was thrilled!

Of course, none of the planter boxes had been started, but knowing all along that I wasn’t going to be planting until May of 2012, I let it slide.

During the planning phase, Johnny told me that he would build most of the planter boxes in his shop, and simply load them into his truck, bring them up to my terrace, and then “install” them in the course of an afternoon.  I thought this was highly efficient, and a much better idea than building them from scratch on my terrace in the cold October (eventually – December…) weather, while battling the elements!

Weeks passed, and Johnny gave me every excuse in the book.  He had pneumonia, which I had to sympathize with, and then he said that three of his ‘guys’ quit on him and he just didn’t have the manpower.

It took until November for him to start work on the planter-boxes, and the most amazing thing happened when he started: he forgot all about his BS story about building them in his shop, and simply had loads of lumber delivered to my condo.

For two days, Johnny and his buddy sawed timber on my terrace and assembled one-and-a-half planter boxes out of what was supposed to be five, and things looked pretty good!  Except I wasn’t sure if the lattice panels were worth $872 each, or if they were simply made from about $30 worth of material by two dudes in twenty minutes.

I said to Johnny, “So, I’m guessing that you decided to go without those ‘special’ lattice panels that you were estimating would cost $872 each and you guys redesigned this and went with this cheaper version instead?”

Johnny paused, and then said, “Mmmm……..yeah, uh, we decided to go with something different…”

And that’s when I knew that he was completely full of sh!t on everything that he did and said, and his “tell” was when he starts sentences with “mmm…, yeah…”

He had no plan for this job, and was simply taking it one day at a time.  He was never going to build anything in his shop, assuming he even had a shop.

Like all contractors, Johnny was great at meeting people, signing up a job, taking a deposit, and then starting a job.  But like all contractors – he loved to start ten jobs at once and then frustrate the clients by showing up for work sporadically!

I had a bad feeling that this would never end, and the finish line was going to be tough to cross.  Along with the deck, the planters, and the lattice, Johnny also promised to build a custom outdoor storage unit from cedar – one that would fit the dimensions of the space I wanted to put it, and fit it to perfection!  This would be a unit that could never be replicated by something purchased at Home Depot; only something built by hand, from scratch.

I asked Johnny about the storage unit, and he said, “Well, we’ve already built out the frame in the shop, and, mmmm….yeah, we’re waiting for some lumber on back-order to complete the shelves and the doors.”

He was full of it.  He didn’t build anything in his shop, and he likely forgot that he said he’d built the planters in the shop, but he showed up with lumber instead!  He was caught in his own web of lies, and didn’t know it.

By the first week of December, Johnny’s buddy was showing up now-and-again to work on the remaining planters, and he had built all five of them, but had yet to install the styrofoam insulation, which was the last part.  After completing that, they’d have to start work on the custom outdoor storage unit, and that wasn’t going to be easy.

By mid-December, I hadn’t heard from Johnny in two weeks.  I left him messages, and he never returned them.

So finally one day, I left him a message and said, “You need to call me tonight by 7pm.  It’s that simple.”

He never called.

So at 7pm, I left him another message and said, “I paid you $5,000 of a $11,000 to $14,000 job, so if you have any desire whatsoever to get the remaining money owing, then call me tonight.”

He never called.

And here it is in January, and he’s never called me back.

I could not possibly be happier.

Minus the custom storage unit, Johnny completed every bit of the work – the deck, the planter boxes, the lattice – he just needed to insulate the planters with styrofoam.

Ignoring the “confusion” over the $872 lattice pieces, which likely would have needed to be argued out, Johnny likely finished about $9,500 worth of work.

And I only ever paid him $5,000.

The lumber alone for this job must have cost $3,000, and he had hundreds of man-hours into this project.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Johnny knew building the outdoor storage unit was going to take time and money, and he simply said, “screw it.”  He broke even on the project, or maybe lost a little money, and decided that it wasn’t worth his time.

And I could not be happier.

I saved about $5,000, and my buddy Wes can put some insulation into those planters in an afternoon for a couple hundred bucks.  I can buy a cheap, plastic storage unit at Home Depot for a few hundred dollars as well.

So what would have been better – to pay $12,000++ for the completed job, or to get 90% of the job for less than half the quoted price?

I’m thinking the latter…

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

Find Out More About David Read More Posts

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


  1. Moonbeam!

    at 7:19 am

    Great that you came out ahead on this project! Too bad so many small contractors don’t even try to satisfy their customers. Can’t wait to see your terrace in the spring — with the CN tower view and the new planter boxes! Ping-pong anyone?

  2. Kyle

    at 9:24 am

    Just make sure you have as good or better documentation then he does about what was agreed upon vs what was delivered, in case tries to slap a lien on your property.

    1. David Fleming

      at 10:44 am

      @ Kyle

      Nah. The writing is on the wall – he hasn’t made any contact with me whatsoever in a full month. He cut his ‘losses’ and moved on to the next project. He told me about all of his $100,000 projects in Rosedale so maybe my piddly little job just wasn’t worth his time. Either way, I saved money through his poor work ethic, and I’m pleased in the end.

Pick5 is a weekly series comparing and analyzing five residential properties based on price, style, location, and neighbourhood.

Search Posts