12/07/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 12/07/2017 03:58 SAST

The Bad Contractor -- It’s Not You, It’s Them

Just bought a new home and want to fix that tap, wall, paint and tile? Make sure you get the right kind of help.

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You've just bought a new home. It's like every Christmas has come at once. This is yours. You can do anything you like to it. You skip through each room with glee. Then you discover that something has gone a bit wrong with the plumbing, the paint, the door, the walls. Your new home has some problems and you're going to have to fork out to fix them.

No set of house keys arrives with a perfect home attached to them. If you're lucky, the one or two views you had before buying revealed the big problems and you're ready for them. If you're not, there may be some surprises. Surprises that need a contractor, cash and plenty of patience. Thing is, hiring someone to fix your home can be a bit risky. You could end up with a dodgy dude who doesn't quite deliver to expectations, as these poor South African homeowners discovered.

"It was our first home renovation. A business colleague recommended a carpenter to remodel our kitchen so we checked and he belonged to and we went ahead. It was a rather slow process, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that we were getting a custom kitchen that was handmade by this guy and his dad. Plus, the contract THEY gave us to sign said 50 percent up front, 40 percent in installation and 10 percent once we were happy that all the snags had been fixed."

"The kitchen was beautiful, but there was a problem when the countertops were installed around the butler sink. They had left a gap of 15cm between the sink and the wall, and 5cm on either side. This meant water could splash out of the sink and cause the cupboards beneath to warp. We asked for the counter to be replaced with one that fit. He said we should 'wash the dishes carefully so as not to splash'. If we wanted him to replace the counter, we would have to pay him the remaining 10 percent."

"We refused. It was his contract that stipulated the final 10 percent only be paid when we were 100 percent happy. Two days later, he arrived while we were both at work and told my housekeeper he had to take all the cupboard doors in for respraying. She let him – after all, he had been there so often that she didn't think to question it. So he left. With our 15 cupboard doors. We then got a message saying that if we ever wanted to see our cupboard doors again, we'd pay the remaining 10 percent."

Shelli's story didn't end well. The carpenter's registration with NARI wasn't up to date so they couldn't help and in the end, they had to hire someone else to make new doors and install them. The countertops haven't been replaced and, yes, the cupboards underneath are warping.

From con artists to cupboard thieves to fit and deadly tilers, you'd think these stories were the most dramatic. They aren't.

Tam is another victim of a bad contractor gone wrong. She hired someone off the street to repaint her walls. She wanted a white base with blue stripes. Not too big an ask you would think, but it ended up being an unmitigated disaster. They broke all the paintbrushes, painted the garden furniture, kept asking for more money and, finally, they gave up and left it half done. And done badly. Tam had to go out and get another contractor (this time someone highly recommended) to redo everything. In the end, a job that should have cost R7k cost her nearly R40k. You can still hear the screams when she remembers...

It isn't all bad news though, as Max found out when he decided to go with a recommended tiler.

"He showed up to give us a quote in a six-month-old Porsche Cayenne, wearing a good suit and with a gorgeous blonde," Murray says. "He got out, gave me a quote and roared off in his Porsche. I remember thinking that tiling couldn't possibly pay that well, especially since his quote was really reasonable. Still, I hired him and when he came to do the job, again in his Porsche, I had to know the story. It turned out that he was a professional cage fighter and that he was really good at it. He ended up marrying one of the women who did the announcing, she asked him to quit and so he did a course in tiling and drives around in his Porsche, fixing bathrooms and kitchens."

From con artists to cupboard thieves to fit and deadly tilers, you'd think these stories were the most dramatic. They aren't. We didn't include the one about the undercover policeman pretending to be an electrician so he could catch the local plasterer who happened to be a member of a well-known crime family. Or the one about the pool repair that has haunted one family for more than 15 years.

The one thing we can't make up is how using trusted contractors can make your first-time home improvements a lot less dramatic, and far more reliable. You may not get an undercover policeman or a cupboard thief, but you will get superb service and the results you want.