Worst Renovations of All Time -- and How to Avoid the Same Fate

At last, the day has arrived for renovations to begin on your home. However, before you sit back and hand the contractor your house keys, you might want to immerse yourself in a few homeowner vs. handyman horror stories.

No, we're not trying to scare you (Halloween's still three weeks away!), and we certainly don't advocate living in a broken-down pit. We're simply saying it never hurts to check references and make sure that your oh-so-friendly handyman is fully legit.

Read on, brave homeowner (and check out specifics on how to vet a contractor at the end of this article).

A hole no one can fill

In January, Harry Flint paid contracting company Tejano Works $18,500 to begin an addition on his home in Abilene, TX. However, what Flint got instead was more like a subtraction -- in the form of a crater in his backyard.

The contractor disappeared after excavating Flint's backyard, leaving him in the hole both financially and literally. Flint filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which earned the contractor a C- rating -- though isn't an F more fitting?

Still, there's no word on whether this contractor cares what grade he got, because he still hasn't reappeared.

Over budget -- just a bit

Most people know that renovations nearly always end up costing more than the original estimate. Still, married homeowners Jay Timmons and Rick Olson of McLean, VA, ended up in particularly bad circumstances when what was supposed to be a one-year remodeling project turned into a three-year nightmare costing 70% more than the original contract price.

When the couple detailed 300 incomplete items -- such as no toilet in the master bathroom -- the contractor handed back a $100,000 bill in overage charges. And that was before the renovation was finished! The builder eventually abandoned the project, forcing Timmons and Olsen to sue.

Oddly, this contractor had proven reliable in the past, Timmons told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. When remodeling their first floor, he'd done "an excellent job. Unfortunately, when we hired him again to redo our upper level and add a garage and bonus room, the experience turned into an absolute nightmare."

The storm is over, but…

Natural disasters can bring out the best in people; good Samaritans from around the nation appear with food, water, and a helping hand. Unfortunately, emergencies are also a siren call to contractor scammers known as "storm chasers."

Eric Park of Houston had a roof that sustained major damage in a hailstorm when contractors showed up at his door. These storm chasers told Park they would cover his insurance deductible in order to book the job of repairing his roof. Thinking he was getting a deal, Park happily signed over his $4,800 insurance check -- the last he saw of the contractors and his cash. Park ended up taking out a $10,000 loan to repair his roof by a reputable company.

Giving the finger to the man upstairs

Apparently Lisa Loven and Jeffery Scott have no fear of being struck down by divine retribution, but they should.

Loven and Scott decided to cheat a Baptist church out of $14,000 for renovations they never even started, much less completed. This sketchy duo invoiced the church's insurance company for this not-so-saintly sum, claiming that's what they'd need to rent a crane and remove the damaged church steeple. But when the crane never arrived and the steeple stayed put, church administrators eventually started asking questions. By then, Loven and Scott had moved on to doing faux "renovations" for an elderly widow to the tune of $17,000.

Someone upstairs must have been watching after all, as Loven and Scott were eventually caught and charged with fraud.

Remodeling with a dash of burglary

Perhaps Platinum Touch Contracting of Long Island, NY, should be renamed Filching Contracting.

According to police reports, the company's owner, Nicholas Anastasio, helped himself to a computer, a shotgun, and jewelry from several homes he was working on. His wife then allegedly pawned the items. Erm, perhaps they saw this as a form of payment? While they been charged with burglary, there's no word on the quality of his home repair.

How to avoid a nightmare renovation in your own home

Business attorney Rich Trimber has managed home construction companies and offers these essential tips to keep homeowners from getting ripped off:

  • Check the contractor's references. Also, "confirm you are speaking with a real customer and not their sister," says Trimber. And make sure you physically see a contractor's license and certificate of insurance.
  • Peruse websites for good and bad reviews. "There will be both," says Trimber. "If they're all good or all bad, it's a red flag. All good reviews means [the contractors] are paying for them." When there's a bad review, see if the contractor offers an explanation that's reasonable or blames the customer: "If it's the latter, expect the same treatment."
  • Once you decide on a contractor, build performance metrics into the contract to ensure that the work will be done according to a schedule. Perhaps most important, never pay all the fees upfront.
  • To combat insurance fraud, don't permit a contractor to negotiate or settle your insurance claim. Also beware of companies with 800 numbers or trucks with out-of-state plates.

-- -- -- -- --

Watch: Do You Need to Remodel Before You Sell?