Learning New Skills, Part One: The Backstory

I started this as a single entry, but it became so long that I decided to tackle it in a multiple parts.

While I’m not going to go over the complete backstory, this abridged version does help set the stage of what we were dealing with that led to the decision to just DYI things.

Ms. Tucker owns a small condo. By small, I mean small: 530-ish square feet.

While tiny, it’s a cute, modern, open space layout, with 10 foot ceilings and huge windows that is located in the heart of downtown. It’s also very nostalgic for both of us as that’s where we started to build our life together nearly twenty years ago.

As time went on and we decided to have kids, we moved out of the condo and a relative moved in.

This relative lived there from 2008 to 2017 – and when they moved out they left the place practically destroyed. Between the water damage that completely ruined the pine hardwood floors (which was caused by a broken washer/dryer unit that they never bothered to have fixed, or even tell us about)  to the unbelievable smoke damage (they chain smoked and basically hot boxed this small space for nine years), we didn’t know where to start.  It took nearly two months of evenings and weekends, some elbow grease, a couple of favours, and a pile of money to make it livable so a new tenant could move in… who also happened to be a relative and, at the time seemed pretty responsible.

Fast forward to this summer, nearly five years later, where we asked said relative to vacate (for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, non-payment of the already heavily subsidized rent).

After they left, we walked in and. it was like deja-fucking-vu.

The appliances were all but destroyed. The kitchen counter was warped and peeling. The kitchen faucet was broken. A sizable area of the floors are damaged and popping out. The bathroom counter has some kind of permanent, white burn mark on it. The bathroom shower curtain rod and shower head were completely rusted. The whole place smells like cigarette smoke and the custom blinds were so smoke stained and stinky we ended up having to throw them out.

At this point, Ms. Tucker was done. “Let’s get it renovated and get it on the market,” she said. No more renting.

Nostalgia or not, the condo had become a money eating albatross and she wanted it gone. Quickly.

Since this particular late Summer/early Fall happened to be super busy for us and we were starved for time, we figured it would be best to get someone else to take care of it all for us.

Enter contractors.

It started easy enough. Contact a remediation company. Ask how much to clean and remove the smell of smoke. Oh, and please remove the appliances as well. The whole space is 530 square feet.

They replied and said it was going to be between five and ten thousand dollars.

Ms. Tucker quickly put that to rest with a “thanks, but no thanks” reply. That quote was fucking astronomical. Either these people have seen some shit and were quoting for the worst, or the post pandemic inflation has taken hold of remediation companies (or both). There was simply no way we were going to shell out even five grand to clean the place and remove the appliances.

I called my Dad and he and I took his van over and hauled the appliances out ourselves. Cost? There was no cost. Even the gas used for the van was paid back as we dumped the appliances off at a scrapyard that pays for all kinds of scrap, including old appliances.

Ms. Tucker and I decided to try and take on the cleaning ourselves. We employed our kids to help and, well, it turned out to be an exercise in frustration all around. After a couple of hours of not getting anywhere quick, we decided to hire a cleaner that was recommended by a friend.

The cleaner came in the next day with an assistant. It ended up costing us under $300 and the condo turned out great. You could still smell smoke, but it was very, very faint and only in the bedroom as opposed to the whole apartment. Some consistent airflow and new paint (using Kilz as a base) will take care of that.

Next up was everything else.

Ms. Tucker was recommended a contractor who she reached out to in the middle of August. At that point it was just “replace the kitchen counter and backsplash”. They came back and said that would probably be around $1800 but he would have to come and look at the place and would do so only after it was cleaned. “Ok,” she said we’d get back to him once clean.

Now that it was cleaned we started talking to this person again, told him there was more work that was needed.  No problem, he said and we set up a meeting at the condo. This is what we needed:

      1. Kitchen: replace the counter top, replace the backsplash, replace the all but two of the cabinet doors.
      2. Floor: Repair the areas that popped up. Maybe 15-20 square feet total. (We have about 45 square feet of leftover laminate from when we repaired in 2018.)
      3. Bathroom: Replace the counter. Touch up grout.
      4. Paint the entire apartment white (Kilz base coat)
      5. Get it done as quick as possible, ideally well before the end of September.

Here is what his quotes came in at:

      1. Kitchen: $4500
      2. Floor: $1500
      3. Bathroom: $600
      4. Paint: $2500
      5. Timeline: Could start that week. Work over Labour Day Weekend.

Sooo…. Grand total would be $9100.00. He also kept mentioning that we needed to let him know by Thursday so he could order all the materials and start the next day (Friday). Never was there mention of having to pay for the materials. It was all “let me know and I’ll order everything.” This was Tuesday evening.

Wednesday Ms. Tucker and I started asking a few questions via email. The main one being “do we get to choose what countertops and doors would be put in?”

His response was: “My supplier is Ikea. Go to their website and pick what you want.”

Followed by: “once you select everything, I will go over your selection to ensure you have everything we need. You will then pay for it and arrange delivery.” and “I’m not sure if i missed (sic) quoted you or not but just so we are on the same track. My quoted price was $4500 which doesn’t include material. It includes installation only… I may have said otherwise. If so, obviously, that is my mistake. Let me know if that is ok and that is what you originally understood.”

Big fucking red flag.

At no point did this dude mention that materials were separate. You have to imagine my surprise considering: the countertop is 4.5’x2′. The doors are all standard Ikea doors. The backsplash is 7’x1.6′ and he said in a later email that he wasn’t going to remove the existing backsplash, he was just going to tile over it.

Ms. Tucker and I did some math. Cost of a laminate Ikea countertop: $99. Doors, about $30-ish each so let’s say $240 for eight doors. Standard white tile for 14 square feet?  $65, and let’s add on maybe $25 for grout.  So materials would be under $450. Fuck it. Let’s say $500.

So you’re telling me that labour for this would be $4000??? For installing Ikea materials and slapping tile over tile. For this tiny space:

Note that this picture was taken before my Dad and I removed the appliances and the place was clean.

See that counter? That backsplash? The “wood” doors, which are Ikea so if you’re replacing them with more Ikea you don’t even have to change the hardware? We told him we didn’t want the glass doors changed. Yeah. Now you’re getting it.

We pushed back hard on the cost of materials reminding him that yes, he told us otherwise and, yes we were led to believe that the cost of materials were included especially if he gets his shit from Ikea, just like every other person on the planet does.  We also told him that he needn’t be worried that we’d pick the most expensive shit Ikea has and expect him to cover it, and sent him links to the inexpensive items I mentioned above. We reminded him that he said he was going to order the materials and that he needed to stick to what he said.

He grudgingly said ok…. and then told us that he’d need until the end of September to finish the work.

Again we pushed back with his own words: “If you agree by Thursday, I can start Friday. I’ll work through the long weekend, it shouldn’t take long”. He came back with “Well, I should be done before the end of September, but you know, there may be unforseen circumstances.”

At this point we were pretty much done. I replied and told him he’d have our decision first thing in the morning. He said ok.

Ms. Tucker and I had a couple of drinks, talked about it, ran some numbers and pretty much decided that we were going to email him in the morning and say: “Sorry, this isn’t working out for us. Thanks for your time.”

At 6am the next day I got the following reply to the email thread: “My name is [redacted], I work with my father. We are very sorry but [contractor] had a little accident this morning and therefore not able to commit to any more work. [contractor] will be out of commission for a few weeks. Thank you for considering us as your contractor. [contractor] should be back with us soon, as we expect a good recovery.”

Oh, how fucking convenient. How fucking lame. How fucking immature. We didn’t even reply to his email because, wow.

The best part was that Ms. Tucker found him, not four hours later on Facebook, posting video of himself, from that morning, doing tree and hedge work.

Brav-fucking-o, loser.

So that was that. I was pissed. It seems that every time in the past couple of years, as things have opened up again, we’ve been constantly ripped off in some way shape or form and this guy was adding to the shitlist.

So, fuck it.

Ms. Tucker and I ran some numbers on materials, and that night I found myself at Ikea buying countertops, a faucet, and various other bits and bobs. I also called my Dad and asked if I could borrow his circular saw.

I was going to do it all myself.