It Would Cost More to Build a Shed

NOTE: As of September 23, 2009, this post has been edited in
accordance with a court-mediated settlement. The names of the
contractor and his excavation subcontractor have been replaced with

When we began this foundation process, I wanted to do a simple foundation replacement and build a shed out in the back yard. The shed would be about 400 square feet, along the back fence. This would remove the need to put up a new back fence where our neighbor the asshole's fence is falling into our property, and give me a nice, roll-in space for a printing press. Not that I need encouragement for that.

Contractor A (who actually lied to us many times in the course of his work for us) told me it would cost far more than the $20,000 I had calculated it would cost to build the shed. My calculation was based on having somebody come and pour a slab foundation that could support a 2-ton press, then building the rest of the thing ourselves, including plumbing and electricity. I don't know what his calculation was based on. Contractor A (who was given to boasting and giving us longwinded, illiterate speeches about his stupid, ill-considered opinions) said he could do the basement for less than the shed would cost us.

The initial bid for the basement did indeed cost less than the shed: about $14,000. But Contractor A (who seemed to think we had a time and materials contract rather than a fixed bid) somehow failed to tell Noel that he had not included many things in that price, and knew the cost would be increasing to account for his failure to do a complete estimate. He told us exactly this on Thursday last week, which I had suspected but not been sure about. Somehow, it seems dishonest to me to behave that way, but not everybody has my high standards for ethical behaviour. In fact, it was dishonest, and there are some legal opinions about the validity of the change orders that were signed. We learned a lot about construction contracts, that is certain.

In April, we met with Contractor A (who was angry and nearly violent with us) to discuss why we should pay him more than the contract price for the work. I asked him several times to give me one good reason why he would not finish the work for the contracted amount, and he said he just would not do it. No reason, nothing. At that time he wanted $80,000 to do an incomplete version of the work, leaving off seismic strapping and not using the engineer-approved foundation design.

At that meeting, I said I had just wanted a shed, and told Contractor A (who had been trying to explain to us how he managed to lose $40,000 on the excavation of our house, without any success because as far as we can tell from his incompetent paperwork, he made a substantial profit) he had to admit that the shed would be cheaper than this basement was turning out to be. He said, "No, I think you're wrong." So my shed would have cost $100,000. That's $250 per square foot, which is more than high-end custom homes designed by architects cost. For a shed with limited finishes. Built by us. Somehow, I have a really hard time believing that, and I said so, to which Contractor A (who had a low opinion of pretty much everybody else, but in my experience especially women and minorities) snorted in disgust, because as we know, girls don't know about construction cost estimating enough to recognize a gross inflation in price like that.

As of our last meeting, the price for finishing the basement had risen to $139,000 and change. Take out the money left in our contract, and somehow the basement that was supposed to cost $14,000 ended up somewhere closer to $120,000. If my shed had cost that much, it would be $300 per square foot. I could have installed custom cabinetry, granite counters, and hardwood floors. I could have had Italian plasterers come and do a custom finish on the walls.

Or I could have spent the extra money on the roof and repairing the damage to the interior caused by the movement from the foundation replacement, then replaced every window in the house with a new, custom made double-paned energy-efficient model.

Instead, I threw all that money away.

Someday, ask me what anger feels like. Ask me what it feels like to have somebody destroy your hope and take away the joy that making something neglected beautiful again gives you. And I will tell you about Contractor A.

Ask me in person and I will tell you about all the former clients who contacted us, and give you their stories, too. The man apparently makes a living by hurting people. I can't believe his wife hasn't left him. Especially given his utter disrespect for her, and his disdain for her religion and her values.

posted by ayse on 07/18/05