Renovation Nightmares: How To Avoid Worst-Case Scenarios In Your Bathroom Reno

When you decide to move forward with a bathroom renovation, you may be understandably concerned about potential problems like moving the plumbing, complying with building codes, or finding the perfect tile that creates a timeless ambience and walks that fine line between adding a dose of personality without putting off potential home buyers down the road.

Of course, how your bathroom will look when the remodel is complete may be the least of your worries.  First you have to find a reputable and reliable bathroom remodeling contractor to do the work, and this can be surprisingly problematic.  While there’s no shortage of individuals advertising such services, you have to be very careful about who you hire and how you pay for the job to ensure it’s done properly.  According to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) “2019 Consumer Complaint Survey Report”, home improvement and construction complaints topped the list for the worst and most expensive consumer complaints.

Unfortunately, there are endless horror stories about consumers paying up front only to have contractors disappear with their money. Others have had bathroom remodeling contractors perform shoddy work that leads to further problems, such as flooding inside walls and ceilings.  If you’re considering a bathroom reno, it’s imperative that you find a reputable and reliable bathroom remodeling contractor, or you could end up facing major setbacks and massive expense.  In this article, we’ll review some of the biggest problems to look out for, and more importantly, how to avoid them.



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Bathroom remodeling contractors aren’t magicians, so it’s surprising how many try to pull a disappearing act.  Numerous states see reports of service providers that take a down payment and fail to complete (or even start) work.  One complaint reported by the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office involved a woman who purchased a home for herself and her children and then hired someone to remodel the house.  She paid $32,000 up front for materials.  Once the individual cashed her check, he disappeared.  He was later found living in another state, where the consumer agency planned to take legal action against him.

In some cases, service providers start a project but only complete a portion of the work.  Others work for a few days, then arbitrarily fail to show up again for days or even weeks, leaving homeowners to deal with unfinished work and a completely unusable bathroom space.


What To Do:  Reading consumer reviews is a good way to weed out subpar bathroom remodeling services.  Additionally, pay attention to communication and availability.  If you have to chase down a contractor just to get a quote for your job, or you call several times and leave messages without getting a call back, you’ll get a good idea of the type of service you can expect.  If a service provider asks for a large percentage or all of the money for your remodel up front, you should consider it a red flag and look elsewhere for a reputable and trustworthy contractor.

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Lack of Licensing and Insurance

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Different states have different requirements when it comes to contractor licensing and insurance.  You’ll want to check the requirements in your state and make sure any contractor you hire lives up to them.  Such research would have saved an elderly Florida man from paying a shady service provider who approached him about installing screening on his porch.

According to Pinellas County Consumer Protection, the man paid the contractor $100 for the project, which was supposed to be completed the same day.  The individual took the money and ran.  Upon investigation, it was discovered that the man was unlicensed, had no workers compensation insurance, and was further breaking the law by soliciting door-to-door without a permit.

Although the man was prosecuted, it could have been much worse.  Without proper licensing to prove skill and experience, and without insurance to protect against liability, homeowners could face problems like shoddy workmanship, failure to comply with building codes, and liability should workers be injured on their property. All of these come with potentially high costs for the homeowner. 


What To Do:  You need to do your homework before you hire to make sure you choose a licensed and insured contractor who has the qualifications to deliver the quality and expertise you expect.  Licensed contractors have worked hard to earn accreditation and many proudly showcase their license number on their business cards and websites.  They will not hesitate to provide this information when asked.  As a responsible consumer, it’s in your best interest to ask any contractor you’re considering hiring to provide a license number.  From there, you can look up the contractor’s license on websites provided by each state by simply Googling “contractor license lookup in [your state]”.

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Remodeling Contractors' Hidden Costs

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Generally speaking, signing a contract helps to ensure that you don’t end up paying more for work, but you definitely have to read the fine print.  You don’t want to end up getting nickel and dimed for work that should have been included, or be told once the job has started that you owe more than the agreed price.  When you strike an agreement with no contract at all, the outcome could be even worse.

A report from the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, for example, detailed the story of an elderly man who was quoted one price for driveway resurfacing, but was told upon completion that he owed $10,000, which was significantly more than the original quote.  After several men intimidated him into paying, he reported the incident and thankfully, the consumer office secured a refund.

Getting your dream bathroom is one thing, but not if you end up paying significantly more than what you originally agreed to.  Nobody wants to pay $20,000 for a $10,000 bathroom, no matter how nice that rainfall shower is.


What To Do: Again, this is an instance where doing your homework is essential.  Consumer reviews can provide a lot of information about what to expect from a contractor.  You should also take the time to read over the contract and make sure the details are what you’ve discussed, including pricing, timeline, and the scope of work to be completed.  It’s always best to make sure milestones are part of the contract, so that you pay as work is finished.  If there’s anything you don’t understand, be sure to ask about it before you sign, and if you don’t agree, consider looking for another contractor you feel comfortable working with.

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Changing Timelines

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Money isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when it comes to bathroom renovations.  You also have to plan for the amount of time you’ll go without a bathroom. Just the thought of sharing your master bath with your teenagers is enough to make you pay extra to speed the process along.

Unfortunately, timelines are rarely set in stone.  Start dates and deadlines can get pushed back due to delayed or damaged materials, weather, shipping delays, or even custom materials that take longer to produce.  Delays might also have to do with workers splitting their time between jobs or simply slacking, especially if you didn’t have strict deadlines and penalties worked into your contract.


What To Do: If you want to avoid living in a construction zone that feels more like a never-ending episode of The Twilight Zone, make sure your contract includes penalties for missed deadlines.  That should kick your contractors into high gear.  Keep in mind, however, that delays are sometimes out of a contractor’s hands.  A good contractor will often detail potential delays up front, such as custom material manufacturing, to temper your expectations, and even overestimate the timeline to account for possible overages and avoid disappointment.

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Shoddy Workmanship

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So, you’ve paid for work, and the work got done (or partially completed), but there are problems, as with a New Mexico woman who got a new roof, but continued to experience leaks, or a New York consumer who paid $30,000 toward a $52,000 renovation, but had to contact the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs when the contractor damaged the home and then stopped showing up for work.

You want that new bathroom, for sure, but not if tiles are falling off the wall, faucets are dripping, and the vanity looks like a set piece from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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What To Do: The best way to avoid paying for subpar work is to read consumer reviews, make sure you hire a state-licensed or registered bathroom remodeling contractor, and work in payments for work only when it is completed to your satisfaction.


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Consumers who do their research often find reputable and reliable contractors to complete their bathroom renovation, and the project goes off without a hitch.  However, it never hurts to understand what could go wrong so you can take steps to avoid potential pitfalls. Seeking out licensed and insured contractors is a great place to start, but make sure to look for professionals who are responsive, clear about what you can expect in terms of work, cost, timeline, and who offer a comprehensive contract for your protection, and their own.

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