I want to touch on a kind of serious subject today: the power of knowledge. I joke about DIY and what I can and can’t do and have fun with the subject in general but knowing some basics about how to maintain your home is actually really important; even if you never plan on doing any of the work yourself.
A month ago my washing machine had a seizure and the result was a completely flooded kitchen and family room. My insurance company was spectacularly responsive and helpful and just amazing. They brought in a general contractor to take care of the immediate work of cleaning up. That contractor was great. They were fast, efficient, and talked me through the process of what they were doing, what was needed, and what had already been done.
My insurance payout was based on the estimates the contractor put together. The insurance company told me I could do whatever I wanted with the money. I wasn’t restricted to any course of action or decisions. I could do what I deemed necessary.
After the clean up the contractor changed. This is when things started to get difficult. This is also when I tried to step back into the equation. After all, we’re talking about rebuilding my kitchen. I wanted some input.
I understand the insurance company will only cover what was damaged. That seems fair. However, I needed to replace more than just what was damaged. My kitchen was 35 years old so even if something has not been damaged, it needs to be replaced. After all, it doesn’t make sense to put the 35-year-old, chipped sink back into a new counter just because the counter was damaged but the sink was not.
When I tried to get a breakdown of the rebuild the contractor had planned, the only information I could get from the contractor was the dollar amount for what I was changing outside of what was covered by insurance. I never picked out any materials with them or discussed what I wanted to do. At one point someone mentioned the “flooring I selected.” I told them I hadn’t selected anything yet. One of the guys who came in to measure flashed some samples at me but I never got to look at them, hold them, check out their color, etc.
It was becoming pretty clear to me that they were just replacing what I had with complete disregard to what I might actually have wanted. No one was including me in their plans. I found out there was a 3D plan of my kitchen floating around. The contractors were all sharing with each other but no one showed it to me. When I finally saw it, it wasn’t at all what I was planning for the kitchen. I had this crazy idea to make the kitchen more usable and practical for the space.
The whole time I couldn’t help but feel like they knew too much about my insurance pay out and their estimate was tailored to fit what I got. I realize that their estimates were what the insurance based the payout off of so I figured that if I needed to spend less in order to get more (and have some input), I had to look elsewhere. After all, it would be unethical for the contractor to tell the insurance it would cost one dollar amount and then charge me another.
When I went to Ikea, they had me design the layout. I picked out the colors, style and extras such as pull-outs for the deep corner cabinets. Not only was I being included in the kitchen design process but the pricing was transparent so I could save money in one area and put it in another.
When I told my contractor I bought the kitchen cabinets, he was very unhappy. I also told him that I wanted to save money by doing some of the work myself (easy demo, wall patching, etc.) so that I could put more of the money towards the flooring. This is when our meeting went off the rails.
He was NOT happy! He told me that I was essentially acting as my own general contractor and I’m not allowed to do this. The insurance payout was based on what they estimated and if I was going to do something to save money, this changed what my insurance company would give me. I could lose a chunk of my insurance payout.
This sounded weird to me so I pressed him about this statement which made him back pedal a little.
Then he switched tactics. I had asked him about having the soffit removed and he started acting like this was very serious and complicated. “Well, now that I look at it I can see there is electrical and HVAC involved in this and this makes it a lot more complicated to move these. You just don’t know what you’ll find here.”
This is when I began to understand what he was doing. Fortunately, instead of getting pissed off (at that moment) I just got very very calm. The electrical he referred to is a single recessed light above the sink. All they would have to do is cut a hole in the ceiling and pull the light up 5 or 6 inches to hang it from the new hole rather than the hole in the soffit.
The HVAC he was referring to is my vented microwave. I’m not moving it or getting rid of it so what is in the soffit needs to be moved up to above the ceiling.
This is where knowing a little bit about how to repair things made all the difference in letting him scare me and realizing he was trying to scare me to get me back under control. I let him bluster on about the electrical and then I calmly told him, “I’m not worried about moving the light up a few inches into the ceiling. And the HVAC is likely just removing some of the duct.
And friends, that may have been when he realized I am not an idiot or a helpless woman. He agreed with me and said it was likely no big deal. I then told him I would circle back with the insurance agent to confirm my understanding of how I can spend my insurance money. He really backed off what he had said before. I wrapped up our meeting. I just wanted him out of the house.
I immediately called my insurance agent who said I had understood perfectly from the beginning and I have every right to act as my own general contractor. He then asked if I was going to work with that contractor. I told him I didn’t know. Now that I have slept on it, I’m inclined not to work with them which is a shame since they left some things undone in the house and I believe they are obliged to put the trim back and repair the ceiling where their tape caused some damage.
But why would I want lying bullies back in my house?
Knowing things empowers you. I don’t know a lot about DIY but I know enough that what he was saying was a lie.
It’s so disappointing to find I can’t trust them but I have the name and numbers of some general contractors who come highly recommended. I’ll move forward and the project will be better off. I just wanted to share with you that arming yourself with knowledge is important when you are forced outside your comfort zone. That, and listen to your inner voice. If something seems off, it probably is.