The Great Kitchen Contract Hoax (Do NOT make This Mistake)

My neighbour Shari and her husband Josh renovated their kitchen this past Spring.  They chose someone who came highly referred by their friends. He had installed two kitchens for them and they were beautiful.

This is the note I received from Shari:

“We went to Home Depot and a few other kitchen stores but decided to go with him since we saw his work in our friends home.

We paid the first half of what was owing for the completed kitchen. His contract stated that we were to pay half upfront, and the final half was due upon delivery and in our minds completion of the kitchen.

On the day of the installation, he arrived with a young employee and installed most of the kitchen in under four hours. All that was missing was the doors.

After he left Josh and I took a look at his work and were dismayed to find all the chips and damage. The fridge panel was crooked. (below) He cut part of the crown moulding too short and just patched in a one-inch piece to hide it. etc.

We emailed him right away listing the imperfections and he said ‘Don’t worry we are not done’. He was coming back to fix it and put the doors on. He told us to keep our check-measure appointment with the countertop company to keep it all moving and on schedule.

The counter guy arrived and said he couldn’t measure them since the fridge panel was installed incorrectly. 

A few days later two young employees showed up and put up the doors and handles. Every handle was crooked. They filled the chips and holes and left. Josh emailed the kitchen guy right away with pictures and a detailed list of all deficiencies.

A week later the kitchen contractor messaged Josh to confirm he was coming back that day and requested that the final payment was waiting for him.

Josh declined and responded, ‘When we are sure the problems are corrected we will cut you a cheque the same day’. The kitchen guy refused and said he would not come back to do any more work. He noted that the contract stated that final payment was due upon delivery.  He told us he could have delivered the kitchen in boxes and the payment would have been due.

We consulted with a lawyer and she confirmed that according to the way the contract was written, we had no choice but to pay him what we owed.  After that, he came back and fixed the crooked handles and patched a few holes but obviously, the gables remained, given the kitchen would have had to be entirely disassembled to move them.

We have a friend who is a contractor who gave us some advice and helped with a few little things. The rest we have just had to live with. It would have cost an additional $3000 in repairs.

The lawyer said that the contract should have said “Final payment due upon completion of the installation”.

I’m telling you this story so you can also make this adjustment to a contract when you plan your kitchen or bathroom renovation.

I asked Shari if I could style her kitchen and post this story on the blog to save anyone else from going through this.

I’ll also share the other thing I learned from renovating my three bathrooms this summer, at the end of this post.

First, here’s Shari’s new kitchen. She had been following my blog and decided that her small kitchen would be best in white-on-white.

They had lived in the house for 12 years and eight years ago they stained their oak cabinets brown (below).

Shari and Josh already had medium brown hardwood floors in their house (see their living room in this post) and I told them to continue the same floors into their kitchen and dining room.

They did not have more of the same floors they had installed in their living room and hallway so they took a sample and went to every single flooring store in the lower mainland but could not find anything close.

So they ordered tons of samples from online stores and finally found this one in California. They paid more for shipping, but in the end it was an almost perfect match!

I was so impressed, I did not notice they were different at all!

Shari liked the white beveled subway tile so that’s what they installed along with off-white quartz countertops.

Just in case you think all my styling ideas come from the clear blue sky, they don’t. When I was thinking about what I would bring (or buy) to style Shari’s kitchen, I was reviewing my ‘Kitchens and bathroom styling’ Pinterest board and came across this image:

via Pinterest

I didn’t have a tall 3-tiered stand, but I do have a small white one, so I puttered around, picked some white Fall Daisies from my garden and some small faux pears from another display in my kitchen along with some tiny bowls and Ramekins that Terreeia uses when she’s prepping meals or serving condiments during dinner parties.

I have all kinds of random vases and I happened to find some tiny ones someone gave me once for placeholders at a dinner party.

When you have a white (or off white or cream) kitchen or bathroom, you can introduce almost any colour you want!

It’s a beautiful thing.

Related post: The Best White Bathrooms

This was the kitchen/dining room before (below):


Josh found the new light fixture (below) on Craigslist.

The person selling it had won it and it was originally valued at $3000. She was trying to get more for it but no one would pay, so she finally lowered the price to $150.

I think it makes the dining area! If anyone knows the original source, please post the link in the comments!

Related post: Three Steps to Make More Money Selling Furniture on Craigslist

Shari runs a daycare out of her house so she removes the faux lambskins during the day and for this reason she only has pillows on the built-in bench (not a seat cushion). This way everything remains washable!

I mentioned we could get faux leather seat cushions made but she showed me the damage on her two dining chairs (which are upholstered in brown leather) from her cats, so her bench remains cushionless.

Okay so, the cake is totally fake (below). It sits in my accessory room which is located off the garage and I have used it many times with different cake plates (Can you spot it in this post?). A photographer I worked with gave it to me a long time ago.

The cookies are real, I left them for Shari’s kids to enjoy 🙂

When I was taking photos of her kitchen this week I noticed a duck in her backyard and asked her about it, Shari said her husband was doing some work for a Vietnamese man last week (he manages a power line company) and the man asked her husband in broken English if he would like a duck, Josh said sure! The guy owned a restaurant so he figured it was pre-packaged or cooked.

The man disappeared and then Josh saw him go into a large duck pen and grab one.  Josh was thinking oh God, he killed the poor thing put it in a box, and into the back of Josh’s truck.

When Josh got home he opened the box, and the poor duck just had his feet tied up, but was very much alive and healthy!

The duck follows their dog around everywhere, haha. The vegetarian in me was very happy to hear this story!

Here’s a picture of Shari, her husband Josh and their two kids:

And last but not least, here’s what I learned about renovating this summer.

Never, ever, ever, ever completely pay a trade until he or she is finished the work you hired him or her to do or you are happy with the work he has done.

If you pay too quickly, they will either disappear or be VERY SLOW in coming back to finish what they started.

If you hire a designer or contractor who comes with their own trades, the world is different. Their trades are loyal to them and want to continue getting work from them so you shouldn’t have this problem. It’s, of course, one of the many reasons why you should hire a designer to help you with your renovation!

And, I don’t want to paint EVERY trade in the world with the same brush, however, I would say 99% of them fall into this category.

The trades my friend Jan brought were wonderful, however, I live in the country so we did have to hire a few locals.

The plumber we hired said yes to every job that came his way and as a result, would arrive at our house at 4 or 5:00 pm when I needed him to do something. He was exhausted and couldn’t even see straight at that point.

Finally, when I needed him to come back and install my freestanding tub and toilets, he again arrived at the end of the day and started talking about how some parts were missing. We sent him home and found a fabulous local plumber (by referral). It took him ALL DAY to do the work (because he had to move the drain which was installed incorrectly by the original plumber) and he did a beautiful job.

If you are in the Fraser Valley and need a plumber, contact Brian Stoner at 604-819-3379.

By the way, I had already paid the other plumber to do the work so I paid twice.


Great lesson of the day right? If you have any hard lessons you’ve learned to add to this, please post them in the comments, they contribute to everyone!

I’m also excited to announce that I will be attending the KBIS show in Florida with Modenus in January!

Go here to see who else will be joining me!

Related posts:

The Single Worst Mistake to Make During Your Bathroom Renovation

10 Styling Lessons From Jeffrey Bilhuber

How to Photograph Your Projects to get More Business



leave aREPLY

  1. We just had our kitchen renovated in August/September. I love the end result, but it wasn’t without a few tears; the contractor refused to fix some things and the timeline was extended from 4 to 6 weeks. But, it did come in on budget and the major stuff (cabinets, tile, flooring, counters) was installed beautifully.

    As usual, your advise is excellent, Maria! I also want to suggest that customers put as many *details as possible* in the contract. While we refused to pay the last installment until we were satisfied, we did end up accepting a few things that we originally did not want. For example:
    * I verbally requested a light gray grout for to go with the off-white subway tile (I thought it would work well with the fantasy brown marble counters). Imagine my shock when I returned home to find white grout! The contractor knew his guys messed up too. I complained, but in the end kept the white grout and actually like it (dare I say better than I would have liked the gray).
    *The contractor suggested we move the ceiling light fixture because it would look nicer over the kitchen table. We agreed. However, we failed to realize that the contractor would leave a gaping hole in our ceiling where the fixture was originally installed and refused to patch it because “it is against code to burry it”. When we suggested they not burry it, but remove it completely, they bulked because of the extra work. In the end, they did it because we held off the final payment (again, great advice!). We had to call someone in to fix they terrible patch job, though.
    *We got a gray/brown luxury vinyl. We love the look and the ease of cleaning (so far). However, the contractor installed trim moldings in oak-a color that matches nothing in the kitchen (not the brown/gray floor or white baseboard moldings) AND missed a few spots where trim moldings should have been installed. We insisted they come back and not only add molding where it was forgotten, but replace existing with white. Yeah, it’s a little thing, but painting it would have been a pain.
    *They ran electric for a light over the sink, but refused to install the standard light we bought. I read the contract and agree that we didn’t specify that the light be installed, so we offered to pay extra for it-and they refused-it would have taken them less than an hour. I think they just wanted to be done the job.

  2. Hard lesson 1: Contractors are people and sometimes people die or get divorced. I know two people who experienced this with their contractors, and it definitely created huge problems for their projects. Many contractors are not good money managers and when the new jobs stop due to death or divorce, their businesses collapse.

    Hard lesson 2: If it bothers you at the time, it will still probably bother you later. I know of a few things I let go because I was more eager to have a job finished and the people out of my house then get them corrected. Maybe would have been better to keep a posted list of things that need to be corrected/fixed when I noticed them.

    • Thanks, haha well it’s not exactly $3000 but maybe it was here in Canada? I didn’t know you could use any image to find something on google, thanks for that hot tip! Maria

  3. This painful lesson is ALWAYS applicable to EVERY CONTRACT one enters into.
    They look like such a sweet little family, I’m sorry this happened to them.
    See you soon, Maria!!!
    xo, Paula

  4. Your freind is not alone. My original roofer did this & left saftey hazards all over the place (parts fell on the ground even). Thankfully the “contract” was very poorly written. That life experience caused me to stumble in to being good friends with a wise & seasoned contract law atty (he & his wife had similar not-legal hobbies to me so we socialized a lot until they moved for retirement)

    What I have discovered in the 10+ years of “fixing up” my krappy kottage is that some will want a down payment the first time you do business with them to ensure your serious & that they at least break even if you don’t pay. I have a friend who is a “remodeler”, he has told me that 10-30% of their customers don’t pay regards of quality of work. Usually after the first project is paid in full, without a hitch, then after that most of the people i’ve used will be normal business associates with no money due till the end. I’ve had about 5 that have taken the down payment money & ran. There was one person that disappeared with enough money on the line I actually was on the verge of a court date before he returned my money(almost a year later).
    Also this is weird however, if you can tactfully do so, get a picture of the license plate on their vehicle because that will verify identity if you do need to pursue for some reason… i know this sounds sick & sad, i had one person leave in the middle of a job after dragging it out for over 3 weeks, took all building materials that he could grab before i got home from work. Then discovered the business name he was using actually belonged to a different guy and the human name on the cards was a pseudo name, never did find out who he actually was but if i’d taken a picture of the license plate i could have confirmed identity and filed a police report for his actions.

    No matter how good the professional’s references, always do a google or similar search in case they were good a few years ago but are now cutting corners – I’ve had that happen twice. Also google the phone number for reveiws in case the business changed hands recently (retirement, new partner/associate, etc). I had a phenomenal plumber for many years, when i met him he fixed my botched bathroom remodel wonderfully many little recommendations to make daily life or cleaning easier. One day 2 years ago, a handy man wrecked my plumbing when i wasn’t home (trying to pad the bill) and the plumber told me his son would be out to fix the damage. The day of the plumbing work, son told me 3 hours into the repairs, he’d run to the store a couple blocks away for 15 min to get a washer…. 1.5 hours later he surfaced & caused me to pick up a kid from sports practice in freezing temps half an hour late. The final outcome of the work was not very good to boot & had to be redone a few months later due to slow leaks. I did google a few days after the son’s repair and discovered in the recent reviews had nose dived in the last 6+ mo because the son had taken over and didn’t learn his Dad’s dedication to service & quality. i called the Dad and he would only say he’d retired. So anyone that isn’t a friend I google, check home county records for red flags and i also check the site for local licensing entity. if the licensing info doesn’t match, i’ll call the contact info on the license to politely verify who i’m dealing with in case of a fraud. if licensing entity isn’t easy for find online, call the nearest building code enforcement office & ask what state or county entity tracks licensed & bonded tradesmen.

    One other thing I’ve learned, if you know exactly what you want, get your own materials to ensure accuracy & quality. I’ve had both friends & business associates tell me about having everything lined out in a contract or email and coming home to a different tile color, grout color or something else totally not what they wanted but it was done & money was due for completed work.
    If there is going to be a contract be sure to define what you want, i had one guy that just put “new bath room sink base” in multiple times & wouldn’t put “24in medium stain oak sink base with at least 2 drawers using customer provided drawer handles.” Technically speaking he could have given me a sink on a cardboard box with the way he was phrasing it in his contract. Chances are he wasn’t going to give me what i wanted.

    It’s your home. Not theirs. Rock the project like your going to live in it because you will! 🙂 Also, ignore any contractor that tries to tell you that you need to do X cause you’ll probably be wanting to sell in 5 years or “won’t be here long”, that short term perspective usually is a sign that they either want to move leftover product(s) in their garage or their work won’t last over time. You don’t know what the future holds and how long you’ll be there. if you have all the work well done then it’ll be easier to sell in 5 or 50 years and your life will be less stressful.
    sorry this is so long – i just don’t want anyone to ever go through what i’ve been through. if this info helps even one family then it’s worth it.

  5. After reading through the comments, the one lesson I learned that I didn’t see below is that you (or someone you trust) needs to be available to oversee the work. Some people mentioned things that happened when they weren’t around – this is your fix. Their goal is to get the job done as quickly as possible and get paid. If you aren’t around, they become the decision maker to complete the project. This decision maker may be the guys that have been left on the job while the owner is visiting another project site. I’ve also learned after my backyard reno that contractors assume (nicest way I can put it) that you know certain things will happen during a reno. i.e. my yard was destroyed while they did the hardscaping and they made no effort to clean it up. I had to have soil brought in to level the lawn and then sod installed so my dogs didn’t track mud everywhere. This was a large expense I wasn’t prepared for. As a homeowner, my assumption would be if you mess it up, you fix it. That’s clearly not the case. This was a contractor I had used before and was very happy to recommend to others. Unfortunately that is no longer the case.