Erika Taylor

Credit: RICK COLOSIMO

Awhile back I wrote a column about sleazy contractors who do substandard work. I discussed the tile job in my bathroom and the intense feeling of helplessness when I discovered the grout hadn’t been properly sealed, the company’s license was revoked, and no one would return my calls.

I wanted to write an update, not because you should have any interest in my bathroom, but because of a larger point that it illustrates.

After doing a little research, I learned that the company still had an active bond, so I filed a claim against it. An investigator named Toby Williams came to inspect the site. Toby quickly determined that the shower tile had been installed directly onto the dry wall without even the benefit of a few hundred dollars’ worth of backer board. I’m actually lucky the grout was coming apart. If it had held, I would’ve had no clue of this much larger problem until the tiles started falling off in a year or so.

To make matters worse, the tile, which covers the entire bathroom, was very expensive and is no longer being made. Now all of it needs to be redone. I’m just hoping that I’m first in line to collect on the bond.

This experience has left me with a different view of how to select a contractor.

During Toby’s visit, I asked about his business and what he sees happening in the field. He said that the overall number of claims has vastly increased over the past couple of years, and he can barely keep up with demand. In 90 percent of these cases, he told me, he finds in favor of the homeowner. “Consumers will almost always try to work with a contractor before filing against them,” he said. “Good companies will generally fix the problem themselves.”

Along with the massive uptick in shoddy home remodels, Toby’s also seeing a lot more problems with pools. The reason for these trends are the same, he believes. “When the economy went down, people started taking on projects they had no idea how to do. They needed the work. It’s been long enough now that those jobs are falling apart.”

It’s still unclear if I can recoup my costs for fixing the bathroom. But going forward, when selecting a contractor I’ll first find out how much experience they have doing exactly the same work I need. Then I’ll restrict my reference calls to only those projects.

Along those lines, it seems to me that pool contractors might be smart to sell themselves as highly experienced in the specific type of pool and site conditions the customer presented (assuming, of course, that it’s true).

Another step I’ll take in the future is to research the status of a contractor’s bond, and find out if anyone has ever filed a claim against them.

Again, pool builders might work that information into their sales calls. In the past few years, I received about a dozen bids from contractors for various jobs, and no one has ever mentioned a bond. Pool builders get almost as much bad press as politicians, and explaining who holds their bond will help consumers feel more secure doing business with them.

In the meantime, people like Toby have their work cut out for them.