Remodeling all or part of your home is not only expensive, but it also requires a level of trust—you’re inviting a stranger into your safe space and counting on them to bring your vision for the project to life. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as planned, and you may come to realize that your contractor has cut corners in some way.
Signs a contractor cut corners on a remodeling job
Sometimes the shoddy work is clearly visible; other times, it can be (literally) hidden behind walls. In fact, there are a number of ways home improvement professionals attempt to save money on a remodeling project, some of which are a bit dubious.
Though you might assume that the contractor is simply trying to increase their profit margin for the job, there are other possible reasons that they might cut corners. For instance, a contractor may encounter an unexpected issue that must be addressed in order for the project to continue, but the homeowner insists on sticking to the original budget. So, to compensate for that, the contractor might rush through the final part of the job to stay on schedule and on budget, which then results in mismatched finishes or sloppy work.
The point is that there are a variety of reasons why—and how—contractors cut corners. Keep an eye out for the following signs if you have a suspicion the work on your home isn’t up to par.
This isn’t a situation where a contractor and homeowner sit down to discuss their plans and the budget, and the homeowner agrees to install quartz instead of marble countertops in order to save money. Instead, it’s a scenario where the contractor decides to use substandard building materials—without consulting the homeowner—as a way to keep expenses down. This could include lumber, drywall, subflooring, hardware, finishes, fixtures, paint, or other materials.
“One project really sticks out in my mind where the contractor, trying to save time and money, used lower quality plywood for the kitchen cabinets,” says Jim Gray, a real estate professional and a performance coach at Agent Advice. “It was so disappointing for the homeowners when the cabinets started sagging just a few months later.”
In addition to materials used in the remodel that look or feel cheap, Gray also recommends keeping an eye out for warped wood, thin veneers that don’t feel solid, rough or inconsistent textures, and finishes that chip easily.
Make sure you’re getting all the features and fixtures you’ve paid for, Gray says. Shelves missing from built-ins, or having fewer electrical outlets than you stipulated are clear signs that corners were cut.
Maybe there isn’t an issue with the quality of the materials your contractor used, but you do notice some inconsistency. For instance, perhaps one row of tiles in your bathroom is a slightly different color or shape than the rest. While buying remnant or discontinued materials can be a great way to save money, it doesn’t work if there’s not enough for the entire project. In addition to tiles, Erica Brenning, a real estate investor and owner of Cash Buyers, recommends looking for grout, flooring, or anything else that doesn’t match the samples you were shown.
Drawers that don’t open all the way
You might assume that your drawers are getting stuck on something, but it’s often because they’re small and don’t occupy the entire space—a common material- and money-saving tactic, says Pavel Khaykin, the founder and CEO of Pavel Buys Houses, which specializes in the acquisition, renovation, and sale of houses in the Boston area. This could involve purchasing smaller manufactured drawers, or saving on lumber to custom build drawers, but either way, the homeowner will be left with less storage space than they expected.
Unless there’s a known structural issue that wasn’t addressed in the remodel, there shouldn’t be any visible bumps, dips, or unevenness in the walls, floors, or countertops, says Brenning.
According to Khaykin, walls that aren’t level or smooth is often a sign of poor drywall work, and can be the result of cutting corners on labor costs. This is especially unfortunate for homeowners, he says, because uneven or bumpy walls can be difficult to fix, and may require additional time and money to correct. The same came be true of wavy or uneven floors and countertops.
Premature ‘wear and tear’
Along the same lines, early signs of cracking or chipping in paint, drywall, or grout could point to improper installation or a rushed job, says Brenning.
When contractors try to save time and labor by rushing through a job, it could leave you with unpainted trim, unsealed grout, or incomplete caulking, says Brenning.
Gaps around openings
Finding cracks or gaps around windows, doors, or fixtures could point to improper installation techniques, or not using enough sealant, says Gray.
An inconsistent paint job
According to Khaykin, a sloppy, inconsistent, or incomplete paint job is another indication that shortcuts were taken during the remodeling project. This could include uneven coverage, missed spots, noticeable drips, or visible brush strokes.
Uneven molding or trim
Uneven, misaligned, or mismatched trim, crown molding, or chair rail is another telltale sign that corners have been cut, says Khaykin. He also recommends keeping an eye out for gaps between the walls and the trim.
Pay attention to your plumbing during after the remodel, says Brenning, because inconsistent water pressure, leaky faucets, showers with poor drainage, or toilets that no longer work properly are signs that either corners were cut, or something was done incorrectly.
Similarly, you shouldn’t be dealing with any new electrical problems, Brenning says. This includes things like flickering lights, faulty switches, buzzing outlets, or anything that sparks.
Any new damage
If you notice any damage that wasn’t there prior to the remodel job—things like dents, stains, holes, and scratches—that your contractor didn’t tell you about, it could be a sign of carelessness, and/or rushed work.
Potential safety risks
Don’t take any chances when it comes to potential safety risks, like exposed wiring or faulty plumbing, says Gray. These are major red flags that need to be addressed immediately.
Leaving behind a mess
You probably (and rightfully) expect your contractor to clean up after completing the job, but according to Brenning, that doesn’t always happen. “Excessive dust or debris left behind is a sign of rushed cleanup and disregard for the homeowner’s property,” she says.
What to do if your contractor’s work is subpar
So, what should you do if you notice (or strongly suspect) that your contractor is cutting corners? The experts recommend taking the following steps:
First, document everything. Though they probably won’t be the before-and-after photos you were hoping for, take plenty of pictures and videos of the problems, compile a paper trail that includes communications with the contractor, as well as invoices and the original plans, says Gray.
Get in touch with your contractor
Before escalating the matter, schedule a meeting with your contractor to discuss the situation. “Talk to the contractor directly, and politely explain your concerns, giving examples of what needs to be fixed or resolved through repairs or repayment,” says Gray.
According to Khaykin, what looks like cutting corners may have actually been an oversight or miscommunication, and your contractor may be willing to fix the issues at no additional cost. As always, get it in writing.
“If the contractor is willing to address the issues, homeowners should request that they fix the problems in a timely manner,” he says. “It is important to have clear communication and expectations regarding the repairs.”
Consult another professional
If your contractor is unwilling or unable to work with you on solutions to the problems, it’s time to contact another contractor or an independent inspector to verify the issues, and assess the potential damage, Brenning advises. “Get estimates for repairs to understand the cost of rectifying the problems,” she says.
Consider legal action
If the contractor is unresponsive to your requests, or refuses to rectify or fairly compensate you for the problems, Brenning suggests seeking legal advice as a last resort.