I can't say enough about this experience. Six weeks turned into six months, paid each step of the way IN ADVANCE as he insisted, not wanting "to subsidize (our) project" which seemed reasonable.
Lots of delay, a two week absence and a few days missing here and there when his commercial jobs put us in the back seat; unspecified extras which when challenged he said he'd provide itemization but didn't, but later and generously reversed (despite earlier saying how much in the hole he was) a few thousand when my wife said she herself had paid.....well you get the idea.
Last 10-or-so percent my wife and I Insisted be withheld though until the job was done to our satisfaction. Before both of us he gave his word, and that we'd be very happy, and agreeing to our terms.
Two weeks later he was done...but not the job. The last Friday he and his carpenter, who was actually decent, removed all his tools, leaving the scrap heap and undone bits throughout the place.
Subsequent terse communication showed he forgot that agreement, and because we would not pay the home stretch in advance, as we were fine with initially (before the job ran 18 weeks over) had vacated.
I told him in my last email I needed to move on and wouldn't after all go public, but it still gnaws, and I lose sleep still over it.
We're not cheap, making a combined healthy income and would gladly pay if and when we understood what was underestimated and unexpected, but every month or so it was the same, just leave a cheque for x-thousand with the carpenter in order to continue. Such explanation was economical, I'll put it.
Lessons: Insist on a written contract ( I asked him about one at first but he said not necessary, yet I wonder is it the same for his commercial jobs, eg The Gap and other chain stores from Oshawa to Ottawa? Probably not, as I'm sure he has to work to time and spec on those ones).
Make sure there's something, if such a clause exists,to say that you're not on the hook for bills of unpaid subcontractors, like electricians and heating guys. Very important that one.
Use a voice recorder on the table (or hidden, as you wish) and say if he's uncomfortable with it to please
For references ask if the referee has any connection to the contractor, like maybe being married to him. Such disclosure I think is relevant in how much weight one puts on it.
He was everything I explained to him in the beginning I wished not to find in a contractor.
Seems all the good contractors either host TV shows or write books on, well, not getting screwed by contractors.
If what I write is angry, it is. I wasn't going to go public, but I changed my mind since I couldn't easily just get over it.
This was my wife's dream, which she saved tens of thousands up for over the eight years we've been here. I'm sorry to her for not having gone the extra mile in finding a good one in that haystack of rejects out there.
My take home from this is a knee jerk antipathy to all contractors, unregulated lot that they are, but I know that can not be true, or maybe it is. Word of mouth or throwing a dart at the yellow pages, there's no good way to find one, much like picking a red wine in my case.
Bottom line is you can get pretty good work from a lot of contractors out there, but without their sticking reasonably close to a schedule and communicating unexpected stuff you're better off staying in Unrenovated eighties pastel and stucco decor or moving into a place where someone else has endured the frustration.