My fence blew over in a storm. I'm handy enough to be dangerous (mostly to myself), but I'm also very busy. I'm a software engineer and my job is demanding. Likewise my wife has a senior position, we have two small kids, and to top it off we are in the middle of a huge reno of our modest little home (big reno is cheaper than new house - especially when the house is almost paid). So I don't have time to dig holes. I contacted these guys to do the hard part - the posts. I can (and have) put the rest of the fence together myself.
For a simple small job it went sideways, big time. Instead of giving a sob story and complaining, I'm going to offer some lessons learned in the hope it helps someone else.
First, an observation:
I've had big jobs done ($20K+ foundation repair, $25K+ roof repairs), and small jobs (<$1K). It's always the small jobs that cause the most conflict and hassle. I think I've figured out why: diseconomy of scale. Contractors just don't want your small job. From their point of view, small jobs suck. It's a misallocation of resources that could otherwise be more profitably deployed. They just want to do 'good enough' and move on to more profitable big jobs. Frankly, I wish they'd say 'no' to small jobs if they really don't want them.
Anyway, on to the lessons learned:
1. If your contractor doesn't take the time to meet you in person and discuss the job and explain *how* they are going to do the job, then fire them and go elsewhere. Especially for a small job. You need to understand what you are getting and that it meets your expectations. If they avoid meeting you beforehand, It's a sign that they just aren't that into you. Fire them and move on.
2. It's tempting these days to just arrange a small job (like a few fence posts) via email. It's just so easy and you don't have to take time off work etc.. But you really, really want to meet your contractor. Especially for a small job. Especially if you live in a modest house in a working class neighbourhood. By meeting the contractor you can take the measure of the man, so to speak. If they look around at your property with a snobbish sneer, then fire them. They aren't respecting you or your property and the quality and care in their work will reflect that. In other words: they just aren't that into you. Fire them and move on.
3. If you do know something about the work to be done (and let's face it, it's pretty easy to look it up these days), don't assume that the contractor has the same idea of what constitutes a quality job. As a homeowner your incentives are to get the best quality for the best price. The contractors incentives are profit. And sometimes good enough is all they really have any reason to do. Especially in the absence of instructions/agreement to do anything different. If you expected gold standard work and get 'good enough', you're going to be dissatisfied. Better to figure it out early on and set expectations explicitly, or fire them and go elsewhere. This is especially relevant to small jobs thanks to the diseconomy of scale at play. From e.g. a fence contractors point of view, a job for seven fence posts is a waste if the same crew and equipment could go to a job site, stay put, and install seventy or seven hundred posts. So face it. If you have a small job, right from the start they just aren't that into you and you're more likely to get 'good enough'.
4. Take the time to drop in on the work in progress. Many construction workers are great people who respect their customers property, but construction is also a dumping ground for people who can't do much more than operate a shovel or swing a hammer. If you are present, it deters those bad apples from e.g. wrecking your garden 'cause it's easier to push the wheelbarrow over the flower bed than to go around.
As for the quality of the work for my small job ... I can't say it was bad. It was 'good enough'. It wasn't what I expected or wanted for the eye-popping prices being charged, but because of the mistakes I made in handling the contractor I didn't get what I wanted. I have to own that.
Two major problems with my job where that they unnecessarily wrecked my garden (trampled plants, blob of concrete in the bed). The second and biggest complaint, and the primary reason for the low rating, is due to the way their foreman/boss dealt with me. I don't think it's dignified to air dirty laundry, so I'll leave it at that. I paid them full price to make them go away. It wasn't worth a few hundred bucks to continue trying to haggle with them. I suspect they felt the same way. After all, it was a small job and I'm pretty sure they just weren't that into it. So we're even.
Good luck with your project. Especially if it's a small job.