FEARLESS CONSUMER- How <i>not</i> to: Contracting <i>contretemps</i> dominate 2006

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that remodeling one's house is more stressful than can possibly be imagined when, armed only with glossy magazines, floor plans, and how-to books, one bravely sets forth. I began my own remodeling campaign 18 months ago, and now, with only a few kinks left to straighten out, I'm cautiously hopeful that my stress level will someday return to normal. 

Perhaps because I now empathize so deeply with fellow remodelers, this year's caveat emptor, or "buyer beware," awards go to three businesses that made local homeowners' lives a lot more difficult than they should have been while trying to upgrade their houses. 

First place goes to Dominick Wells, owner of D & L Drywall, who told Ellen Pratt that she didn't need permits to remodel her basement ["Taking a bath," October 26]. Surprise, surprise: she did– but found that out only when, several weeks into the job, she came home to find a stop-work order from the City.

Wells seemed to make himself scarce after that, and Pratt soon learned that his contractor's license had been revoked by the state's Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation in 2004– for telling a Mount Crawford homeowner he didn't need permits to remodel his basement. Pratt is seeking legal redress, and has promised to update me when the case has been decided.

Second place goes to For the Floor, which charged Sara Anderson $2,500 to install carpet in four rooms of her house ["On the carpet," October 19]. Like Pratt, she came home to an unwelcome surprise: a floor-length curtain from her bedroom, stained with some kind of brown liquid, had been tossed in the bathtub, and the same substance (perhaps Coke) was splattered around the bathroom. There was also a "big stain" on the carpet under the bedroom window. 

That was in late May. After repeated attempts to get For the Floor owner Jack Ostrowski to respond to her complaints, Anderson finally filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in September. In response, Ostrowski said he would refund Anderson $250 (she had paid the bill in full by then). Anderson, however, rejected his offer, saying $500 was more realistic. When I began talking to Ostrowski in early October, he declared he was no longer willing to refund Anderson anything, saying she was "trying to steal $500" from him. 

In the end, he agreed to honor his original offer of $250. As of press time, however, Anderson says she has yet to see any money. I plan to drop by For the Floor over the holidays to chat with Ostrowski, and will report on the outcome of our téte-à-téte. 

Third place goes to Hicky's Woodworking Shop for turning Denise Benson's counter replacement job into a stretch in purgatory. Benson hired Hicky's to replace her kitchen countertops in April, but, as both sides agree, the employee in charge of the job made a mistake in the measurements. He arrived on May 11 with the countertop– which, due to the counter's shape, was in two pieces– and had installed the first piece before he realized that the second wasn't going to fit. He then removed the first piece and reattached the original countertop. 

The employee returned with a new section on June 6, installed both parts, and considered the job complete. About two weeks later, however, Benson noticed that the seam where the pieces met was "swollen and buckling up." To make a long saga short, although Benson claims she called Hicky's numerous times after that and was told on two occasions that someone would come out to take a look, nothing happened. In the end, Benson contacted me, I called Hicky's, and in mid-October, the countertops were finally installed correctly. 

Thinking of remodeling in 2007? Take a deep breath– and, if you find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole, give me a shout.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.