The Restoration Industry

The Restoration Industry’s practices are normalized.

I’ve had personal experiences, and I also know several who did.
Some have a story of horrendous damage to their property, and most of us have a story of tremendous stress pushing us to the absolute limit. (“most” not “all” – more on this later in this post.) Half of the people I know who had to use a restoration company have a story that basically ends with them giving up on getting the repair done properly to get the contractors out of their home to preserve their mental health or to save their marriage.

My current thought is this: The “Preferred contractors list” allow incompetent contractors to stay in business. Because they don’t know how to do the job, they would put you through an absolutely unbelievable mental anguish with a potentially long-term impact till you give up just to make the same buck a competent company would have made by doing the job right.  

Now, I have to make sure I’m not tarnishing every company in the entire industry. I know one company that does the job well and actually cares genuinely about the service they provide. My friend vouches for another. More on these guys later.

But most of the stories are like mine. I had a tiny flood that required the floor and baseboards to be replaced and some walls to be dried. The simplest job ever.
The insurer’s “preferred contractor” didn’t do any of this properly and spent hours on the phone over 10 months trying to gas-light me into accepting the work that looked like a literal prank.

We have to remember though that they do this to us because it makes them a buck. So, what is it that actually goes on, and what is it that we need to do?

 

They are willing to literally damage you or your house. Or both.

There were many other struggles (e.g. what led to the 10-month delay), but I need to point out how they break you down.

Gas-lighting” is a systemic and systematic assault on the victim’s psychology in an attempt to cause the victim to question the reality and believe the alternative facts that are being fed to them as normal. The terms comes from a movie where the husband dimmed the gas-light in the house and kept telling his wife that it’s all in her mind and affected her psychological balance by simply repeating an alternative fact over and over.
In plain English, they “break you down till you don’t know which end is up” and make sure you stay broken down.

Let me give you just a few of the examples to show you that the use of the term “gas-lighting” in the context of restoration is not an exaggeration. I want you to notice how repetitive my stories are.

Example 1: Straight-faced contradictions.

  • The “preferred” contractor hired a subcontractor 1, who hired subcontractor 2.
  • After everything got much worse and the insurer’s manager got involved, the contractor and subcontractor 1 fired subcontractor 2, citing inadequate work “in your condo and one other.”
  • I asked, “So someone’s coming to redo his work?” To which they responded “No, your place is fine.”
  • “But didn’t you just say he got fired for doing crappy work in my condo and one other?” “Yes, but yours is fine.” “Did you say he did bad work in my apartment?” “Yes, but yours is fine.” “Did someone already redo his work?” “No, but yours is fine.” “But it was bad enough to fire him?” “Yours and one other. I said also one other. Yours is fine.” “But you said he did poor work in my condo.” “Ma’am. Yours is fine.”

Example 2: Baseboard.

  • The workers put two obviously different types of baseboards into my condo. Not one type in one room and another type in another room. Just all over like a mosaic.
  • I told the worker the baseboards didn’t match. He said that baseboard styles are changed every few years, and everyone knows it’s impossible to match.
  • I said it wasn’t my job to know these things and that I wasn’t paid to manage this job. (putting it here to show you that I started this argument with a healthy mind)
  • I told the worker it wasn’t acceptable. And he looked me dead in the eye and said “But there is no budget for new baseboard. What do you want me to do with it?”
  • I told the contractor’s project manager it wasn’t acceptable. They said they’ll re-do it and just moved them around. They were still in same rooms, facing each other or right next to each other.
  • I told the project manager it wasn’t acceptable.  And he looked me dead in the eye and said “But there is no budget for new baseboard. What do you want me to do with it?” So I said he was the one who drafted the budget, so it was their problem, not mine.
  • The project manager insisted I was getting mismatching baseboards.
  • So I called the insurer’s case manager and told him it wasn’t acceptable. And he said “But there is no budget for new baseboard. What do you want me to do with it?”
  • I told him that the contractor knew the new baseboards wouldn’t match the old one, so they should have put it in the budget. I asked him to pull up my contract, and we read together that I can expect the repair to bring the condo back to the condition before the flood. So I said I was entitled to matching baseboards because that’s what I had before the flood.
  • And he said “But there is no budget for new baseboard. What do you want me to do with it?”

Example 3: The subcontractor’s subcontractor

  • recap: The insurer’s preferred contractor hired a subcontractor 1 who hired a subcontractor 2.
  • The insurer, the contractor, and the subcontractor 1 passionately vouched for him, saying “They worked 25 years in the industry” even though I sent them photos of his completely, obviously incompetent work.
  • They were very simple and obvious photos.
  • Like, “Please call him. He is using two different thickness drywall next to each other.”
  • “Please call him. He just keeps going even though I asked him to call you.”
  • “He left a hollow corner bead, and how he’s squeezing mud into it. It will squeeze out to the other side of the wall and ruin it. Please call him.” The subcontractor T responded “He’s been working 25 years in the industry. What do you know about drywalling.” So I responded, “It’s physics. Please. Come here and have a look at least.” He didn’t, and the wall did get ruined.
  • Subcontractor J was taunting me verbally and yelling at me in my own home. I complained to the bosses, and nothing happened.
  • I was locked into my apartment alone with this man who clearly don’t possess a lot of self-control, so I didn’t want to speak directly to him or get caught videotaping his actions.
  • After a few days (dozen hours) of living around it and seeing nothing done by the insurer or the project manager in response to my complaints, I subconsciously started to accept his behaviour.
  • His boss finally called him to tell him to not leave such a mess. So he brought in a swiffer style mop and a spray bottle and ran it over the mess once after the work was done, which did nothing to clean it. He taunted me the whole time he was cleaning.
  • He put something square shaped on my brand-new toilet seat and lid and clearly did some work on it, leaving deep scratches on the plastic on four corners. I complained about it, and subcontractor T said “Maybe it was convenient for him.” I had to beg and plead to get the seat replaced, and he did not replace the lid.
  • Thankfully, he went too far by taking my dish towel from my kitchen, wiped the floor his shoes, and his tools with it, took it back into the kitchen, quickly rinced it, and draped it over my kitchen sink. This snapped me out of it. I texted the subcontractor 1 and simply demanded him to never return to my apartment.
  • From the fact the same dish towel was found further damaged and ripped, either they broke this promise and let him into my condo without authorization OR they have another guy who uses the clients’ towels.
  • After everything got much worse and the insurer’s manager got involved, the contractor and subcontractor fired subcontractor 2, citing inadequate work “in your condo and one other.”
  • I responded, “So someone’s coming to redo his work?” To which they responded “No, your place is fine.”

Example 4: Covering the floor.

  • I say “He’s leaving a major mess behind every day. For instance, he’s not covering the floor completely, so there is a film of mud on the floor, which I can’t get rid of after hours and hours of scrubbing. And I’m slipping around even in my shoes. If he covered the floor properly, I shouldn’t have to scrub at all.”
  • And they say “He said he covered the floor.” I say “Did you see the photos?” And they answer, “Yes. But he said he covered the floor.”
  • “You saw the photos?” “Yes.” “He didn’t cover the floor completely.” “He said he covered the floor.” “But you do see the film in the photo?” “Yes, but construction is always messy, ma’am. He said he covered the floor.”
  • “Ok. Let me ask you. Why do you guys cover the floor? To cover the floor, or to keep the floor clean?” “He said he covered the floor! What more do you want from me!?”
  • I said, “Ok, it’s not about what portion of the floor he covered. The point is this. When he leaves my apartment on days that I’m living there, it must be in a condition that YOU will be willing to let your toddler child and dogs live in.” He said “Construction is always messy, ma’am.”

Example 5: “important jobs”

  • So I asked them if they had experienced workers, and they told me they will send me this guy who does an excellent job.
  • I had him booked, but they will send another guy and tell me they had a “big job” come in and had to send him.
  • I accepted this another guy, which led to another do-overs (e.g. not caulking the baseboard, not caulking the bath tub, leaking vanity).
  • the excuses got elaborate, and the project manager would start using words like an “important job” came in and they had to send the experienced worker.
  • I called him out on it, and sometimes he admitted his wording implied that I wasn’t important, and other times he would defend himself. This “standing me up when they had an appointment, causing me to take the day off because they had other ‘important jobs’ come in” thing happened half a dozen times.

Example 6: The Complaint Department

  • “Why didn’t you try and get help?” you’re probably thinking.
  • One of the key players in this “stress out the clients until they just give up and sign off on the work” was the insurer’s case manager.
  • Every time I called him to report inappropriate conduct or insufficient work, I would get a voicemail. So all the discussions were done in a call from him to me in response to my voicemail or email.
  • He would always start the calls by telling me he’d already spoken to the contractor and they agree with each other.
  • No matter how many photos I show him, his answer would be “But the contractor told me this is normal.” I’d ask “Would you have this in your own house?” He would answer, “No, but the contractor said this is normal.”
  • So I tried to contact the complaint management department.
  • First email, I formatted it as instructed with the case number in the subject line. The case manager that I was complaining about responded to the email.
  • Second email, I put the case number in the subject line but also noted in capital in the subject line that it was to go to the complaint manager. The case manager responded to the email. I told him that the email was to go to the complaint management and requested he have them contact me. I didn’t hear back.
  • Third email, I left out the case number and asked the complaint manager to contact me. I didn’t hear back.
  • I started leaving messages with phone agents and voicemails. Months pass.
  • I finally contacted the company through Twitter, who was then able to connect me to the complaint manager.
  • The complaint manager apologized that there was a glitch in the system that caused my emails to be forwarded to the case manager.
  • I asked him to please make sure this case is reviewed because no phone agent I spoke to sounded surprised or alarmed that my emails and voicemails went unanswered.

So, in this post, I’m focusing on the mental anguish they are willing to inflict on you. So I’m going easy on the many issues work ethic and workmanship. I’ll just say the issues involved them standing me up when I had taken the day off to get the work done, standing me up for the same work the third time for the third day taken off work, telling me to hang my own closet doors until I showed them they made it impossible even if I were willing,  yelling at my dog, yelling at me, leaving construction debris (with nails in them) loose on the floor or on the patio for months, hours and hours of what baseboard is and isn’t acceptable, grabbing my stuff with hands covered in construction materials when there doesn’t seem to be a reason for grabbing them (they weren’t moved),and more.

 

There are much more to this story. I’m still very traumatized, and I feel exhausted and confused and disturbed thinking about all of this. So I’m going to wrap up this post after mentioning just one more thing.

 

The Solution: The Good Restoration Company.

As Canadians, we are completely unaware of our powers as consumers in the market because we historically had monopoly in many aspects of our lives and still do. Telephone (till recently), gasoline (till recently), auto insurance, health insurance, roadside assistance, medical testing, vehicle emission testing. I live in a major city, and I often have one retailer to choose from in each genre (computer = BestBuy, niche electronics = The Source, craft = Michael’s). When we have up to three, we get so overwhelmed (Hardware = home depot, canadian tire, rona. Recreational hockey = ASHL, Duffers, Richmond. News = CTV, Global, CBC).

It is not uncommon to read “Buy local!” and “Going to Bellingham to fill up the tank” on the same person’s timeline. A local grocery chain’s “Buy Local” marketing campaign was outsourced to an American company (I kid you not). As often as we hear emotional, angry complaints about cell phone bills, we rarely hear of anyone actually changing providers. A union official always promoting unions unabashedly posts on social media about buying cheese in Bellingham. All examples of people not knowing how market works and how much power a consumer has to shift industries.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit much there. Back to restoration.

The first thing that happens when you need restoration is that the insurer will offer you three options.
1. You use a contractor from the “preferred contractors list.” The insurer guarantees that the job is done to your satisfaction.
2. You hire your own contractor, and the insurer pays whatever is the approved amount of budget. The insurer is hands-off after that and does not guarantee completion to your satisfaction.
3. You take the approved amount of money and do it yourself. The insurer does not guarantee the work.

All of my friends and I picked #1. Because, well, who wants no guarantee when you can have a guarantee? What I learned about it is this: It’s such terrible pulling teeth to get the work done property that more than half of the people I know stopped pushing and just took a sum to switch to #2.

Now, are all contractors like this? No. There are skilled workers, and there are conscientious companies.

First, the skill. This restoration company I used had a “skilled guy.” Every time I had him booked, they had an excuse to send him somewhere else without notifying me as mentioned above. I met one of them at one point, and he did sound like he knew what he was talking about. He told me though that, no matter how much skills he had, he can only do so much within the budget that was submitted by another guy at that company. Also, the “skilled guy” defended many of the things I posted the photo about. So, skills are not the solution.

My personal conclusion is that if I hire a good, conscientious company, they will make sure the work is done right anyway.

My neighbour had a flood the next year, which was looked after by Phoenix Restoration. I fell in love with them right away. The guy who repaired my wall had a trainee. They were whispering to each other, but I eavesdropped as much as I could. The trainer was consistently talking about how to make sure the quality of the finished product is assured.
Then a supervisor showed up unannounced, basically looking like running an audit on the trainer. He was asking the trainee what he was taught, and asking the trainer what he taught, making doubly sure that it was emphasized that each little thing they do affects the quality of the final outcome. Phoenix admin office called me to make sure I was happy with everything, and they emailed me to let me know what happens next and when that’s expected to happen. I was never not in the know, and the workers showed up on time and left on time.

Oh ya, they left my place cleaner than the way they found it.

Do I know enough about the company to recommend them? Not at all. Will I use them next time even if they may not be on the preferred contractors’ list? YOU BET. Will I move my contract at the renewal to the insurer that has Phoenix on their preferred contractors’ list? Absolutely!
Like having Phoenix on their list is an advertisement in itself, and we, as consumers, have the obligation to reward this choice.

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