Years ago a then-friend and practicing architect visiting my apartment suggested that he could redesign it so it would look so great it would belong in a magazine. We had been friends for years. I knew about big projects he’d done. He said that he would find me a great contractor. He cofounded a company called thesweeten.com, through which we worked.
Instead they delivered poor quality work with an incompetent contractor who went over budget (by more than double) and over time (by more than five times) and they disappeared from managing the project in the middle.
The sweeten.com created one of the worst problems in my life because I can’t fix it without making things worse again. Every day I have to live with poor quality, unfinished work in my apartment. Fixing it would cost a lot more and would disrupt my life. I have to live with the poor results of trusting a friend and his company.
Luckily my family, especially my step-father, who is great with contracting work, helped a lot, as did my sister and her family, who generously let me stay in their guest bedroom as the project went on for months over time. In fact, most of the work that looks good and feels durable was due to my step-father’s work after firing the incompetent contractor.
Back to the beginning…
I had never renovated my apartment. I wouldn’t have thought about it except that he suggested it. I couldn’t afford it at the time. I took a long time to budget enough, but I did. My friend told me about his great projects. I told him what I could afford. He said it would be tight but doable.
We spent a long time working on the design. Eventually we settled on one.
We planned to start almost exactly two years ago. He introduced me to the contractor, a friendly guy. We all knew the budget. He said it could possibly happen in a month if everything went perfectly.
The day work was supposed to start, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the contractor called to say he couldn’t work that day because “It’s a party weekend and some of his men couldn’t make it.” Knowing what I know now, I should have immediately stopped working with someone who can’t start a job for alcohol (or more) on a family holiday. But I had already moved nearly everything I had into storage, arranged to stay with my sister in Queens, negotiated at length with my co-op board and building management company on a time window I could have the work done, and so on.
Most importantly, my friend had vouched for the contractor. He had me work through his company, which I thought would mean he would care about it. He recommended him and said he would handle managing him. I couldn’t believe my friend would recommend someone incompetent, nor that he would stop helping me when I most needed the help he assured me he would give.
Five months later the project wasn’t finished. The contractor was doing about a day’s worth of work in two week’s time and was underestimating the amount of work left and time to do it. My step-father had stepped in to manage the relationship my friend and thesweeten.com had abdicated their roles on. My step-father spoke reasonably and knowledgeable, and pointed out the flaws in the contractor’s claims. After giving the contractor every benefit of countless doubts, I switched contractors—a difficult process with my co-op that I knew would enable the old contractor to absolve himself of responsibility of fixing his sub-standard work and would incur new switching costs.
For the design and materials, as poor as they are, I don’t blame my then-friend. I agreed to those things. I would never by such cheap stuff again, but I agreed to them. I loved my old floor and am disappointed by the new one, but I agreed to it, even though he said it would look beautiful. Most of the materials look cheap and don’t hold up well. Still, I agreed to them.
I don’t hold him responsible for the contractor’s behavior, despite that, on his word, I didn’t do what I always to on a five-figure project, which is to check references and insist on project management tools, like budgets, time lines, and so on. Without them, my contractor could pressure me to pay more by not working and I couldn’t counter that he wasn’t meeting a budget.
I don’t hold my then-friend responsible for overcharging me himself. He barely got any money out of it. He told me he wasn’t doing this for the money, but to help me as a friend. That’s what confuses me: how do you volunteer for a project if you aren’t going to care about it, or give up in the middle? What’s the point?
I hold my then-friend responsible for saying one thing and doing another. He said he would manage the process and the contractor. When the contractor went over budget, my friend, who agreed to work with my budget, started giving me excuses he never had before that I had to pay more. When the contractor stopped showing up, so did my friend. Why start a project or a company if you don’t plan on finishing? If I did something to prompt giving up, why not tell me what?
Most of all, he stopped participating. In fact, the last he contacted me was my birthday a year and a half ago, to say he would follow up soon. Since then, every few months I send a polite email reminding him. In fact, I emailed him about this post to give him a chance to comment on it.
He never came to see the finished apartment. Even though a different contractor finished it, what kind of craftsman doesn’t see his finished product?
Meanwhile, I have to live with floors that buckle in the summer, crooked tiles, crooked cabinets, shower fixtures that jiggle and fall apart, and so on. I can live with it all. I realize that a decent apartment with some shoddy installations is a great worst problem to have.
That’s the material side, and material things are only one part of life. Handling all those things are what I teach and coach—resilience, emotional awareness, etc.
My then-friend also undermined my concepts of friendship, trust, reliability, and so on. I guess if that’s the way things are, I had to find out.
He acted in a way that I still don’t understand. Thesweeten.com was out to make a buck. The contractor was out to make a buck. He wanted to make more money and spend less, so he charged me more and sent incompetent workers when he sent anyone at all.
But my friend didn’t make any money. He claimed to want to help me. He just told me I could rely on him, helped for part of the project, and then disappeared. I can’t conclude he’s a fraud or anything criminal. Why has he not followed up since his last contact, saying he would? As best I can tell, he doesn’t care about integrity, at least not with me, and lacks compassion for people he said could depend on him. It doesn’t add up, though, because of the other projects he succeeded at.
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