Contractor’s Contractions

If you’ve ever tried to renovate during an insane housing boom, you know exactly what we’ve been going through for the past year.  But if you’re blissfully unfamiliar with that situation, I’m here to tell you that contractors use a special language full of shorthand and contractions; and after a year of tearing my hair out I’ve finally learned to interpret the local dialect.

Here are some common phrases and their translations:

“I’ll be your project manager and take care of everything.”:  “I’ll collect $1500 per month from you and ignore your job entirely unless you call and nag me every day.  If I do actually get involved, it will be to obstruct progress by telling all the trades that I’m the sole point of contact and then dropping off the face of the earth.”

“You can have anything you want…”:  “…as long as it’s one of our three substandard stock items.”

“We can have that in for you by Friday…”:  “…two months from now.”

“Yep, we can do that no problem.”:  “We’ve been promising that we can do it for the past three months; but now that it’s time for us to actually show up and do the work, we can’t do it after all.  You’ll have to find somebody else and sit on their waiting list for another three months.”

“That’s impossible.”:  “That’s not the cheap-ass way we want to do it.”

“This is prepped all wrong.  Whoever did it was an idiot*.”:  “I’m going to charge you extra.”
*Any trade not currently on site will be blamed for shoddy workmanship regardless of the actual quality of the work.

“I’ll drop by and do an estimate and get right back to you…”:  “…when hell freezes over.”

“I’ll be there Tuesday at nine AM…”:  “…or maybe noon.  Or maybe sometime Wednesday.  Or I might not come at all; but the one thing you can count on is that I won’t call to tell you.”

“I’ve just got a couple of days left on my current job and then you’re next in line…”:  “…after I take the money from my last job and go on a three-week bender, and then do ‘a quick job for a friend’ that takes another two months.  But right after that, you’re next… ish.”

“I have to leave for another job, but don’t worry; you can get anybody to finish these last couple of details for you.”:  “I’ve made a fundamental mistake in my work and I can’t finish unless I tear it out and redo it.  And that ain’t happenin’, so sayonara, suckahs!”

“I’ll charge hourly.”:  “I’ll hide in my truck talking on my cell phone for hours at a time and hope you won’t notice when I bill you for it.”

“I know that’s what the building code requires, but as long as you don’t get a permit or an inspection we can do it my way for a lot cheaper.”:  This means exactly what you think it means:  RUN AWAY!

Unfortunately, being able to translate these phrases accomplishes nothing except to adjust my expectations far below what I would normally consider sub-par.  And even my adjusted expectations are turning out to be wildly optimistic.

So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be the bald chick in the corner muttering profanities to empty air and yanking on my last two remaining hairs.

But at least I speak the language now.


P.S.  I learned these phrases the hard way this year but, to be fair, we’ve also had some excellent tradesmen who were professional and reliable.  But after two separate miscreants bailed on us this week after promising us the world for months, I was just a leetle cranky.  I’m all better now.  Ish…

41 thoughts on “Contractor’s Contractions

  1. I work in a contractor-oriented lumberyard and everything you have said here is absolutely true! I cringe when the homeowners come in looking for a contractor. The good ones are booked for at least a year in advance so if someone is available immediately it is usually a red flag warning. Tomorrow always means some definite time in the distant future, usually a different season at least. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the general public as it is a great public service.


    • Thanks, Jono. Unfortunately forewarned isn’t much help when the outcome is more or less predetermined; but at least a bit of advance notice might give people a chance to stock up on alcoholic beverages before taking on a renovation project.


  2. Yikes – we never had any problems when we built our house. It was pretty much right on schedule, no major problems. Except for the skunk that fell into the basement the night after it was poured. I’m still not sure how the contractor got it out – I didn’t really want to know. But there was definitely not a housing boom at that time. I feel bad for you! But … blog post. Right? RIGHT???

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A contractor is someone who digs a large hole in your yard and then disappears for weeks and months. Building a house is an experience I won’t repeat. Not sure about my daughter and her husband. It wasn’t as bad as mine I think but they too have stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it seemed like such a good idea at the time, but I think we’ve learned our lesson. I guess the good news is that our next move will be either to an old folks home or a graveyard – we won’t need to do this again. (At least I hope not – maybe I shouldn’t tempt Fate with statements like that.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Remember, if your contractor doesn’t show for seven years, you can have him declared legally dead. That saves you having to make the ‘completion’ payment, and it also saves you the trouble of having to arrange for his, er, let’s call it pre-need funeral arrangements yourself. Minimizes the downside somewhat. And by that time, you’ve already done the work yourself anyway.

        And even if he’s not actually dead, *that* means he is required by law for the rest of his life to wear a sign at all times that says, “I AM UNDEAD.” That’s almost worth the price of admission right there. 🙂


        • “Pre-need funeral arrangements” – bahahaha!!! There’s a promising career out there for you as a euphemism generator… oh, wait, you’re a writer. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. 😉

          I love the idea of making him wear an “I AM UNDEAD” sign… but I think “I AM DEAD FROM THE NECK UP” might be more apropos.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I can feel your pain…..there is such a housing boom going on, I’m afraid it’s going to be to be like this for awhile! I’d be in a corner muttering…I have zero patience for that….keep tough and hang in there!!


  5. Oh my goodness Diane that is enough to make me freakin crazy! We built one house and that was in our 20s. Everything went fairly well but we swore once was more than enough. Hoping your world settles soon and the job will be complete.


  6. We’re having a bathroom redone at the moment. Our of hope of getting it completed in October just got moved to somewhere around April. The best contractor we found was the one who promptly returned our call and said, “The earliest I could possible start is in May. I could put you on the waiting list.”


    • ARGH! That’s just revolting. And then the Building Authority wonders why people avoid permits and try to do it themselves even though they don’t know how. Ummm… maybe because I’d like to see it completed before I die of old age…?

      Liked by 1 person

      • So true. We had electrical work done at the house a few years ago and with the required trades that needed to be here and the delays due to inspections, the whole project was six months long. And here in California they wonder why we don’t build more houses.


        • SIX MONTHS! Yikes. The sad part is that if we had moved here five years ago we wouldn’t have needed a permit or an inspection or anything. Now we’re inundated with paperwork. Timing is everything…


  7. Then there’s, “Nope. That’s outside the scope of our contract. And no, you did NOT pay for that.”

    Translation: “Yeah, that’s in our contract. And you paid for it. We’re just not gonna do it.”

    And don’t forget, “Well, if THAT’S the way you feel about it, I guess you’ll just have to take us to court!”

    Translation: “Pack up the truck, Hank! You get all our stuff while I steal everything they got that’s not nailed down! We’ve milked this customer dry, and they’re on to us! Time to change our names again and clear out!”

    All the above is why I farm out practically nothing anymore. And all THAT is why we will NOT EVER build a house. Well, that and one of us (at least) wouldn’t survive the “Let’s design our dream home and then pick out the colors!” phase. I’ve mentioned that Thuh Missus and I are pretty much polar opposites, haven’t I? 🙂

    And twenty-one perthent! Thay, that doethn’t thuck at all! Dethpite all the thtuff that’th tranthpired. It almotht theemth like a conthpirathy thometimeth, doethn’t it?


    • Theriouthly, it doth! Latht Wednethday I’d put the entire day athide – no other commitmenth… and then I had to thpend 18 hourth rethtoring my webthite. Thomehow they alwayth know…

      And you’re right; it’s been HUGELY frustrating for us to have to depend on other people to do the work. Normally we do any minor renovations ourselves, but being unfamiliar with the local building codes and inspectors and having a giant scope of work was enough to make us think we should hire professionals. (Or maybe that’s “professionals” in ironic quotes.) Anyhow, it’s almost done. That’s what I keep telling myself…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sorry to hear you’ve had such a struggle. Must be so frustrating. Hopefully I won’t find out for myself: we’re about to having painting and wallpapering done in our townhome. New carpet too. Probably nothing like what you’re going through, but hopefully I won’t have to learn this new language!


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.