The $61,000 Gutter Repair Job

An Irish woman learned the hard way that not every contractor is trustworthy, regardless of how much he seems like a nice man. Luckily for her, it cost her nothing in the end except time and aggravation, and the story teaches us a valuable lesson about hiring an honest contractor or subcontractor, for gutters or otherwise.

It started out simply enough. The woman in question hired Stephen Coffey for some quick gutter repairs. Her gutters had a few holes in them and were starting to be a problem, so she paid Coffey…and then kept paying him. Coffey, unfortunately, had a gambling problem, realized this nice old lady trusted him to be honest, and kept telling the woman that he needed more money to finish the job. So she kept withdrawing and withdrawing until 43,000 euros—about $61,500—was missing from her life savings. Just for contrast, gutter repair jobs like Coffey’s are generally expected to pay about 1800 euros in Ireland, or about $2400.

Coffey, at least, finished the job…and gave her a gift of bath salts as a courtesy, which is really the least he could do for $61,000.

That’s not the end of the story: Coffey was found out, taken to court, and wound up paying back the full amount to the woman, plus about $25,000 in legal costs. He pled guilty to four counts of fraud, and apologized. That and repaying the full amount means our villain got a suspended sentence and our heroine has her money back, plus new gutters and some bath salts.

So what does this have to teach us about contracting and subcontracting?

Never take anyone’s word for it. Always get a second opinion, especially if the cost sounds high to you. And for any estimate, get a detailed reason for that estimate in writing: sometimes what should be a simple job will wind up costing more due to problems with your house the contractor simply couldn’t foresee.

Look for contractors who have a reputation for honesty and coming in on budget. Use resources such as Angie’s List and that old standby the Better Business Bureau to find praise and complaints. Ask your friends about contractors they used and liked, and contractors they didn’t. Ask contractors you’re considering hiring for references. Treat it like the expensive necessity it is: leave no stone unturned to find the absolute best.

If a job is starting to go over estimate, start asking questions and don’t take the contractor or subcontractor at their word: take a look at their work and see how far along they are. This is especially true if they come across damage or other problems that might have been hidden during the initial estimate.

If an elderly homeowner you know has a project in the works, try to make sure they’re being treated well by their contractor. Keep in mind that the elderly are often less cynical than the rest of us: the lady in our story, even after being taken for a chunk of her life savings, still thinks Stephen Coffey is a nice man. She even said so in court.

A contractor’s job is never easy, and dishonest contractors or subcontractors just make it worse. So, do them and yourself a favor; keep a sharp eye out for the honest ones, and stick with them. They need your business, and it keeps the Stephen Coffeys of the world out of business.