28 December 2009

The Remodeling Blues

Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune

As a kitchen re-do drags on, washing pots and pans in the bathtub is getting very old.

Colleen and Darrell Brandt in the kitchen of their Golden Valley home Friday night. They still await countertops and a sink to complete their kitchen remodel. They opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room and had new cabinets installed in portion in the foreground. They use the bucket Colleen is leaning on to carry pots and pans to the bathroom for washing.

For lack of a kitchen sink, Darrell and Colleen Brandt wash their pots and pans in the bathtub. Sheets of cardboard and drywall serve as their countertop.

It's exactly the situation the Golden Valley couple were trying to avoid when they chose a contractor for their kitchen remodel. In September, they hired the Home Depot because they thought the home improvement giant would use only the best remodeling professionals.

"You hear all of the horror stories about contractors and you think that by going to Home Depot, you have the backing of a large corporation and the work will be done in a manner that is in keeping with professional standards," Darrell Brandt said.

Instead, they were frustrated by the quality of the carpentry by the company's independent contractors, and how their kitchen is still out of commission, at least five weeks after it should have been finished.

Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot, said the company agreed to make the changes Brandt requested, but those complaints delayed the project. He added that Home Depot, which is based in Atlanta, will always work to make sure a customer is completely satisfied.

"The reason customers choose the Home Depot is they know the Home Depot is going to stand behind the quality," he said. "It's complex work. It may seem simple, but anytime you're dealing with cabinets, countertops ... unexpected things can come up."

The Brandts already had to go out of town for Thanksgiving and scaled back their Christmas gathering after being told the job wouldn't be finished until January. After Whistleblower inquired about the situation, the Brandts got a call Thursday saying that the countertop and sink might be ready for Christmas.

This fall, the Brandts wanted to get their 1940s Tudor-style house ready to sell, so they decided to do a minor renovation of their kitchen. Darrell Brandt had mostly done his own remodeling at his house and other properties he owns, but he became ill last year so he couldn't tackle the job himself.

Right away they thought of Home Depot and its many remodeling classes. It seemed like the best place to go for a guarantee of good service, they said.

Holmes said Home Depot advertises its rigorous process for selecting third-party contractors, but he acknowledged that sometimes staff members don't explain to customers what that means. The company has completed 120,000 jobs in Minnesota during the past two years, including sunrooms and outdoor decks and the majority of customers do not have complaints, he said.

In 2007, the state Department of Labor and Industry received six complaints from Home Depot customers, mostly about quality issues and delays. The company resolved the complaints and the state logged only one complaint in 2008 and none in 2009.

The Brandts spent most of September scheduling appointments for measurements and design of the $3,400 project. They were confused about the cabinet delivery date: their contract said the cabinets would be installed by Oct. 30, but a store employee told them that more measurements were needed before they could be ordered.

Holmes said the kitchen remodeling completion date on the contract was incorrect. The cabinet shipments were delayed because of a fire at the factory, and Holmes said the manufacturer was supposed to notify customers.

The cabinets finally arrived and Darrell removed the sink so they could be installed the week before Thanksgiving. The installation didn't go as he'd planned. Nail holes were exposed, the trim on the cabinets wasn't secured properly and there was a gap between a cabinet and the dishwasher, Darrell said. His biggest concern was that the cabinet doors couldn't be opened all the way at the same time.

"It was going to be a problem," he said. "Over a period of time, the finish on that cabinet was going to wear off. I thought, 'This can't be their finished product.'"

Holmes said the cabinet doors aren't designed to be opened at the same time, but the company agreed to make the changes after Brandt complained.

The cabinets were completed last week, and now the Brandts are waiting to find out when they can wash their pots in the kitchen again.

"I'd love to think it would be the day before Christmas," Darrell Brandt said. "That would be a great present."

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