The builder on this home construction project goofed up and dug the hole for the slab too deep. This early mistake called into question his competence to see the project through successfully. (Lynn Adams)

This is a special column about trust. It was inspired by no fewer than three emails and a phone call from visitors to my website,, and readers of this syndicated column.

A reader named Lynn, who is building a new home in Santa Fe, N.M., wonders if the building will become her dream home or a hellish nightmare. The trust she placed in her builder dissolved in a matter of moments on the first day of the job when the excavator dug the hole for her slab too deep.

The issue with digging a hole too deep is you then have to fill it back in. Adding soil and getting it to the correct compaction level is not as easy as it sounds. What’s more, this is such a basic mistake that one wonders what might happen when more difficult tasks face the builder and his subcontractors.

“We worked all our lives for this house,” she told me.

Can you imagine being in this situation? When you have hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging in the balance and not much time to play catch-up baseball, it has to be exceedingly stressful.

Dorina and her ailing husband love to sit outdoors in the fresh air at their Pennsylvania home. They hired a contractor to install a new septic tank. Once he completed the work, the odor outdoors was unbearable. They no longer could invite friends over to spend time sitting on the patio.

The contractor promised he’d provide paperwork about the new installation so when it came time to sell their home, they could prove the tank was the right size and all work was done correctly. Dorina is still waiting for the paperwork.

Lee just contacted me overnight from Baltimore. He had hired a contractor to install a stunning marble floor in a bathroom. The contractor installed a cracked piece of marble, and when Lee requested it be replaced, they got into an argument.

The contractor finally relented, took out a hammer and shattered the cracked tile. But in the process he cracked adjacent pieces of marble. I could go on, but that’s all you need to know about this situation.

Because of my syndicated column and website, I’m in a unique position to collect contractor/homeowner horror stories. Unfortunately, I’m observing a disturbing trend: More and more people are losing vast sums of money because they trusted the job would get done right. The homeowners hoped everything would work out okay.

It’s time for some tough love, and I beg that you consider what I’m about to share. As with many parts of life, the great things just don’t come to you. You generally have to work for them. You have to put in the time. You have to put in effort to get the reward.

The same is true when it comes to hiring a contractor. I want you to stop trusting that a contractor will do what he says he’ll do. I want you never to hope that your job is going to turn out right. Hope is the emotion of last resort. You hope for things when you can’t control the outcome.

You can control the outcome of your construction project. Lynn, Dorina and Lee all could have selected contractors who would have put a smile on their faces each day when they reviewed the work.

Here’s a thumbnail description of a contractor who may be shady or unethical:

• He waffles about putting things in writing in the contract.

• He asks for lots of money up front even though he doesn’t pay his workers, suppliers or anyone else in advance.

• He plays the scarcity card with an offer that’s only good if you sign now.

Here’s how to spot an ethical and professional contractor:

• He gladly puts every aspect of the work in writing because he wants you to know what you’re getting.

• He asks for money up front only if he needs to order special-order nonreturnable items. He’s got good credit, and he has plenty of money in his business account to float your job for weeks at a time.

• He doesn’t pressure you to sign a contract because he usually has a backlog of work for months.

Remember a moment ago when I said that you need to invest time to get what you want? Here’s what I was talking about. For starters, you need to create your own description or specifications for the work before you invite a contractor to your home. You need to know what items you’re going to have installed. Then you need to read the written installation instructions so you know exactly how the job needs to be done to preserve the warranty.

You need to write down all the items you want used, including the manufacturer and model number. Why? This prevents a contractor coming to you after the job has started with his sob story that he had no idea it was going to take so much time to do something. Too bad, so sad. It was his job to read your simple job description.

Trust needs to be earned. The contractor needs to prove to you that he can be trusted. What’s the old saying? Actions speak louder than words.

Don’t be lulled by a slick contractor’s Jedi mind tricks. Be brave — and do your due diligence before your doorbell rings!

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