When the Contractor Won't Return Your Calls

Homeowner unsatisfied with driveway project asks an expert for advice.

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Question: I had a driveway put in last July. Unfortunately, during the winter, one of the slabs cracked. In March, I got in touch with the company that put in the driveway, and it promised to fix the slab in May. When May came, there was a death in the family, so the company said it would fix it in June. Come June, the company wouldn't even answer our phone calls. Is there any way we can get these people to fix our driveway?

Answer: First, concrete slabs will crack. That's the nature of a product that contains a lot of water, which eventually evaporates and at the same time is exposed to the changes in the weather.

Most general as well as private contractors receive a lot of their work from referrals. If you are pleased with the work and pricing, you tell your friends, who in turn tell their friends, and so on. I have heard that a satisfied client will tell 10 friends about a good job but a dissatisfied client will tell 100 people about a bad job.

There's no way of "making" the contractor return, even if you have a binding contract. It would take a court order or a lawsuit, which is too expensive and time-consuming. If you're not getting through on the phone, try using a friend's phone to contact the contractor. With caller ID, he may not be answering your calls.

Write a letter and let him know that if he is not willing to honor your written or verbal agreement, you will tell everybody you know just how dissatisfied you are. I have heard of people going to the lengths of placing a sign in their yards stating the contractor's name and the problems they are experiencing.

Be careful of the wording you use. An attorney friend once told me about a restaurant that served poor-quality food. If, upon leaving the restaurant, you told someone, "The food was lousy," you might have to prove that in court. However, if you told someone that "you did not like the food or the service," that is an opinion you don't have to prove.

If you want to avoid all of these problems, simply purchase a tube of clear silicone caulking to seal the cracks. Use rubber gloves when working with this sticky substance.

Apply the caulk and work it deep into the crack with a plastic spatula. Clean up the excess caulk with a dry, disposable cloth towel. Seal the caulking tube's opening with duct tape and store the unused caulk in a warm area of the home or garage.

If it gives you any comfort, most people who do not honor their word do not stay in business very long. Next time, get referrals from any contractor you use, and contact the local Better Business Bureau for information it might have on past complaints.

Also, contact the contractor's suppliers to make sure he is honest enough to pay his bills in a timely manner. If he does not pay his suppliers, you might find yourself financially responsible for the materials you have already paid for once. A supplier may be able to place a lien on your property and file papers for collection from you.

(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.)

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