Contractors are not created equal

Oct 21, 2021

Welcome to the Fearless Innovator Podcast, my name is Mechiel Kopaska and I am your host.

Today’s episode – Contractors are NOT created equally!

At the time I went to build my second home, I had never worked directly with a contractor nor had I any experience on the steps from the initial dirt work to the final inspection.  My first house was a cookie cutter, and I was not involved with the contractor only the Project Manager.  Essentially, the project manager just reviewed the progress with me and made sure my color selections were met. What I did have was common sense and logic.

The contractor I selected was based on a referral from a friend.  I met with him, and he could do all the work from the Design to Build to the Final inspection.  I met with one other contractor but wasn’t impressed with his work.  I chose the first guy, and I validated his license and he had pictures of his prior builds that I could review.  He did nice work!

During the Design phase – the only thing I told my Contractor on the design were these four things 1) 4 bedrooms with 3 baths. 2). the office needed to point towards the driveway – that way I could see who was coming down my driveway as I spend most of my day in my office, 3) I wanted a fireplace 4). I wanted a pool, but I wanted to manage the pool construction.  After all, I can use my project management skills anywhere!  I was not going to be picky about walls, closet sizes or where or how many electrical outlets there needed to be because I was going to build this house and flip it and cash in!

Build phase – My first onsite meeting with the contractor was to review the placement of the house.  We discovered that I wanted my house to face the west, but he informed me that I would have to file a variance because all houses in this area had to face towards the street or due north.  This would cause a minor delay, but he thought it would be approved.  The second thing I let him know that there was an existing septic tank in the front yard and to please be sure to rope that area off so that I knew no one would drive over it and break it.  Within a few weeks, I came home from work and noticed that the dirt work had begun, and something didn’t feel right so I walked over to the project with my flashlight in hand and noticed a big gaping hole in the front yard.  Yup! Day 1 – the front-end loader fell in the shitter!

I called my contractor and asked him if anyone from the project site called with any issues today and he said “no”.  I said that’s funny because the front-end loader fell through the shitter.  He said, no, that did not happen.  I said Well, I can clearly see the front-end loader tire tracks and it matches the tread on the front-end loader sitting on my property and if you’d like for me to grab some of this poo and put it in a Ziplock baggie and deliver it to you, I’ll gladly do that!  Then he said, ok, I believe you.  Then I said and perhaps now you understand the value in marking the shitter off, like I requested?  This project lasted 2 years and he did not replace that shitter lid until the end of the project – keep in mind it was an active tank!  But wait there’s more!

I happened to walk by the fireplace after it was installed and I saw the product number on it, so I took that number and compared it to the number I had personally selected in the store.  Yup, you guessed it!  This was NOT the fireplace I picked out?  Again, went back to the contractor and stated my findings, he had nothing to say!  Why did he do it?  He did it because the one he purchased for the job was cheaper than the one I had picked out.  But here’s the catch – he gave me a budget and I stayed within my budget when I selected it.  It was too late to uninstall the fireplace although I could have made him rip it out instead, I had him place the leftover money back into my budget.

Then the electrician pulled me aside one day and said, he your “super” isn’t doing you any favors.  I said, how so?  He took me into the master bath and showed me that the jetted tub I had picked out needed a 220 wire, but the super had only supplied a 110 wire.  He then said the 220 wire is, so the heater works but the jets still worked.  So, I said the contractor is banking on the fact that I “won’t figure it out, right?”  He said yes, but don’t get me in trouble.  I said, Oh I won’t get you in trouble.  So, the next time the contractor was onsite I asked him if he could show me how the jetted tub works.  He said sure and proceeded to show me.  Then he said, so if the water gets too cool, you just turn the hot water back on.   I said, OH, OK!  Now he’s lying to me.

Now if you’ve ever owned a jetted tub with a heater there’s no button for the heater, just the button for the jets so you really don’t even know there’s a heater on there. The heater just works automatically.  I clearly played dumb!

There were numerous issues on this project including him hiding another $5k inside the budget.  Towards the end, I’d had enough, and I fired him!  He never finished the mantel over the fireplace and odds and ends around the kitchen.  It was nothing I couldn’t handle.

This next story is one for the record books and I pray you never fall victim to this type of cowardice thief.

I had a short-term rental in the Gatlinburg, TN area in 2016.  On Nov 28th that year there was a huge fire killing 14 people, injuring 190 more and burned 2460 structures including cabins and burned 17,136 acres. I was one of the fortunate ones and my cabin escaped the fire.  However, my friend Darleen and her husband were not so fortunate.  Her husband barely made it out of their cabin before it succumbed to the fire.  Everything was gone!  The heat was so hot it melted the Skyline metal braces used to hold up the Skyline ride in Gatlinburg.  Just the mere impact of losing their vacation home was enough to devastate anyone but they were thankful they were not hurt.  After considering the tax ramifications of not rebuilding versus rebuilding, they decided to rebuild.  Much research was done into log cabin companies and a log cabin company was selected.  They also spent the time and effort to custom design and tweak the cabin package to be exactly what they wanted for overnight rental purposes as well as a retirement home.  When it came time to select a builder, they used the very high recommendation of the log cabin manufacturer who assured them their recommended contractor was reputable and decided to enter into a contract with that builder.  Because the log cabin company assured them, they the contractor had been vetted, my friends did little research of their own.

During the time they were meeting with the contractor and doing various other tasks associated with the destruction of their original cabin, they needed a place to stay so I offered my cabin to them several times as they lived 5 hours away.  I was thankful they stayed there it was a win-win for both of us.  I was in fear that if no one was going to be vacationing in the area that my cabin could be vandalized but if someone was in the cabin then it wouldn’t look as appealing to a looter.

Everything seemed to be ok in the beginning and the log cabin package was purchased and initial checks were issued to the contractor.  They even met with the contractors’ granite supplier to select counter tops, tile flooring, etc.  The idea was to build rapidly and get the cabin on the market before others so that rentals would build up nicely.  (In Gatlinburg, people tend to rent the same cabins over and over if they like them so getting back to market early seemed the smart thing to do.)

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before things began to go south.  Very little was being accomplished and they began to feel they were getting the run-around, so they started doing a lot of research of their own.

What they found was the heart-breaking truth that this contractor was a complete sham and con man.  Once they began to reach out to others, they found he regularly took money from people and either never did the work or hired someone so bad and cheap the work was very shoddy and had to be ripped out and done over.  On jobs that were priced at materials +, he would often use the same invoices on more than one job.  He moved from state to state to stay ahead of those he stole from and concocted the most elaborate lies to cover it all.

In their case, he had paid a sub-contractor to clear the property of the debris and had the septic system inspected but completed absolutely nothing else and yet had collected into six figures.   In the end it was discovered, he didn’t get permits for the work that was done and even the lot clearing had to be done again as it wasn’t done correctly.

Further the TN contractor’s license he presented didn’t even belong to him.  It was another individual with the same name in the company name.  He altered the license to appear it was just his name.  This was discovered when they double-checked what he had presented to them.

In the long rung after $20+k in attorney bills, a court judgement was obtained.  Since the transaction was clearly of a fraudulent nature, the damages were tripled, and they obtain a judgement for three times the amount of money he stole from them.  However, since he IS a con man, he has perfected ways of hiding any assets he has and as of today they have been unable to collect anything.

One thing they learned, and they now apply to EVERYTHING…. Never trust the recommendation of someone you trust… DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!

Thank you for listening, I hope you were inspired, entertained or you learned something new!

My 3-month adventure in my RV is coming to close and I’ll be headed back to Florida soon and it sounds like the real estate marketing is starting to turn.  I’ve found some cash flowing opportunities, when I seal the deal, I’ll be looking for partners to share in the rewards. If you want to know more about, reach out to me at or you can now listen to me on the Fearless Innovator Podcast.  I can be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify and YouTube!

Catch me later…