How To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Hiring A Bad Contractor

By Gary Massari 

One of the biggest pitfalls you can make is to hire a contractor without a check-off list.  If you fail to interview, prescreen, and check the contractor’s references, or set up the proper working relationship through the six critical documents needed to protect you and your investors when rehabbing, you could be facing serious problems.

I will share with you one of my most trying experiences when doing a rehab out of state in Atlanta, Georgia.  I hired a contractor on the recommendation of a new project manager without properly doing my research and homework. As a result, the job turned into a disaster with a 9 month time over-run.  This contractor under-bid all the other contractors we were interviewing, and we awarded them the job.  We put together a contract, scope of work, Insurance indemnification, and payment schedule.  Sounds good so far. Well, here is what happened.

The contractor kept asking for more money than what was on the agreed payment schedule, and after 3 months I had paid the contractor 80% of the entire budget with only 25% of the work done.  The contractor started falling behind with one excuse after another, claiming problem after problem. After each inspection, they would ask for more money to fix the new problems.  After I asked for all the paid receipts, the contractor ignored me.  They wouldn’t return my phone calls, or emails, I knew the contractor was going to skip out on the job with the money!

The contractor was gone with over $63,000 of rehab money with only 25% of the work done!  I was screwed!  So let’s go over the pitfalls so you don’t make these mistakes. All the signs were there. I should have known!

There are six critical documents you need to have the contractor sign immediately, before any payments are made:

  1. Independent Contractor Agreement (Make sure it is reviewed by an attorney.)
  2. Final Scope of Work (Line-item by line-item, with part numbers)
  3. Payment Schedule with 25% hold-back for last payment
  4. W-9 IRS Form
  5. Insurance Indemnification Form, with you as a loss payee, and Workers’ Compensation Insurance
  6. Final and Unconditional Lien Waiver

Let’s avoid pitfalls:

  1. All changes must be in writing and signed by both parties.
  2. Before any payments are made require copies of receipts.
  3. Make sure you have a Release-of-Lien signed before making the final payment.
  4. DO NOT get involved running errands for the contractor.
  5. If the contractor runs into problems and asks for more money, make them turn in change orders listing materials and labor.
  6. If the contractor takes on another job, and your project starts slowing down, make sure you put in a penalty on a per diem
  7. Make sure the contractor shows up daily to the job site.

Unfortunately, no matter how experienced you are, and how many rehabs you have done,  even a contractor you have been using can turn on you and make you and your project miserable.

Use the 6 critical documents I have listed, and make sure you use written Change Orders. Sign off on everything.

Hope this article helps you to avoid the pitfalls that can be very costly.

Gary Massari CEO of REI Fortunes,

Bruce Kellogg, Real Estate Consultant



By Reggie Brooks

A thorough inspection of the subject property will serve as a basis from which to begin the rehabilitation. Until you are experienced enough to perform this inspection yourself, it is wise to seek the services of a competent professional. Most contractors will give you a free estimate of repairs when they know they stand a chance of getting the job.

You may consider exercising your option to do the work yourself. In the beginning, it might be worth while to spend your time working on your properties, but as the number of properties you own increases, you’ll be better served to delegate your fix up work to some one else, while you focus on finding more deals. If you are going to do a fair amount of work on your properties, always keep in mind that if you’re not a plumber, electrician, roofer, carpenter or such, don’t try to tackle jobs that are beyond your skill level. Leave those jobs for the professionals.

Another word of caution. Many times you’ll find that a little cosmetic repair will bring a property back to life, thus saving you lots of money. It is important not to over-rehabilitate your project. If the property is in a low to moderate income neighborhood, the amount of money you spend on such items as flooring, plumbing fixtures, door hardware, etc. would probably be lower than that of a property in a high dollar neighborhood.

Do a little shopping around for the best prices on materials. While your local hardware store may fill your needs when it comes to small items, rarely can they compete with the large contractor warehouse type stores. If you are planning to do some or all the work yourself, I recommend that you purchase good quality tools. Much money is wasted on cheap tools that have to be re-purchased over and over again. If you’re performing a small job and have no desire to do your own contracting work, then it doesn’t matter as much.

Be aware that you can rent almost any tool you’ll ever need from an equipment rental yard. Look in the local telephone directory under “Rental”. While rehabbing the property, pay particular attention to the following:

  • Curb appeal: Exterior paint and landscaping are the first and the last thing a buyer or renter sees. Don’t skimp – make a good impression. More than likely they’ll drive by at different times of the day and night. Give them something pleasant to think about.
  • If you’re remodeling (moving interior walls around), try to create a design that will give the property an open feeling.
  • You may find it more cost effective to replace old, outdated kitchen cabinets with new ones. Look in your local phone directory for cabinetmakers and compare prices.
  • Consider using ceramic floor tile instead of sheet goods. It may be a little more expensive, but it will pay off in the long run.
  • Consider installing ceramic counter tops instead of the formica type. Not only are they more durable, they are also more attractive to potential renters or buyers.

When rehabbing, some of the areas to focus your attention are:

  • Foundation
  • Plumbing system
  • Electrical system
  • Roofing
  • Interior walls
  • Exterior walls
  • Landscaping


The two most common types of residential foundations are the concrete slab, and the raised foundation. Properties that are built on a concrete slab are secured by anchor bolts protruding from the concrete. Also, they have no crawl space to allow a person to get under the property.

The raised foundation is one where the property sits on top of a continuous concrete foundation that extends around the perimeter of the building. This type of foundation does have a crawlspace which allows a person to crawl under the property.  Some of the signs of possible foundation problems may include, but are not limited to:

  • Major cracks in exterior walls
  • Major cracks in interior walls
  • Doors and windows operating improperly
  • Floors not level

If the subject property shows signs of possible foundation trouble, and if the profit potential is great enough, have a foundation expert take a look at it before you make a commitment to purchase.

Plumbing Systems

Water flows to your property from the serving utility company through a water meter, usually located at the front property line. In very cold climates this meter may be located inside the house. The main shut-off valve to the property should be mounted above grade, and can usually be found near the front of the property on the same pipe as the outdoor faucet.

The pipes that carry water underground to the property are usually galvanized, copper, or plastic. The interior pipes are usually galvanized or copper. Since building codes vary by jurisdiction, check with your own local building department for current codes.

Water Heaters

A typical water heater is approximately 5 feet tall. At the top of the water heater are two pipes, one with a shut-off valve (the cold water inlet side). This is the valve that shuts off the hot water to all the fixtures in the property. The water pipes are usually connected to the water heater by flexible connectors.

A gas water heater has a vent at the top to allow heat and unburned gases to escape. It should be connect to a venting system which terminates at least a foot above the roof. At or near the top should be a temperature and pressure relief valve. The purpose of this TPRV is to prevent the buildup of excess heat and pressure. If it leaks, it can be replaced.

At the bottom is a valve that is used for draining the water heater. This too, as well as every other component previously discussed can be replaced if they prove to be defective. However, if the water heater is old, and looks like it may give you problems, it’s better to replace it now than to have to be bothered with it later.

Stall Showers And Bathtubs

Your property might have any combination of standard bathtub, shower over tub, shower enclosure, or stall shower. If the shower or tub has a glass enclosure, it must be tempered safety glass or approved plastic. The shower head, faucets, and spout should all be in good working condition. If not, they can all be replaced. Check and replace if necessary any worn grouting and caulking.


Make sure the toilet is secured properly to the floor. Check for leaks around the base. If it does leak, it’s probably as simple as a new wax ring that goes under the toilet. Flush the toilet and let it fill. If it keeps running, either the tank ball assembly or the flapper may need to be replaced, or the water level should be adjusted so that it shuts off before it reaches the top of the overflow. If the toilet is cracked either in the tank, the bowl, or at the base, or otherwise causing too many problems, replace it.


Turn the faucets on and off. They should operate smoothly. If they drip a little, replacing the seats and washers should take care of it. There should be two shut off valves under the sink, unless you have a wall-mounted faucet. The shutoff valves should operate smoothly. While you’re under the sink, check the drain lines and the trap for signs of leaking or rotting. If any of these items do not operate properly, they should be replaced.

Electrical Systems

Every circuit should have a standard circuit breaker or should at least be fused. Each room should have at least two electrical receptacles. The kitchen should have at least two receptacles that are on separate circuits. Replace all broken or cracked cover plates on light switches and wall receptacles. If possible, replace all pull-chain type fixtures with standard fixtures and wall switches. Don’t hesitate to seek the services of a professional whenever appropriate.


Only if it is necessary should you consider adding a new roof. If the ceilings show water damage and a close inspection reveals that the present roof is deteriorated beyond repair, then you should consider the possibility of adding a new roof.

Contact several reputable roofers in your area. They will usually give a free roofing inspection. Some roofers may charge a fee, then credit that fee toward the total cost of the roof if you hire them. Gather several estimates and do some comparison shopping in order to get the best deal.

Consider another option: if you do some inquiring at your local roofing supply house, you may find roofers who are between jobs, and will re-roof your property at a very reasonable rate. You might consider buying all the materials, and getting the contractor to supply the labor.

Interior Paint

Pearl White, Navajo White, and Antique White are the common colors used in residential properties. Using a shade of white paint in the interior will make the rooms feel larger. If you hired a painter, he would probably suggest that you use flat paint in every room except the kitchen and bathroom, where you would use a semi-gloss paint. Some investors use semi-gloss paint through their rentals, because it’s easier for a tenant to wash the walls.

Water-based paints are usually easier to work with, and they usually do a sufficient job. Consider using an oil-based paint in the kitchen, bathrooms, service porch, and on the trim. You’ll find that oil based paint is more durable than water-based paint.

Exterior Paint

The exterior of the property may need to be painted. Choose a color that will resist fading and will add to the “curb appeal” of the property. If you’re not sure about a color, drive up and down various streets and see what you like. More people are attracted to the lighter colors. Choose a complementing color for the trim, and consider painting the porch the same color.

Whether you do the job yourself or you get a professional painter to do the work, insist on a good quality job. Old paint should be scraped and sanded, and any holes should be filled before primer and paint.

Consider using the same color combination on all of your projects. This way you only have to keep one color combination in storage for any touch up that might be needed.


Landscaping the front of your property to give it “curb appeal” is essential for getting the most from your property whether you plan to rent or sell. If you’re planning to rent the property, the nicer you make the front of your property look, the better the tenant you’ll attract.

If the grass needs cutting, you can usually hire some of the neighborhood kids to clean it up. A schedule of watering and fertilizing should bring it back to life. If it’s necessary to get the yard looking good right away, then “sod” is your answer. Most gardeners and landscapers can do a neat job with sod, and the end result can be instant lawn.

Top off your landscape with some strategically placed shrubs and some pretty flowers. You’ll be surprised at what this can do for your properties curb appeal, and ultimately, your bottom line.

It is important to continue your education in creative real estate practices. The more you expose yourself to creative real estate principles and techniques, the more you’ll learn. The more you know, the better prepared you are to solve a seller’s problems. The more problems you solve, the richer you get.

I’ll see you at the top!

Reggie Brooks


Reggie Brooks, is an international speaker, author and educator, dedicated to inspiring others to achieve personal success through real estate investment. He is also the #1 Vacant, Abandoned & Distressed Property Specialist in North America.

Having risen above a life of poverty, he has achieved what many people consider to be impossible. He went from making $36,000 per year at the local telephone company, to making over $40,000 per month in his real estate business. Today, Reggie delivers his personal philosophies for success at major business venues and expositions throughout the United States. Reggie attributes his success to faith, dedication to success, and to the invaluable coaches he has had along the way.



Some Real Estate Lessons

By Bruce Kellogg


This is the story of the property in Fig. 1, which is a 3,800 square foot Victorian house that was built in 1898 ( i.e., age 120).  Some years ago, it was converted into five studios and three 1-bedroom apartment units. The purpose of this story is to illustrate many lessons that can be learned about rehab, “flipping”, and syndication.


The property was owned by a woman who lived outside the country, an “absentee owner”. She “milked” the property for the cash flow, allowing maintenance to be deferred, and keeping rents low to sustain a steady occupancy. The management company performed to her low standards.


Along Comes “Frank” (pseudonym)

Frank was a newly-minted “real estate entrepreneur”, who had recently completed training in “Apartment Rehab and Re-positioning” by a national trainer. Being a bright fellow and a smooth talker, Frank decided to form a syndication to raise the money needed.  He didn’t have any money of his own. (Actually, he was living with relatives!)

The Syndication

According to title records, Frank raised nearly $600,000 from six partners in a Limited-Liability Company (LLC) structure. He gave each partner a security interest in a deed-of-trust that was secondary to a private first loan of $465,000 from a group of dentists who owned “Novocaine LLC”. Frank didn’t care if his partners were “accredited” or not, as long as he got the money for the project.

The Purchase

An LLC, Frank’s investment vehicle, paid $775,000 for the property. (He thought he “stole” it since the per-unit cost was quite low in this particular market. Actually, counting the deferred-maintenance, Frank had overpaid!) With the loan from the dentists, Frank’s partners put in $310,000 plus closing costs. They had a little under $300,000 left for rehab and holding costs.

The “Rehab”


At first glance, the rehab was fairly thorough. New composition roof, laminate and vinyl floors, tile kitchens and showers, new kitchen cabinets and vanities, new vinyl windows, new stoves and refrigerators, new interior and exterior paint. Frank said he spent $200,000 on seven units. For some reason, one unit was not done. (Did Frank run out of money, and the partners said, “NO MORE”?)

On second glance, not so great. Three years on, the cheap/thin laminate floors are peeling. Frank replaced three gorgeous stained-glass windows with cheap imports. (Fig. 2 is one that survived.) The stoves and refrigerators are “discounted/blemished” with some of the blemishes obvious. (The national trainer probably taught Frank this “money-saver”.) The exterior was pressure washed before spraying on the cheap paint, but not scraped or caulked at openings, so it’s looking ragged now.

Selling the “Flip”

All of the tenants were either helped to vacate or offered a rehabilitated unit at about 40% more rent. (That’s how apartment “turnarounds” are done!)  Frank listed the apartments for sale for $1.5 million. There were a few showings, but only after the price was reduced below $1.4 million did it go under contract. Even then, two parties backed out based on discouraging inspection reports.

Frank hired a new broker who worked “high-end” homes rather than apartments, and Frank did not have the new broker give the prior inspection reports to the buyers (which is legally required). For some reason the final buyers were not made aware of: 1) low water pressure (old, clogged pipes), 2) inadequate electric service, 3) crumbling masonry foundation (not concrete), 4) termites, wood-eating beetles, 5) dry rot and fungus damage at kitchens and baths, 6) faulty exterior drainage system (basement floods in the rain). But the broker made a commission of over $50,000 on the $1.3+ million sale!


The Current Situation

The present owners are still using the same property manager as the overseas woman, the manager with the low standards. Recently, the owners decided to replace the masonry foundation with a concrete perimeter foundation. They hired a state-licensed contractor, who started work. However, probably to save time and money, neither the manager nor the licensed contractor obtained a permit for the new foundation. Someone, a neighbor probably, complained to Code Enforcement, who issued a “Stop Work Notice”. Fig. 3 shows the boarded-up foundation going into its third month.

Additionally, Code Enforcement has “red tagged” the unit that had not been rehabbed. It cannot be rented. Management has removed the range and refrigerator, indicating the unit has been abandoned for the time being.


  • Frank lost money.
  • Frank’s partners lost money
  • Frank has left town
  • The present owners are going to lose lots of $money
  • The contractor’s license is in jeopardy for not getting a permit
  • The owners will likely sue the manager, the contractor, and their broker
  • The broker and the property manager could face disciplinary action by the Bureau of Real Estate

Below is a List of Lessons. What can you add to it?

List of Lessons

  • Don’t try to flip a 120 year-old Victorian (unless that’s your specialty)!
  • Hire only top-quality property managers (and pay them well).
  • Invest only with experienced syndicators with a proven “track record” and plenty of “means” behind them.
  • Borrow only from “accredited” investors, or those who know you.
  • When buying at a discount, make sure it’s a genuine discount. Corollary: Don’t fall in love with the “opportunity”.
  • Rehab with quality materials and workmanship.
  • When buying or selling, use brokers or agents with the appropriate specialty.
  • Invest in all appropriate inspection reports when buying.
  • Obtain permits for all construction work/repairs where permits are required.


Bruce Kellogg

Bruce Kellogg has been a Realtor® and investor for 36 years. He has transacted about 800 properties in 12 California counties. These include 1-4 units, 5+ apartments, offices, mixed-use buildings, land, lots, mobile homes, cabins, and churches.

Mr. Kellogg is a contributor and copy editor for two national real estate wealth-building magazines: Realty411, and REI Wealth Mag.

He is available for listing, selling, consulting, mentoring, and partnering. Reach him at, or (408) 489-0131.


From Rehabbing Single Family Homes to Renovating a Hotel

Featuring Stacee Nelson

 Interview by Linda Pliagas

Throughout the years, I have met many people at our live events throughout the country. After a while, you begin to know some on a personal level and begin to follow their progress as an investor. When I met Stacee Nelson years ago, she was busy rehabbing a single family residence in Santa Barbara. The project was a major rehab and the property was stripped down to the bare bones. Nelson is not one to shy away from complicated deals. She takes on projects with certainty and confidence. It’s been interesting to follow Nelson through her progression from rehabbing single-family homes to her risk-taking efforts in purchasing water-front properties and an REO tape, and now even a hotel. We recently caught up with Nelson to discuss her entry into the hospitality market with her recent hotel acquisition in Texas.

How long have you been investing in real estate, in general?

I purchased my first condo when I was 22 and then didn’t invest in anything for a long time. When I was living in Germany I started going to real estate auctions at the courthouse. My friend was buying properties to renovate and hold. I tagged along. In 2011, living in Santa Barbara, I began my formal education in real estate investing and purchased my first flip house in May of 2012.

I know you started flipping properties and I even saw one of your projects in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago. What attracted you to the hotel niche?

The idea of renovating an empty building into a small boutique hotel was initially the idea of my business partner. At the time we were looking for alternative passive income opportunities as well as ways to create a positive impact on communities. An opportunity presented itself in the form of an empty 15,000 square foot building directly on the town square in Gonzales, Texas. The town was keen to redevelop their downtown which made for a win-win opportunity.

Was it easier to take on the challenge and expense of a hotel rehab after doing many single-family home deals?

Initially we thought it would be a comparable project, just larger in scope. What we learned was that renovating an empty building into a hotel with individual plumbing, HVAC, cable, etc. was far more complicated and costly than anticipated. Certainly having a background in single-family home renovations was crucial in the planning and budgeting, but we were surprised by the sheer volume of issues that arose during the construction phase. The next one will go much more smoothly as a result of the number of…lessons we learned!

Tell us about the hotel. Where and how did you find it?

My business partner has a long-time family friend living and investing in the town. He made the initial introductions to the town’s economic development council who were very interested in supporting business growth in the area. Their support was a critical factor in the decision to purchase in Gonzales, Texas. We toured numerous vacant buildings in the area until we found one large enough and with a perfect location directly on the town square.

How long did the rehab take? Did the entire property have to be worked on or only a section?

The rehab took over a year to complete. There was a number of delays in the project when our initial contractor was removed from the project. Critical in the process, and one of our important lessons from this project, was to have a project manager on site during the construction phase. The volume of issues was simply magnified by 100 versus a single family renovation. Our hands-on project manager made the difference in our ultimate success and project completion.

To provide an idea of the complexity of a project like this: the smoke and fire alarm systems had to be coordinated with the installation of electricity and plumbing (water sprinklers), the HVAC system required coordination in timing with the electrician, drywall installer (ceiling vents) and the roofer (where the systems are housed), the water coming into the building had to be separated between the hotel and the restaurant located on the ground floor, and the elevator turned into a complicated project all by itself.

What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this transaction?

Rather than give one, I’m going to provide a few lessons we learned from this project:

  • For large projects, invest in a project manager who is on-site and regularly reporting on progress
  • Have the contractor regularly send pictures and review before progress payments are made
  • Necessity of a detailed project plan and budget agreed, in writing, by the contractor. We thought we had sufficient detail in our initial project summary based on our housing rehab experience. What we learned is you can’t be too detailed oriented in the budget and planning phase. The more detailed the budget and contractor commitments are, the better. Include a split between labor and materials so it is very clear for both sides, especially when you choose materials. Have the contractor sign the agreements
  • Budget sufficiently for contingencies. The larger and more complex the project is, the greater the likelihood for additional unplanned expenses
  • Have an agreed process for change orders that includes approving changes and costs before the work is completed

How is the hotel performing now? What are your goals with the property?

The hotel looks fantastic. The reviews of the guests who have stayed there are overwhelmingly positive. While we positioned the boutique hotel to provide executive style accommodations for the local oil industry, the majority of our guests thus far are visiting Gonzales, Texas for the regional rodeo events, the hot here the first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired.

In addition to hotels and single-family homes, your company also invests in Marina and resort properties around the world. That sounds very exciting!

Yes! We looked at a variety of different passive income and commercial real estate opportunities and decided that marina and resort properties were an ideal opportunity: It is a relatively untapped market segment with a few big players and the rest mostly individual marina owners which means opportunity to add value to struggling owners; it combines real estate with business; it provides regular passive income; and marinas and resorts tend to be a happy place for people, thus our motto: Invest in something fun!

Stacee, I’ve personally seen your growth as an investor the past five years that we’ve known each other, and let me just say how proud I am of you! I know you left the corporate world years ago to become a full-time real estate investor. You made it happen! Can you share some inside tips for others who want to leave their corporate job and be their own boss through real estate?

The process of becoming an entrepreneur has been wonderful as well as challenging, and even scary at times. There are a number of factors which have been critical in getting me this far:

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to do and achieve and then give it your all. Be tenacious in your pursuit, have faith in yourself and your vision, and do not give up! It will be difficult at times, and it will all be worth it in the end.

  • Have a source of income and / or savings to get you through at least a year of living before you leave your job. In my experience, everything takes longer than expected in real estate. Plan for that.

  • Surround yourself with the people you want to be like. For me that was successful entrepreneurs, business leaders and real estate investors from whom I could learn and to whom I could add value.

  • Partner with other investors who have a similar outlook on how you want to do business. I rarely do a deal alone. Sharing the project profits is well worth it to have partners with whom to share ideas, issues, opportunities and to raise capital.

  • Get educated before jumping in. I went to countless seminars and trainings to understand not only various real estate investing strategies but also marketing, asset protection, running a business and personal development.

  • Have a mindset of helping others achieve their goals, and understand that helping others first invariably leads to you getting what it is you desire.

  • Consider that 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I work with a lot of private investors. Sometimes the cost of capital is very high for a particular project. If it’s the difference between doing a deal and not, I take the higher cost of capital with graciousness and gratitude and get the deal done. The next one will be easier.

  • Work with honor, fairness and gratitude. BE the person people want to do business with.

  • And perhaps my biggest lesson so far is to simply ask each day ‘what do I desire to have or be or contribute today?’ or ‘What do I want to create today?’, and then be ready and open to receiving it. Once I understood the critical part in the process was asking without answering the question and being open to receiving what I asked for, my business expanded in incredible ways.

  • Have fun!

What’s next for Stacee Nelson and her numerous realty companies?

Going forward I’m focused on three areas in real estate: acquiring marina and resort properties, purchasing REOs in bulk nationwide to fix and flip, and contributing to the development and expansion of the Cashflow Divas, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve their financial freedom goals through passive (and active) income investing and financial literacy.

Stacee Nelson

Stacee Nelson is a Fund Manager for Purple Rooster Holdings, LLC, a private equity fund that purchases distressed residential properties and notes. As a real estate investor, she has purchased and turned around multiple single family residences, residential and commercial notes, and hotels. She owns investment properties in several states and has successfully raised millions of dollars in private capital over the last few years.

In her current activities in real estate, Stacee advises and collaborates with other entrepreneurs and investors in optimizing cash flow, deal structuring, raising capital, and having multiple streams of income to support financial independence.