The home renovation industry is busy with work in Newfoundland and Labrador, but CBC Investigates went undercover and learned that not every contractor is operating on the same principle  offering different quotes, and differing methods of payment.

CBC News Investigates

With word-of-mouth recommendations, cash jobs, and horror stories about work not being completed, CBC Investigates found there are many homeowners in this province who are left with tales of renovation woe.

"The average person doesn't know," said Lori Walsh, a homeowner from downtown St. John's.

"Like, anybody could come in and say, 'This is what needs to be done, and this is how much it costs.' And we're all kind of like, 'OK, we believe you.'"

Homeowner Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh says she was given a five-year warranty when a contractor fixed her roof in 2011, but she is now having problems with leaks. (CBC)

In the spring of 2011, the roof of her home started leaking, so she hired a contractor to fix it. 

At the time, she was given a five-year warranty. But more than three years later, she's experiencing problems with it.

"Any time that [there's] very heavy rain, our roof leaks. So that's quite often around here," she said. 

"It's really nerve-wracking. I mean, I can hear the weather report, or driving home from work, and I'm like: 'Oh God, I'm going to come home and my roof is leaking.'"

Walsh pointed out some issues with her son's room.

Homeowner Lori Walsh

Homeowner Lori Walsh points to a hole that her husband pierced in their ceiling to let the water flow down from their leaky roof. (CBC)

"There was a big bubble up there [in the ceiling], but my husband decided to pierce the hole and let the water come out because we didn't want [it]

to spread all across the ceiling and have the ceiling cave in on him," she said.

"I mean, we'd be better off if, [three] years ago, I put a bucket underneath it. I'd be in the same place ... And I'd still have money. It's really, really disheartening."

Undercover boss

CBC Investigates went undercover to find out just how hard it is to find a good contractor to handle a home renovation.

Eight contractors were called, and were asked to put in a bid for a small job: frame out a room, lay a floor, and put in a door in a basement.

Hidden cameras were set up to capture their individual assessments of the work.

CBC Investigates found that the scope of the work and the pricing were all over the map.

"It's when you drill into the concrete, it's going to pop back out," said one contractor.

Another contractor said, "Oh yeah, we got the drills. It's just a matter of getting some concrete screws."

In terms of payment, one contractor said: "Cash is king," while a different contractor said: "When it's finished, you pay."

Expert assessment

Mike Lee, the former president of the provincial chapter of the Canadian Home Builders' Association and a retired contractor, and Victoria Belbin, the association's current CEO, made their own assessment of the work requested by CBC Investigates.

"It's an older house, and not everything is plumb level. So you have to take a little extra special time to measure it up," said Lee. 

Mike Lee and Victoria Belbin

Mike Lee, the former president of CHBA-NL, and CEO Victoria Belbin made their own assessment of the renovation work requested by CBC Investigates. (CBC)

"After measuring all the rooms or whatever we want done here, I'll go back and get the price list I have in my office and do up the calculation."

Lee and Belbin then had a look at the hidden footage of the contractors' bids.

"If I supply the materials, I get 50 per cent up front," said one contractor in the footage. "Like day one kind of thing, I get 50 per cent to cover materials."

"How does cash work, is that good for you?" asked a different contractor. "And you can just pay us at the end of the day."

'The pricing was a bit out of whack, as I would call it.' - Mike Lee

In the end, Lee and Belbin found a huge discrepancy in the prices provided by the contractors for the work.

Lee said his assessment came in at $2,750. CBC Investigates received contractor bids as high as $5,000, and as low as $1,500.

"The pricing was a bit out of whack, as I would call it," Lee said.

"The one person, with 50 per cent — that's a no-no, first of all. You should ask that person to leave and that's it. If you want a legitimate contractor, you're paying cash, you have no recourse, there's no warranties, no anything, and you go to court [with] no paper."

Belbin said there are inherent problems when you're getting ready to put down big money for a home renovation.

"It's an unregulated industry. And if it's not regulated, you as the consumer, you need to do your homework to make sure that you're going to be protected when you hire this person or this company," she said.

Seemed professional

When it came to finding a contractor to fix her roof, Lori Walsh thought she had done her homework. She said he seemed like a professional.

"He can certainly walk the walk, and talk the talk," she said.

Walsh said every time it rains, her roof leaks.

"Well basically, right now, I can't afford to get it fixed again until hopefully I get some money back from [the contractor]," she said.

 "I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable getting him back to fix it."

She's now trying to track down the shady contractor who left her soaking in sorrow and regret.

"He's really difficult to find," she said. 

"We did have a phone number for him — his cell phone number — and we left many messages, and then we didn't hear from him. And next thing, the phone number is out of service. He's also changed the name of the business since he did our roof."

CBC Investigates will bring you part two of this story — which includes the man behind Lori Walsh's roof woes — on Tuesday.