Canadian Contractor


A Calgary renovator’s “customer from hell”

"He constantly cited obscure portions of the building code," in 650 emails, says Murray Bell, Thor Developments

A while back, we asked contractors to send us their “customer from hell” stories. This one, below, has just come in from Murray Bell, Thor Developments, Calgary.

We just met Murray at our Canadian Contractor RenoFocus event, here in Toronto. Thanks for attending our event, Murray. And thanks for your cautionary tale, below. We have no idea how you didn’t explode on this customer.


I should have recognized the signs. The client was interviewing 17 contractors, and had pages of requirements and specifications. But the project was worth close to a quarter of a million dollars. These jobs don’t come along every day.

After weeks of working on the quotation, and many updates, I was awarded the job. The daily emails started the day we started demolition. In total, there were over 650 emails over the time spent on the job. Each email had 20 or 30 lines, so that is at least 13,000 comments. He constantly cited obscure portions of the building code, which I complied immediately, at my cost. A micro manager of an epic proportion. One day in exasperation, I asked him: ‘Why did you hire me when you seem to think you know more than me?’ He had no answer.

If the work we were doing could be made more complicated, it was. There were at least 20 colours of paint; each room was different. There were over 80 change orders. Each change order was questioned. At a meeting that went on for over three hours, at about 10 pm we were arguing over 50 cents. I lost my patience, and said each upcoming change order would now be a ‘Yes or No’ proposition. He continued to challenge every change order. There were detailed photos, and lists of materials. One change order I reviewed in detail was not accurate but the total was 57 cents over.

He dropped by the site every day for hours. One day he challenged the electrician about how he was installing a light. The large tatooed tradesman came close to blows. I shook his hand.

In the middle of the project I had a surgery that went very wrong, and would up in ICU fighting for my life. His e-mails slowed somewhat, but the site visits increased. At this point, I had snapped. I said to him if he showed up during working hours, we would pack up and not return. He did not come on site during the day after that.

Then the final list came through. It was 20 or more pages. I spent a month doing deficiencies, but nothing was good enough. He had tagged the painting: one door casing had 12 pieces of tape on it. Some of the ‘defects’ were dust.

Then at the time of the last payment, he deducted hundreds of dollars for ‘defects.’

There are three major groups of difficult clients: Lunatics, crooks who will pay as little as they can get away with, and just plain dummies.

He was two out of three.


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