Picking up the pieces — literally and figuratively — after another remodeler has left a project or been fired is one of the toughest jobs out there. First, you have to decide whether you want to take it on. Second, you have to decide how to bid it. Finally, you have to carefully handle customers who now expect the worst.

“The more work that's left to do, the more likely we'll take it,” says Sal Ferro, president of Alure Home Improvements, in East Meadow, N.Y. That may sound counterintuitive, but, as Ferro explains, “The homeowner expects you to take complete responsibility.” Though you may be completing the final stages of the remodel, how well was the work on the foundation or framing by the previous contractor done?

The other concern Ferro has is with the fallout that remains when the relationship between a homeowner and a contractor blows up. “There's bitterness and frustration,” he says. Sometimes the problem boils down to unrealistic homeowner expectations, he adds. “We try to avoid [taking jobs under] those circumstances.”

Sometimes homeowners will ask for a bid on an incomplete project although they have no intention of hiring your firm. For example, Arizona has a licensing agency that provides homeowners with reimbursement for substandard remodeling.

Legacy Custom Building & Remodeling doesn't deal with anyone who's getting a bid simply to file an application for that reimbursement, says Brian J. Shaurette, senior vice president and general manager, because it's a waste of time. He makes sure all calls about taking on incomplete projects come to him. He'll go out to the site on one out of 10 such calls, he says, to check quality of workmanship and whether permits were pulled. If he doesn't know the trades involved, he'll meet with them. The Scottsdale remodeler estimates that the company actually accepts one job out of 20 incomplete project leads.

DETAILED SCOPE OF WORK Once you decide to take on an unfinished project, writing the contract is the next challenge. After documenting the current status of the project and clarifying with the client what remains to be done, Legacy Custom Building & Remodeling spells out a detailed scope of work. Clients will say, “We just want you to button it up,” Shaurette says. “But as nice as they are, they'll be the first ones to say, ‘You should have known,'” if an unforeseen problem arises.

At Access Builders, in Latham, N.Y., owner David Barrows prefers a time-and-material approach, for two reasons. First, he says, because “when I do work, I have in my head how I'm going to do it and how it will look when I'm done. If I got fired, the next guy might have a different approach. Neither is wrong.” And second because there may be unexpected problems. Barrows remembers a basement remodel where the previous contractor had been fired. A wood bar that was to be fitted with a glass top had been built. A note had been left for the glass fabricator asking him to make adjustments for the frame. It turned out that the bar was out of square. Barrows couldn't believe that another remodeler could be so far off in the space of a few feet.

That kind of experience is why Capizzi Home Improvement, in Cotuit, Mass., only warrants what it actually installs, says president Tom Capizzi — and that's after a top-to-bottom inspection of the site. “But if we can do the work, we will,” he says.

Barrows says getting the work done right comes down to workmanship and timeliness, and “we're willing to stay late and work Saturday to do it.” Capizzi notes that these homeowners are “gun-shy and more suspicious than average. We build trust and rapport, which is part of what we do anyway.”

Diane Kittower is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Md.