No Contract Equals Horror Story

Every project, no matter what size should have a . Obviously on very small jobs, a might be a 3 or 4 line description of the job. On other larger jobs it can be pages long with a description of the work to be performed, with product specification, including manufacturers and model number information. In addition there should be a section defining the owner’s responsibilities and the course of action to be taken in case of a disagreement, if the parties cannot work it out among themselves. Lastly the payment schedule should be outlined including allowable hold back amounts in the case of a disagreement.

This all sounds nice and neat and in some cases unnecessary, right? When you are doing a small job, for a friend, who needs all that, right? WRONG. All the more reason you need a contract. Let me share a story.

In November of 2011 I was contacted by a casual friend who had been through the loss of a business and bankruptcy and was renting a home for their family. They had an opportunity to buy a home and wanted some minor changes before they moved in, could I help them?

I thought sure why not, this is what I do. They sent me some pictures and a description of the work needed. They also told me they had a budget of about 3k. I thought it would be slightly more than that for what they wanted, but they were friends. I asked them to let me look at the house and I could give them a solid number. If it was a little over their budget we could work it out over a month or two.

The house was currently a rental house and the tenant wasn’t being very cooperative. They would see if we could get in again. I got into the house 2 days before closing and wrote an email to them describing the work and cost of $3500. They said they would give me $1700 to start and $1000 from their security deposit and they asked if we could work the rest out. I told them yes we could and when could I start? They wanted me to start the morning of closing. I was a little uncomfortable with that but we only had 10 days to rip out all the carpet, install new 4” base upstairs as well as installing crown molding in the entire upstairs and paint it all, have new carpet installed (their responsibility) and clean so they could move in.

They stopped in about 3 and announced they had not closed, it was rescheduled for tomorrow. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. We had ripped out all the carpet, base, and 2 sheets of drywall where we had found a leak, we also stripped wallpaper from 2 bathrooms upstairs. Not to worry they said; by the way could I install prefinished hardwood upstairs? Where upstairs I replied. The whole upstairs, 3 bedrooms and the hallway, the bathrooms could stay tile, and how much would it cost? I worked up the price and no sooner then had I given it to them they asked if I could put can lights in the kitchen ceiling? During the next few days they added a few more things and to make a long story short the total grew to $13,800. They had paid me the initial deposit of $1700 and then the $1000 payment, so the balance was $10,900.

We were finishing the painting as they were moving in, everything was completed. Honestly I was kind of proud I got it all done in such a short time period. I have an outstanding team. I gave them a few days to settle in before I sent a final bill. Two days later I had not heard anything, so I called, and left a message. Finally after another email a couple messages and a week had passed I finally received a call from them. We need to talk can we meet and talk about the bill. Not what I wanted to hear. Well another week passed and we sat down to talk.

The husband began to question some of the charges. This was the first he had seen the bill. Quite puzzled I told him I had sent it 2 weeks ago. He said “I never saw it”. We talked it through and he calmed down. He said he was more frustrated with the whole situation and not mad at me, good to hear. He went on to say they did not have the money to pay this bill and the best he could do was $600 a month. I told home that would take over a year; it was unacceptable. He said take it or leave it, that was the best they could do. Did I mention these were friends of mine?

I wrote it all out and got them to sign a document including interest. They made 3 payments and basically stopped. I am still fighting with them for my money, 15 months later. Honestly I will be surprised if I even get ½ of the original balance not including interest.

The moral of this story is never, ever, perform work without a detailed contract, no matter who it is.

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