July 18, 2005

The timid householder.

If you hire someone to do some work around your house and they don't do it right, do you call them up and tell them about it and try to get them to come back and fix it, or do you just resolve never to hire them to do anything else for you? Assume the work left undone is the equivalent of $100 or less.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some excellent advice from people who know how this problem looks to the contractor who did the work.

UPDATE: Spurred on by help from the commenters, the timid householder did call the contractors and had a a completely pleasant conversation in which her view of what still needed to be done was never questioned. The needed work will be done next week.


The Mojician said...

You only pay them 1/2 to begin with and hold back the other 1/2 until you are satisfied with the work.

Meade said...

Right. And then you find someone else, check their references, and try again until you find integrity, competency, and value, at which point you reward the heck out of them. It's the American way.

Dirty Harry said...

I'd ask nicely once. If they show up and do it right, great. Some want a chance to do it right and are eager to redeem themselves.

After asking nice once, if they don't do anything, I'd let it go and find someone else. It's not worth the hassle. Besides, (s)he could be a lunatic.

My possibly provoking a lunatic limit is $250.00. Over that amount and I become the lunatic.

Troy said...

I'm not sure -- housekeeping here in SoCal is always less than a hundred -- cash only you understand.... Nudge, nudge...

Seriously (like the above wasn't) -- I'd ask once too, guage attitude, etc. or perhaps a smaller check than normal. If it was merely an oversight and they've apologized and it's relatively easy, then let it go.

So ivory tower profs get housekeepers? Just in case you get Bush's nomination Ann -- I hope there are no Zoe Baird issues in your closet. ;-)

Dirty Harry said...

I was assuming you'd already paid because whether to pay them or not wasn't the question.

If you haven't paid them, send them what they're owed minus the undisputed amount and a note clearly stating what needs to be done for them to get the rest.

Don't send half -- send them what they've earned. Don't let them question your motives for disputing the bill. That can just makes things uglier.

The half and half thing is fine when agreed to in advance.

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot goes into this equation. For some it is the hasslement factor. But others are just not that assertive.

My ex is super assertive, but has a large hasslement quotient. So, in the end, I will fight over lower amounts than she, even though not as assertive.

Another factor, akin to these, is how confident are you in your decision? Some, of course, have never had a doubt in their lives. And others can be overwhelmed when faced with opposition.

Ann Althouse said...

Don't assume it's housecleaning. There are lots of kinds of work around the house that might be done -- e.g., electrical work, plumbing, painting, roofing, gardening, tree cutting, carpentry, pest control, window washing, etc. etc.

My main concern is that I dislike telling someone they've done something wrong. I want to hire people who have high standards, not instruct them about my standards.

I assume that most businesses around here would want to be told and given a chance to meet the customer's standards and would hate to think you'd just never hire them again (and that you'd give them bad word of mouth).

Ann Althouse said...

As to housecleaning, I do my own, actually. I used to hire a service, but I quit using them because they didn't meet my standards. I never hired anyone else because I didn't want the suspense of seeing whether they did things right and the aggravation if they didn't. But don't worry: I was never anyone's employer. I always hired an independent contractor.

gs said...

Ann, assuming you're asking on your own behalf: If you were starting a career from a position of disadvantage (e.g., working a mundane day job while going to law school at night), I'd say you should be assertive and tough. However, you're established and don't have to prove anything. There's no need to sign up for Assertiveness Boot Camp--and no reason not to if you feel like it.

It's a completely different matter if feeling 'timid' holds one back from things one seriously wants.

I became more comfortable with my dislike of confrontations after I grokked that I do them if the issue is important.

Ann Althouse said...

As to not paying: I can't imagine withholding the payment. Too ugly!

GS: If it were a bigger thing, I'd go through the hassle, but I just don't like the unpleasantness. One pays good money for more serenity all the time.

Freeman Hunt said...

Assuming $100 or less: I would call (just in case it was a mistake on their part) and ask. If they argued at all, I would drop it and never hire them again.

Matthew said...

What you don't know is whether you have a good worker who just had a bad day, or if you have a bad worker. How you proceed from here depends on how much it's worth to you to know the answer.

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: I think you have it exactly right. Most of the work was in fact very well done.

Brendan said...

Well, if you were served a lousy (and expensive) meal in a good restaurant, you'd complain, no? Crappy service is crappy service. I guess this is a "time and place" dilemma. It sounds like you let them get away (or paid ahead of time) before you could inspect their work. Or maybe you didn't have the heart "not" to pay them. Speaking as a cold-hearted man, I don't have that hangup. :-)

PatCA said...

I never found a housekeeper up to my standards, either. They all eventually clean like me, haphazardly.

As to the present work, call up the worker and say, gee, I don't know what's going on, this and this is happening...that way, he won't feel threatened and will then say, oh, I know what that is. I'll be right over.

Worked for me when I had my kitchen electricity redone and he had to come back. IOW, don't set up an adversarial relationship right off the bat.

JohnG said...

Knowing some contractors personally and having represented a number of them in business matters, including disputes over performance and payment, I can tell you my experience has been that the vast majority of them care deeply about their craft and are willing to make extra effort to "make things right" with the homeowner. That's assuming, surely not the case here, that the HO hasn't been a b**ch the entire time they were on site.

I'd recommend that you call your contractor and tell him/her that, now that you've had a chance to look at the work, you've noticed that such and such is missing/incomplete or unfinished or rough edged or damaged or whatever. Ask them to stop by and look at the work/item and discuss it with you. When they arrive, you can bring up having it remedied.

Many, many small contractors look for repeat business and almost all look for referrals. Some even ask the HO to be a reference or if they could bring a prospective client by sometime to see their crafftsmanship first hand if the work done is significant enough.

Then, on the other hand, there are the turds who will never excell at anything except their own shortcomings. Not much you can do with them except avoid them, by asking friends/acquaintances for referrals. And consider lessons learned. Fortunately, yours may have "only" cost you a modest amount.

Best of luck.

Meade said...

A true independent contractor is not only a worker but an entrepreneur, the best of whom take pride in their work and view complaints as golden opportunities to meet a discriminating client's exceptionally high standards and garner positive word of mouth by meeting or exceeding those standards in a select market, e.g., well-paid professionals with disposable income who pay invoices on time and according to agreed upon terms.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, JohnG. I think these people would care about making it right, and part of me just doesn't want to trouble them. I kind of just don't want to hurt their feelings. In fact, chances are I'd still hire them again even if I never call and say there's something they got wrong. But I think I should test them by asking them to get to the things they missed. I often am asked for references for various types of workers and recommend people. I'd rather not have to say X was pretty good but they missed a couple things.

Beldar said...

If the person who did the substandard work is also the principal of the business you contracted with, then you're substantially less likely to get any satisfaction.

If not, though, you definitely should at least make a polite inquiry/complaint to the principal (or someone at a supervisory level).

Not directly on point, but: I defended a large homebuilder's consumer litigation for several years. It was almost never economical for that company to fight cases out in court; their margins were just too thin. So if their customers were dissatisfied and had any reasonable basis for that, they'd go to extraordinary lengths to satisfy that customer before any lawyers got involved -- including in some instances quietly buying the house back! We looked for one or two cases each year, though, where the company really had done nothing wrong, to take those to trial to preserve the company's reputation in its subdivisions for not being a pushover (even though it really was). In those cases, they'd gladly spend $50-$100k in out-of-pocket defense costs. I'm not suggesting that you sue or even threaten to sue, of course, but I just mention this by way of general explanation of how rational builders/contractors may perceive their relative costs for different options.

EddieP said...

Smart business people know that customers will tell ten people about their bad experiences, but maybe only one other person about the good ones. Their reputation, therefore their future business prospects are based on satisfied customers.

Call them and give them a chance to make it right. Think of it as a chance to help a business that you've already suggested you might hire again.

In the future, make certain that there is clear communication about your expectations, don't assume the other guy will know precisely what you want.

Tristram said...

I had a new (partial) roof put on an old addition to the house. THere was some minor leaking after an unusually hard down pour (something 2 inches in 2 hours, over 3 inches over a weekend). I still called the comapany, and they came out an fixed.

They weren't upset/surprised that there could be a problem, and I wasn't embarrassed about get my $4000 worth of work done right.

Of course, I was reasonable, and BEFORE the work was done, I made sure I understood the performance pledges. Thus, no-one felt like anything was sprung on them. It wasn't in the work contract, but small businesses do know about word of mouth, and often have pride in the quality of work compared to big organization.

Charles said...

I assume you checked them out with other customers or they are an established business already. If it would cause damage to the house, then a call to have it fixed right is in order. If they won't or argue, complain to the owner/manager, make it known to the references you checked, tell others, and never hire them again. If they fix it, that's fine. If it is comparatively minor like over painting on the glass of a window, I would probably just scrape it myself, assuming the rest was done well.

Bert said...

A "Statement of Work" is the magic document to ensure that things are done correctly. It is agreed to before commencement of the work and used to ensure "all" is done


SippicanCottage said...

It seems the comments are all good and helpful, but are all from the consumer side. Let me offer something from the contractor point of view:

If you're unhappy, and don't tell them, you're doing them a disservice.

In general, people who have unreasonable demands are never shy. Good contractors working for jerks finish the job to the bitter end, and refuse all further work from the customer. Bad contractors stiff everybody, good or bad.

Give them an opportunity to be a good contractor, and do what you required and expected, and if you're a reasonable person, they'll be glad you did, and fix it, and work for you again because you're happy, and they were glad for the opportunity to make you so.

If you're being a jerk, they'll fix it, smile, leave, memorize your phone number, and throw away their head.

jvg1249 said...

Congratulations. Hope the return visit of your contractor completely resolves the problem.

Make sure you ask him/her for his business card, or a couple of them, when the work is finished. Even if you don't pass them out to others, next time you need him/her it will be remembered.

Dam* I hate this him/her inclusiveness cr*p. A logical thought and the English language can go to Hell being twisted into unintelligible gibberish for the sake of PC complicity.

Don't know what I did differently, but I was JohnG above.