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Following the Signs

How do you respond when your integrity and patience are challenged?

Are you far enough along in life to have figured out that the best lessons are learned when convictions and integrity are tested?

If right and wrong could just be learned in the safe environment of the classroom, it would be so much simpler. True learning, however, occurs in the real world, often from the unexpected. Things that take us by surprise force our brains to react without a formulated plan or opinion. This kind of situation tests how strong you are. Hence the need to know beforehand what your personal convictions are, so when tested, good reasoning and integrity retain the upper hand.

A while back I went to review a potential job. It was a good day. I had just come from a job I was doing for a gracious and considerate older couple. The sun was shining, the iced coffee was perfect, and the tunes during the road trip were inspiring. Heck, I would venture to guess that even the stars were perfectly aligned that day.

I arrived at the exclusive neighborhood, with its exquisitely crafted houses and perfectly manicured lawns. Pulling up to my destination, I noticed that the matching twin Mercedes in the driveway had a little road grime on them. Careful not to get any of that grime on my jeans, I made my way to the front door. Answering my beckoning knock wasn’t the house servant, but the mistress of the manor herself. We exchanged greetings much like two dogs sniffing each other to determine where the other was from.

After dancing on the porch with our tails in the air, she invited me into her domain. Inside the home, everything had a place, and those “everythings” were neatly confined to their assigned prison cells. It didn’t come as a shock that she didn’t even try to make me feel comfortable. So, taking her cue, I returned the favor by keeping my shoes on. I figured a little dust from my common soles might add some flair to the pristine world she’d created within her walls.

Arriving at the prepared location of the dining table, she showed me the plans for the extensive, three-phase remodel they were planning. After perusing a few pages, I came to realize that the first two phases were already completed. I immediately asked her why the contractor who did the other work was not involved. She responded with, “The other two as****e contractors overcharged us, were irresponsible, unprofessional low-life scumbags who…” My mind started wandering off into a blur. All I could hear coming out of her mouth was a blah blah blah sound, much like the adult voice in a Charlie Brown movie.

Snapping me back to reality were footsteps clumping down the grand staircase. I looked up from my daze to see a middle-aged man in a white polo shirt and shorts carrying a tennis racket. The wife announced the entrance of her husband like she was the Sergeant of Arms announcing the President as he enters the House Chamber.

Uncertain how to greet such royalty, I stood from my perch and extended a hand for the proverbial shake of etiquette. Starting at my feet and ending at my head, he performed a slow visual examination. Ignoring both my extended hand and the window of my soul, he announced, “Well at least he showed up!”

My first impulse was to run—not walk—out of there. Instead, I refused to leave empty handed, especially after the dressing down I had just endured. So, I completed my walk-through, collected my consultation fee, and left with the promise of a proposal.

What I sent was tailored specifically to the situation. Not wanting to work for someone who clearly showed no respect for those in our profession, I calculated the most ridiculous price…and then doubled it. I also removed the terms and acceptance page, because, in the event hell froze over, and they were interested in my bid, I didn’t really want them to sign.

There was no follow-up, and three months passed without a response. Then, one day, we received a phone call: “Mr. Getts, we like your price, and would like to contract with your company.” How could anyone like that price (except me)? What did their previous “scumbag” contractors charge them?

Some contractors may have taken the work, regardless of the eccentricities of the client, because the money was so good. I elected not to, simply because I could not push aside the little voice which always reminds me to avoid situations in which integrity and common respect are so demonstrably abused.

We all have a different set of signs or convictions to follow. Being tested is the surest way of examining not only what you have learned and implemented into your life, but also who it is you have become.



David Getts has been an architectural woodworker since 1979. He started his career building one-of-a-kind furniture pieces while studying under famed furniture maker, Tage Frid. Not enjoying the starving artist scene, he moved on to building commercial cabinetry and designing high-rise architectural woodwork. Corporate downsizing left him without a job, so in 1991 he started his own company, David Getts Design. His work day involves remodeling houses in the Seattle area, designing beautiful woodwork, and writing for several trade magazines. In his spare time David enjoys hiking and watching cheesy “B” movies. For information about his company and work, visit his website at


41 Responses to “Following the Signs”

  1. Andy Engel

    Hear, hear, David!

    People who make their living building for others are not second class citizens. You handled an ugly situation with dignity and wisdom.

  2. Rob Johnson

    “So, taking her cue, I returned the favor by keeping my shoes on. I figured a little dust from my common soles might add some flair to the pristine world she’d created within her walls.”

    That made me laugh, so much so my Suzy had a read through. We both agree with Andy and think people who behave like that should learn some basic manners and people skills.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and know (sadly) you are not alone with this type of experience.


  3. JM

    You should take up authoring as a side business :). Very funny, but very good information!

  4. Willy

    David!!! You only doubled your estimate??? On the rare occasion when I run into that kind of jerk, I at least quadruple the estimate. Then I have a second set of Ts and Cs that leaves a customer owing me everything including the next five houses. The bottom line says “These Terms and Conditions are NOT negotiable.” That usually gets rid of the bozos and leaves me time to do top-notch work for the good folks that treat me well.

  5. Brice Burrell

    I think this would be a no win situation for any contractor to work for these people. However, my take after reading this article is a little different than the previous replies. I believe the author’s point isn’t that it’s okay to double your price if you don’t like the clients or being above working for people that are rude or indifferent. Instead, I think he’s saying it’s not right to take advantage of the situation and accept a contract that isn’t fair to the clients. Of course, I could be wrong….

  6. Brady

    David, thanks for a nice article and sharing what we all experience from time to time.

    I do have a concern about using a high bid to turn down work … it can come to haunt you down the road in more ways than one. People talk. While you wouldn’t want to work for these people (or their friends), they’re bound to mention to their neighbors and associates how “ridiculously overpriced” your bid was and that they got the same work done for a lot less. Add to this the web-based rating and referral sites and your “no thank you” bid can be viewed by a lot of people as you are an overpriced contractor.

    The alternative to this is to develop a couple of stock letters to decline projects — I continue to work on perfecting these letters, but in effect they say “Thank you for the opportunity to bid your project, but we don’t think there is a good fit between your project and our company. Over the years we have learned that chemistry is a big component in the overall success of a project …”

    Hopefully some of the better writers who read this forum can offer their better polished letters … but you get the gist.

    Thanks again for sharing what we all face too often — misery loves company!

  7. Greg Burnet

    What a wonderful lesson & reminder of how important it is to maintain one’s integrity, David.

    I’ll bet many of us have been in similar situations. But how many of us listened to the voice that often tries to forewarn us of impending danger (or jerks, in this case)? I can state firsthand that I’ve always regretted it when I’ve ignored those warnings. Hopefully your fine article will serve as a reminder to us all not to disregard them.

  8. Mike Hawkins

    Great story, we have all run into these type of customers. My work comes almost exclusively from referals, so most of my customers already know what to expect and are wonderful people. I have turned down jobs when I run into a customer like yours just by waiting a week and then before they call back, I call and tell them I have just taken on several large jobs and will be unable to do theirs at this time.
    Mike Hawkins

  9. Brian Earley

    Great David,
    I am in a neighborhood where these types are certainly in abundance , though working through mostly referals I have been blessed over 29 years to work for many great families. Brady makes a very good point though regarding the evergrowing on line “rating sites” and I have found the letter – or phone call – about compatibility and fit to be an effective and safe out in these situations.

  10. david

    I was hoping for a spark of interest in this story and from somewhat of a selfish motive…I just wanted to confirm I wasn’t the only one who suffered grief! I get a kick out of telling tales with my local contractor buddies. Everyone seems to have a story to tell, and unfortunately, many of those stories reveal how demeaning people can be towards our profession. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some wonderful people in my career. However, one thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how much time I have to spend educating and re-educating my customers about the simple fact that we are professionals. Just because we snap on a tool belt doesn’t mean we’re somehow beneath them (although I think my back slumps a bit more than it used to). I understand there is a natural order to things. Predators prey on the weak. So if you’re in this profession to make money, you can’t allow yourself to be preyed upon. One of the things that’s so great about this publication is that it’s a forum where we can teach each other how to survive.

    I understand Brady’s point on putting out an intentionally high bid, but I was operating on a hunch that they didn’t function in the real world anyway. I think I’m just getting more ornery the older I get. I kept things professional with Mr. & Mrs. Snob, but in here you guys are family, so you get to hear what was really going through my mind! Thanks for reading.

    • Gary Katz

      Thank YOU for your article. One of the things that’s so great about this publication is being able to publish articles like yours. Keep ’em coming. All of you!

  11. mack9110000

    I think maybe the attitude of Mr & Mrs snob has been a contributing factor to the fact, they could only get a….e,irresponsible,unprofessional,overcharging,scumbag contractors,interested in taking on their project.

  12. John Bunday

    Question? how many of you out there are charging for estimates/ consultation? To my knowledge, it’s not very common in central Michigan.
    A few client from H— warning signs. Inability to make decisions, demanding appointments at their beck and call, obsessed with how the building process will interrupt their life style, and of course, how much will you knock off the price if my brother inlaw and I help.

    • Ryan Bruzan

      Can you and your bro-n-law help? “No, sorry, my insurance does not cover you as an employee.” “If you think you can be both my customer and my laborer at the same time, sure, why not.” And upon their first attempt to answer a phone call or grab a snack, they soon realize they would rather pay the full price.

  13. big bob

    In this business, we still get to contract with whom we choose, and that is one of the great aspects of what we do. I’ve heard of worse stories than this on parts of Long of Long Island. Im sure it happens wherever there are those who behave in like fashion. I have and will turn down work from those who hold our profession in such disdain. Good for you.

  14. Tom

    It is a nice situation where you can turn down work with customers that are jerks (and there are lots of them out there – rich and not so rich). Unfortunately, we all aren’t in that place.

    I’ve found sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) working with these types customers can be personally rewarding. I’ve had snob customers act like this in the beginning but after they see the value I provide them and get to know me a little, we have had good relationships. I admit, this isn’t always the way it ends.

    About 30 years ago when just starting out, I was really upset with the way a particular customer was treating us. My boss at that time told me that this guy maybe wasn’t all that evil. He probably goes home at night to his wife and kids and loves them just like you do. For some reason, that has stuck with me and helped me work through these situations.

    I’m not disagreeing with turning away this particular customer. I wish I could do that more often. Some are out to not only make your life miserable but to drive you out of business. Regardless of your economic situation, those are the ones you must avoid.

  15. Stanley Jubas

    Being in the corporate world where appearance is everything. I would have replied with a letter stating you feel that there is a personality clash and you do not feel comfortable in accepting this job. I would be polite and wish them well in their search for a contractor.

    I sense a little resentment from dealing with persons who are extremely wealthy. I tend to agree with response no. 6 from Brady.

    • Morse

      It’s amazing. The author writes a wonderful, entertaining article about a real-life situation which he experienced, and half of the comments were from you brilliant, self-appointed experts told him how HE did it wrote, and how YOU would have done it right.

      {Edited by TiC to maintain positive and valuable exchanges on this forum}

  16. Dreamcatcher

    Although I understand the point you wanted to make with such a story, I can’t help but imagine that some other contractor, without your tactfulness, got screwed. I mean, they got the project done somehow right?

    But I think a great opportunity may have been overlooked; that is the opportunity to do a quality – highly professional – job for these people and force them to respect you… and the profession as a whole. I know that it is far too common for upper class white collar professionals to disrespect us middle class ‘grey collar’ professionals but it is true that many trades people are poor representatives of the whole. Everyone knows a shady contractor. Everyone knows a grubby carpenter who shows up to the job in cut-off jean shorts, a ripped Metallica t-shirt, cigarette in hand, and empty beer cans spilling from the cab of his rusty pickup truck. Everyone knows a hack.

    We are a soiled profession. But you aren’t going to change the minds of others by turning them down and allowing them to hire that hack. That only reinforces their false mentality that all contractors are sleazeballs. Maybe the last guy who worked for them was a sleazeball and they are harboring genuine (albeit undue) resentment as a result. All I am saying is that an opportunity to educate the ignorant was missed.

    And while I would never finish a project that someone else started without consulting the original contractor first, I would consider [cautiously] taking on this project, charging above my normal rate (risk tax), and showing these snoots what a professional carpenter looks like. You never know, they could turn out to be real generous people and keep you busy for life. Ever the optimist…DC.

  17. Joe the Builder

    Fun article, David.

    A few weeks ago, I drove about 60 miles to a house I had built for an architect friend back in the 90ies. He had sold it to the new city manager of this kitschy college town. Actually, the city provided the $2M house for him and his wife as a perk.

    At the meeting, they picked my brain for two hours until their designer showed up and there was a lot of back and forth between the three over various scenarios. Of course they wanted off-the-top-of-my-head pricing for each scenario, like, “what about a stainless steel and glass guardrail on the catwalk, about how much would that be?”

    Well between the drive, the three-hour meeting, and the anger at myself for being manipulated by them, I lost a whole day. I mailed them a consulting fee invoice totalling $275.

    After about two weeks, I got a letter from the woman that read “I have asked around and generally contractors don’t charge for consultations on projects they are being asked to bid on. We were suprised and offended by your invoice. You should have told us this was your particular policy beforehand.”

    This really hurt because she was right. I blew it by setting myself up to be burned. I came to realize that, although I am an extremely knowledgeable and skilled craftsman (although I didn’t train under the great Tage Freid, like Dave did!), I am still quite inept at managing my potential clients and setting limits. Its as if all my skill, 24 years of experience, and technical continuing education means nothing and I fear that if I tell a potential client that I charge for consultations and even bids, I won’t get any business.

    For this reason and the horrible market conditions of the last two years, I am seriously considering getting out of remodeling so that I can feel good about myself again and feed my kids.

    • Eric Tavitian

      This is to say to Joe the Builder, these people you wasted a day with while they picked your brain are right, contractor’s usually don’t charge for a bid. If however they called you for a consultation, that you have every right to charge for it and $275 would be well worth it. But lets get real no one has ever called a contractor for a consultation unless they fully expected to be charged for the service. They do however call contractors to give them a ‘bid’. They aren’t stupid. If during that ‘bid’ they start asking a lot of opinions of that contractor and what would that cost questions, well hey that’s just part of a bid right? No! It’s not and yes it is. Everything depends on how ethical these people are. It’s the contractor’s job to evaluate whether the potential customer is there to yank his chain or are truly interested in his idea and want to know more. So I guess what I’m saying is that a successful contractor must also know a lot about how people act. Hey, how come they didn’t tell me that during my apprenticeship back in the 60s? Probably because they don’t tell young tradesman anything during their apprenticeship that doesn’t directly pertain to the task at hand. There’s a lot to learn and they only have 4 years to teach it in. So sometimes you have to get burned a little once in a while to get it and that takes experience. I try not to get burned now-a-days but even experience doesn’t makes you invulnerable, it just gives you a heads up warning. The rest is up to you. Now myself, I will politely excuse myself for ‘another appointment’ if at all possible when the warning bells go off in my head telling them if they want more to give me a call. If you’re right about them pumping you for ideas you’ll find out when they don’t call. On the other hand you never know they might be serious and just came off wrong to you. Then you’ll get that call.

      • Joe the Builder

        I have since learned that this client has already hired another contractor for their remodel. So they breached the tenant that they refused to pay me on: they didn’t give me a chance to bid. Not that I would tender a bid for them anyhow, but it shows that a certain class of clients are scammers who will use any artifice to get your time for free. In their minds, we are junk. It also shows that “bidding” is a farcical, non-empirical exercise in the hands of residential homeowners.

        There ARE contractors among us who do not “bid” in light of this fact. Rather, they charge for every visit, consult, price scenario, etc. The final contract amount is negotiated in an honest and transparent process. The sale is made on trust in the contractor’s reputation and the strength of his past-client recommendations. You hire Frank Ghery or Michael Graves to design your house, if you get their attention, you are lucky…the only question is the project budget.

        I will never achieve that status so I am forced to compete with cohorts who don’t even use legal contracts, whose “bids” are one-page stationary store documents, and who aren’t EPA certified or even, perhaps, licensed. Only in our industry, would this imbalance of competition exist with the full complicity of our clients.

      • big bob

        Everyone in my family is employed through a consulting arrangement. I have taught them one thing about pricing: if you are unwilling to establish your price BEFORE you meet/work, you should never complain about what happens WHEN you work. This is something we need to set up and price well-ahead of time. Joe the Builder was irritated because he got is clock cleaned. He should recognized it when it was happening and stated the arrangement then and there, or offer to alter the current status. In any case, once he walked off the premises, all bets were off, in most cases; certainly there were off in this case. Instead of quitting the business, live and learn…it will make you a better business person, and maybe even a better builder!!

  18. John R Graybill

    It’s my guess that they would agree to any price because, like the first two contractors, you wouldn’t get paided.

  19. Timothy Raleigh

    Thanks for your article. I sympathize but don’t really agree with how you handled the situation.
    I agree with Brady. High bids (as well as low bids) can really back fire. You did invest time in sending a quote to someone you didn’t want to work with. Why wouldn’t you invest the same amount of time in meeting with them explaining your concerns and then finding out if there was a way to work with them?

    I always feel a face to face meeting while time consuming can clear up a lot of misconceptions on both sides. Yes you could still walk away saying that was a complete waste. While you acted responsibly others (clearly) didn’t and that affects us all.

    This story reminded me of a client I had when I was much younger. The client had called me to complain about an invoice. After explaining why my fees were high (rush work) they continued to wonder why the fees were going up. It frustrated me so much that to shut them up I eventually told them that the reason why my fees were so high was because they were so difficult to deal with. While my fees for the work that was done were fair, the comment was idiotic and inaccurate. I lost my temper with the client and they were extremely upset that the trust they thought they had in the relationship was broken. Needless to say I didn’t get anymore work from that client.

    While it was a very hard lesson to learn I think it would have been much more prudent of me (obviously) to (cool off) have a face to face meeting with them and explain the situation and then decide on the best way to proceed.

  20. Sonny Wiehe

    This was a very good article that highlights a fairly unique issue within the construction industry. Unlike in spec, production, or commercial building, a residential remodeling client is usually a daily and omnipresent element to every job. Their perception has to be factored into almost all of our decision making steps of a building project. How you mold that perception is a topic well worth considering.

    I think it is important for the contractor to set the tone for execution of a project from the beginning and every step of the way. The tools for allowing the contractor to be in this driver seat position should not be a mystery to the client, but rather clearly outlined within a contract. I think David did this successfully in his initial meeting and proposal. However, like others, I felt he unnecessarily declined a viable business and craft opportunity. I feel he declined it out of hurt pride and a perception that he would not be in a driver position for this project.

    Who cares if someone is dressing you down? If you stand up to the scrutiny and respect what you are, this should be a point of pride. An extreme example of taking this in stride would be the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. Here you can watch a real dressing down from head to toe and examination of if someone is up to the task at hand. I don’t think disrespect ever enters into the equation of this ritual.

    I like to think that no client or job is beyond my capacity to work with or on. This does not mean I will build any project or work for any client. It just means that as long as I have a client that is willing to work on my terms and within my capacity, the project can proceed successfully. How that ability is outlined contractually is an entirely separate topic of discussion. But I will say, for the type of job David outlined, for me it would be most successfully pursued under a “cost plus” type contract. This can be an arrangement where every aspect of his time, his professional capacity, and creative energy is handsomely rewarded. Correspondingly, his client will be handsomely rewarded with his exceptional craftsmanship.

    In the end it’s all about respect; and it cannot be demanded. If you respect yourself, your time, your tools, and your craft, then the respect from others will necessarily follow.

    • Joe the Builder

      This type of contract is illegal in many states, eg California!

  21. Eric Tavitian

    Great article David,
    I personally managed in the past to meet 2 or 3 of this type people every year. Now with the economy being so bad for the construction industry I meet even more. I live just north of the greater Los Angeles area. Up here it seems that most people in the market to have work done are so ‘economy’ minded that they will get bids from contractors like myself only to tell us how expensive we are and that they can get a guy to the same job for half the price and that if I want to work for them that I would have to drop the price. Now mind you the bid I usually wind up giving them would be very fair and be with about a 10% margin. So my question is, ‘How far can I drop’. What they fail to mention is that these guys at half my price are almost always unlicensed, uninsured and can’t qualify for a bond due to their immigration status. I’m sure that they get other regular bids also from contractors like myself but these are the only bids they mention. They’re obviously looking for a licensed contractor to do the job so they can be assured that he will actually do the job and won’t just take their money and run like so many unscrupulous workers who claim to be contractors have done. This area is a semi resort area and there are a lot of guys out of work who will compromise profit for the next house, car and/or truck payments. An awful lot of people looking to have work done try to take advantage of that fact. At least here it seems to be a trouble of our times that manages to bring out the worst in some people. I do manage to avoid working for those nasty people but have to generally drive to L.A. to do it. Oh well, this too shall pass. It’s my impression that these people David met are so over the top rude that every contractor that had come to their house gave them a crazy high bid to get them away as fast as possible. David’s bid was very likely to be the lowest. So what does that tell you? Dave did right, he didn’t bite. Doing that with grace poise and dignity is an attribute that might also help keep him off a ‘Contractor Posting site’ with a negative recommendation. People have been known to be very vindictive to a rude contractor just to spite him. You have to consider that people that have made so much obvious money in their lives and are as uncouth as they seem to be, must have been viscous in their business dealings. So take care and be aware. Times will get better. In the meantime always remember that cream floats to the top. Common courtesy and respect to someone will affect even the worst of people in a positive way.

  22. Nick Buffone

    As someone who is new to the building trades, I appreciate the comments about Dave’s meeting with this client. A career change has me working on my own as a Carpenter – Painter, etc., and although I spent twenty-five years as a contractor in Corporate America, sometimes there is no training for dealing with difficult people. There will always be those who put others into a lower class.

  23. Jim McCorison

    I would remind everybody that there is also the opposite situation. Though unusual, some contractors come in high and mighty and talk down to the prospective customer. These contractors are few and far between, but they do offer an opportunity for the rest of us, and a reminder to treat prospective as well as actual customer with respect and dignity.

    A recent new customer commented that I got the work because the previous guy had talked down to him and disrespected his wife. I wasn’t there, have never met his wife, and don’t know what transpired, but I do know that the customer is a friendly person, not overly knowledgable, and pays his bill promptly. I have received several additional jobs from him and no doubt will receive additional work in time, as well as work from others due to referrals.

    I’m not insinuating that David wasn’t professional. Far from it. I think he handled a difficult situation with aplomb. And I’m not insinuating that anyone else here matches up to my prior competitor. But I am reminding everyone that we need to remember how it feels to be treated like the hind end of a horse and make sure that we never treat out customers in the same way.

  24. david

    When I was much younger I collaborated on a couple jobs with an old-school (I’m talking really old) contractor. He knew the building trades inside and out, but didn’t get the memo on business ethics or diplomacy. His approach to dealing with homeowners was simple; keep them in the dark, make unilateral decisions without their input and oh yeah, be as rude as possible. It was hard for me to comprehend, especially since he worked during the era of wholesome households like Ward and June Cleaver’s. This cat simply had no concept of tact. I learned a lot from this old codger, mainly how not to act.

    Anyone who’s done remodeling work for very long knows you have to be more than a businessman or technical expert. Some of the other hats I regularly wear include psychologist, marriage counselor and nanny just to name a few. This isn’t what I signed up for, it’s just part of keeping the job moving forward. Being a heavily referral-based business, you have to set the bar of integrity pretty high in order to maintain longevity. I’ve learned communication is the number one tool a contractor can implement to gain the trust and respect needed to effectively manage a job. But the bottom line is that you can only control your own behavior, not the actions of those around you. You simply cannot predict or manage people perfectly every time. Therefore, you need to use that initial bidding/consultation time to interview them. Contracts are between two parties; you both have to feel good about each other. Certain personalities will suck your profit dry. Your job is to recognize this at the interview, not in the middle of the project.

    I have no doubt the Snobs found a contractor to do the work and perhaps he got along with them just fine. I mean I certainly don’t get along with all contractors just because we share the same profession. One of the best lessons I’ve learned in business is knowing your niche and client profile. Hey, if the shoe doesn’t fit…find a different cobbler. In a nutshell, that’s what we told the Snobs. At the time we had several contracted jobs in the queue and their job would be reviewed for consideration. I knew I didn’t want it for all the reasons mentioned in the story. All they knew is that their job was not going to fit into our schedule that year. It also helps when you have affable and compassionate business partner who’s not involved in the emotional side of the relationship to explain the reasons!

  25. Sternberg

    Our author promised to share a lesson he had learned about patience and integrity. His anecdote displays a lack of both on his part.
    Doubling the cost is integrity? Witholding the terms and conditions is honest?
    No its not.
    Those people may have learned that behavior from some of the “Holier than thou” contractors, who show up secure in the knowledge that they know the answers and the customer does not.
    I believe that some of these adversarial issues lead to defensive measures that drive up costs for all of us. As business people we need to learn how to defuse those issues. You should be capable of wearing multiple hats here.
    Your [particular] hat may not be fitting real well.

    [Edited by TiC to maintain positive and valuable exchanges on this forum]

    • Ted Abbott

      Mr Sternberg,
      I have known Mr Getts for some time and know him to be a man of great integrity, a man of great skill and a man of humor. He would choose not to defend himself, but I have no such limitations. I do not know you however except for [what] I have just read.
      Have a good day. Ted


      [Edited by TiC to maintain positive and valuable exchanges on this forum]

  26. Joe Stoddard - Mountain Consulting Group

    Good article, and you were smart to walk. However I would not have bothered doubling or quadrupling or whatever… because there is no amount of money you could have charged… or not charged that would have made this job end favorably. If it were $10 million for a $100,000 job it would not be enough when your reputation was destroyed…and if it was $1 for a $10,000,000 job it would not have been “cheap enough” for this kind of opportunistic client.

    I made the mistake of working for some people who trashed other contractors, other designers, etc. on my first meeting too. I was doing the job as a favor to a good client who was friends with these people. He had referred me a lot of work and was really trying to help them because he bought into their claim that nobody would get back to them, price fairly, do what they wanted…blah blah blah

    Needless to say, the job went to hell in a hand-basket and we wound up in arbitration and re-negotiating the contract… under the watchful eye of a “home inspector” who they hired as a “clerk of the works”. It also put a serious strain on my friendship with the client who referred them, as well as their personal friendships as they were now caught in the middle.

    I broke all my own rules… allowed them to use their own mason (who didn’t stay on schedule and couldn’t follow a set of plans..rework, failed inspections, etc.) …. allowed them to stay in the house (so of course their daughter wound up in the emergency room because of “drywall dust” -despite the fact that their living area was completely sealed off from the actual work… allowed them to make a major issue out of an existing floor that was 1/4″ out of level in 15’… and on and on. Classic homeowners from hell, by the time we were done nobody I worked with wanted to set foot on the property, including my own employees and every single sub we used. I had to beg to even get people there after we had been in arbitration.

    The $250,000 second-floor addition cost me twice that by the time we were done, and two years later we were still “negotiating” issues. And of course we never saw a dime of any of the final phase completion payments. I can’t begin to tell you all how much time and mental energy I was forced to waste on these people. Like I said – $10M would not have been enough for the job.

    Next time- when the first words you hear are degrading your fellow trades… simply stand up and say “I’m sorry, we’re not right for this type of work” and walk away. That’s what I’ve done ever since that fiasco. One of my mentors told me a long time ago “the world is full of nice people – you don’t have to work for jerks (he used much stronger language but point well taken. 99 out of 100 clients are great or at least reasonable to work with. It’s the 1 in 100 who aren’t that you need to remove from your life.

    Since I’ve been a consultant I’ve had at least a dozen clients in this same boat – and unfortunately none have really ended favorably. It’s a total no-win from our side of the fence. Best to avoid the issue in the first place.


  27. Jim Janssen

    There was definitely no sign of respect for David here. I am sure that if he had started using that language to the client about other “clients”, he would have been shown the door. This lack of respect probably would have manifested in other ways, especially in the areas of change orders and payments. Heck, this is a client that could cost David his company.
    The best way to walk away in my opinion would have been to, as a number of others have suggested, send a letter suggesting this is not the right project for us or you for the client. Leave them with little ammo to bad mouth you to others who may be “right” clients.

    • William Cazeault

      When doing work for clients you are participating in their
      dream.And yes,getting paid for it.No need to jack up prices
      to justify the denial of acceptance for the job. Thank you
      for the opportunity to bid on your job.Please,could you tell me from whom did you get my reference from ? This way the door is open or closed as you wish.

  28. Matt Follett

    I have read & reread this article a few times as well as the muriad of responses as I am in the middle of a taxing job (or should I say client) right now. I had the little voice that told me that this particular client would be more work than the job itself & I acknowledged it but decided to take the job anyway. All this to say that I tend to agree with comment 14 & the like. There is something to be said in taking a difficult situation & putting in the work to make it a positive experience for someone else. I absolutely agree that there are some jobs where no amount will cover your loss of sanity, but there are also jobs that are more taxing than others that when completed give not only our clients great joy but we get that extra sense of accomplishment in literally ‘creating’ another satisfied client.
    Great article & great feedback. I learn so much from this forum. Thanx to all who contribute.

  29. Alex

    David, shame on you for collecting a fee for a job you knew you had no intention of completing. We deal with folks like this very often in lower Fairfield County and if the job or client is not a right fit for us I just tell them so. Just like they are looking for a good contractor, i am looking for a good client. it sounds to me like they may now have the impression that you came out just to collect your easy “fee”. i hope you had the decency to return it.

    • Willy

      No shame is due to David for spending time on these folks during which he could otherwise be productive, and for billing for that consulting time. Some time for grins, make an appointment with a lawyer. Whether the lawyer actually does something of value (in your eyes) or not, like write your will or handle your divorce, you WILL get billed for the lawyer’s time, and at a premium rate. Are you any less of a professional? Is the service that you provide any less valuable to you than the services provided by any other professional, like a doctor? The bottom line is that time = money. If any professional doesn’t charge for consulting services directly, they will be making it up in other ways, like inflating prices on other jobs to compensate for those unproductive times such as experienced by David or any number of us in the business.

  30. Shayne George

    Fantastic story. We have the same problems in Australia. Free quotes are the norm here along with free kitchen designs & consulting. Ive had had someone ask for a quote because she wanted at least 15 prices for her kitchen reno!
    There is no perfect way to handle a situation such as this & sometimes the best you can come up with at the time is probably different to what you would do in hindsight.
    I had a job a few years ago doing a kitchen, bathroom & laundry cabinet fitout for an extremely “superior” client who knew a lot about everything, but unfortunately very little about building. He agreed to go with me after my first set of plans & quote. He then wanted to make a few changes. All plans had to be drawn on computer & changes costed separately. After 6 plan versions just for the kitchen, dozens of extensive emails, meetings & consultations we finally reached “final” measure up stage only to find that he had moved windows & services the day before for reasons unknown. He also informed me that the project was running way behind & he wanted me to do 4 weeks work in 8 days to keep things “on track”. We had already spent 40 hours leading up to this point together & every day when I thought it couldnt get any worse, it did. Measure up day was to be no different. We spent 6 hours going over everything on site. Everything was drawn to scale on the floor, along with all the new changes, culminating in him telling me that it wasnt what he wanted & that another “Kitchen guy” had given him better ideas the day before. His new ideas were extremely impractical & would not fit, especially after his hasty modifications. What followed got a little bit ugly & I temporarily took leave of my senses & told him that maybe the other guy should do the job if he had all the answers. He told me that he didnt like my tone & became increasingly argumentative & questioned my ability & experience. I backed down & said that Id get back to him the next day with his changes. As I crossed the road to my vehicle I decided not to proceed with the job. Id never felt better. Losing 40+ hours was nothing compared to the thought of working for someone who would never be happy & couldnt make up his mind. When I got back to work I wrote him an email declining to continue with the job on the grounds that it would be difficult to proceed after our disagreement & our apparent clash of personalities. I apologised for not being able to effectively communicate ideas & find the solutions that he was looking for. I also made it clear that I had never had a problem of this sort in the past & I wished him well with the project. He never replied to my email. My only regret was that I didnt decline the work face to face before I lost my cool. My biggest mistake was putting up with his behaviour for so long that it boiled over. I should have not been so submissive all along and I should have declined the job before it got so out of hand. Lesson learned, look for the warning signs & act…


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