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How not to do business

I contracted out some work recently. It involved a large sum of money, at least to me. It amounted to about a three weeks’ worth of take-home pay. He wanted the money for the materials up front. I didn’t really want to do that, but other people had told me he was completely honest, so I did it.

He had trouble getting the necessary permits and other paperwork. I had trouble keeping his story straight. I gave him some time to sort it out. After about a month–which might have been too long–he concluded he wasn’t going to be able to do the work, and told me he’d give me a refund.

Then he quit answering his phone.

I called several times a day. At first I was nice about it. After about a week, I wasn’t so nice. Finally, I left a message that went something like this: “Mr. Brown, this is Mr. Farquhar. I’m going to make this real simple. You have a large sum of my money, and I don’t have any work done. I need you to call me back tonight and make arrangements to either drop off my money, or drop off the materials and I’ll have someone else do the work. Trust me, it’s going to be a lot easier if we don’t have to get the legal system involved.”

He called me back the day after I left that message. He said he’s been in some trouble. I didn’t say anything, but we all have trouble. I’m facing some not-quite-emergency dental work in the next month or so, for example.

He agreed to meet me near my office to refund my money.

We talked a few more times, because we had to re-schedule the meeting time. No surprises there. Over the course of several conversations, he said he was embarrassed about the problem, and that was why he didn’t want to talk to me. I didn’t say anything. What I should have said is that if he’d called me and said he couldn’t give me the money then, I would have been mad, but less mad than a week’s worth of unreturned phone calls made me.

During our last conversation, he mentioned someone else we both know. “Yeah, you’re probably all smart like him,” he said. “One of you probably could have solved my problem.”

Well, since he never told me what his problem was, I couldn’t solve it. But why didn’t he ask? If it was something that involved something I’m good at, why wouldn’t I be willing to trade work? I don’t know that, say, an hour of computer repair time is a fair even-up trade for an hour of his work, but we could have worked something out, even if it had ended up being two-for-one or something.

Actually, given my personal problem, I’d be pretty stupid not to be willing to trade computer or writing work for contracting work instead of cash. That would free up cash for my unplanned dental work.

But he didn’t ask.

Yesterday I finally got my money back. And guess what happened in the meantime? My wife asked around, and found someone willing to do the work cheaper anyway.

I think this contractor still thinks I’m going to call him back someday. But if the guy we found while he wasn’t answering the phone pans out, I doubt it.

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1 thought on “How not to do business”

  1. Never pay up-front for construction contracting, aside from a small down payment (at most a couple thousand) upon signing the work agreement. If the guy isn’t well-enough capitalized to be able to buy the materials himself and take payment upon completion (or for big jobs upon completion of agreed upon milestones), then you don’t want to hire him.

    CF for some basic advice on hiring contractors without getting burned.

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