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Am I an a$$hole?

6475 Views 28 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  bdemir
I think a sub got pissed at me and won't return my phone calls for more work. I hired him to do some plumbing work, we agreed on a fixed price. He told me it would take 1 day to do. I told him from the beginning that I thought that sounded very optimistic. It ended up taking him 3 days.

The 1st day he showed up 4 hours late and only worked for 4 hours. (His excuse for being so late was that his assistant stood him up so he had to find somebody else, I was pissed because he left me in the dark until almost noon) The second day he showed up on time but left early, about 3:00pm.

On day 2 he suddenly wanted to know if I could pay him 1/2 the job fee to cover his materials (about 10% of the job in my opinion) I told him I would be happy to pay him according to the agreement we made with each other, which was at completion, I told him I would have been happy to pay him 1/2 way if that was what we agreed on from the begining but I didn't feel obligated to cut him a check just to be a nice guy.

The 3rd day he showed up on time and since it was now the 3rd day he knew that he needed to get it done, he ended up staying until 9:00 pm. I don't think the homeowners were too happy with that one since they couldn't give the kids their baths with the water turned off until he was done. On day one he cut through the homeowners sprinkler wiring in the wall. I fixed it for him for the sake of letting him concentrate on his plumbing and get it done, took me almost an hour to get it done right to return it to previous condition. On the 3rd day his assistant popped a nail through the floor from the basement up to the first floor breaking a tile. The tile is sceduled to be torn out soon so the homeowner didn't seem to mind. However it still sucks to me to damage somebodies house.

When all was said and done his work was top notch. I was ready to cut him a check I was waiting to see if he was going to say anything in regard to the 2 f-ups he did and his way off schedule. After it was obvious that he wasn't going to I brought it up and asked him what he thought about me having to spend an hour fixing his sprinkler cutting and how he had damaged the homeowner's tile. He said the tile didn't matter since the homeowner said he didn't care and since it was going to be ripped up in 6 months anyways. He said if he knew that I would want to deduct for my time for fixing his cutting the sprinkler lines that he would have just fixed it himself, it would have been no big deal, but you wanted to do it so I let you. I explained that I fixed it for him to allow him to concentrate on the plumbing since he was so behind his 1 day estimate at that time.

To make a long story short he offered to take $100 off a $1700 bill. In the end I told him it wasn't my goal to get in his pocket, that I was more concerned with him understanding how important it is to not damage my customer's home and be realistic in his time estimates because of how it effects my schedule and having to work till 9:00 at night was not something we wanted to repeat, I paid him in full.

I figured it was just a "when it rains it pours" run of bad luck for the guy and since his work was really excellent in the end, and he did seem to understand my side of it that I would try him again. I guess he figures it isn't worth it because he doesn't return phone calls now.

Sorry for the long soap opera. I'm looking for some perspective here, do you think I was too demanding or did I handle it correctly and should just be thankful that he is smart enough not to want to put us together on anymore jobs?
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I call that "the little voice". It's your experience trying to tell you to pay attention and don't ignore the potential problem that's lining up in front of you. Your experience is flashing a word picture "ACTION REQUIRED HERE! ACTION REQUIRED HERE! ACTION REQUIRED HERE!" I usually wind up regretting the times when I don't heed the little voice. Tryt to consider the little voice as you scedule jobs and set up customer expectstions.

Mike Finley said:
from the beginning I thought that sounded very optimistic.
Mike Finley said:
He told me it would take 1 day to do, It ended up taking 3 days...he showed up 4 hours late and only worked for 4... he cut through the homeowners sprinkler wiring...he left early...his assistant [he] popped a nail through the floor from the basement up to the first floor breaking a tile....he ended up staying until 9:00 pm...I don't think the homeowners were too happy
Mike, you KNOW the homeowners weren't too happy. Just as important, neither were you any too happy about what was going on.
As a side note - My wife would have been insane by the time you were done and, no matter how good the work was otherwise, would spend the next two weeks telling her friends about all the terrible problems that had to be overcome to get the work done. By the time she was done the story would morph into something that included major water damage and having workers in the house 'til midnight.

Mike Finley said:
I told him I would be happy to pay him according to the agreement we made
I would have done the same thing

Mike Finley said:
I fixed it for him for the sake of letting him concentrate on his plumbing
I call that doing what you can to stay on schedule. You had to make a choice at that point, pull him off task and fall further behind or suck-it-up and chip in?

Mike Finley said:
When all was said and done his work was top notch...his work was really excellent in the end
I disagree. His "work" is more than soldering, fitting, etc. Just like your "work" is more than signing up some subs or installing some trim. IMO he's got some attitude adjustment to work on before his work is what it needs to be.

Mike Finley said:
I asked him what he thought about me having to spend an hour fixing his sprinkler cutting and how he had damaged the homeowner's tile.He said the tile didn't matter [and] if he knew that I would want to deduct for my time for fixing his cutting the sprinkler lines that he would have just fixed it himself
After deciding to fix the sprinkler myself, I probably would have let that issue go without discussion. That being said however, I would have gone crazy when he started telling me what "didn't matter" or how he "let me" do something. I'm back to the attitiude issue I mentioned above.

Mike Finley said:
I paid him in full.
I would have too. I'd also either be prepared to committ a whole lot more time managing him on my jobs or I'd find someone else. I think this is the kind of guy that could cost you a lot of business (and you wouldn't even know it) if he doesn't get his s__t together. Right now he's way too rough around the edges to fit in on the kind of "team of pros" that I envision you wanting to field for your customers.
There must be more subs willing to do the jobs.
Someone once told me that to truley suceed in busines you must surround yourself with people that are better than you.

This guy is not better than you, so forget about him and move on. have the resources to manage him.

We have low and high maintenance subs. The low maintenance subs are relief on the scheduling as they are as good as having my own guys on a job. The high maintenance subs are a relief on the budget as although they require more managment, they are typically a lot cheaper. We have some subs that we do a lot of preparation, protection and clean up for, it can work, if you have the resources.
The 'job' refers to the entire job, not just competency.
If you consider the work quality to your standards, you might give him one more do or die job (good plumbers are hard to find). I would my lay my expectations on hot and heavy and if he can't meet them it's time to go elsewhere.
I don't know how closely you work to schedule but a foul up like this would cost me plenty and he should be aware of it. Some guys go into business thinking that they are their own boss when all they are doing is trading one for another. An ambitious guy can go far, an hourly mentality will lose money and go back to what he previously did.
Yep Teetor, good plumbers are hard to find, that's why I was willing to give him another go. He really didn't affect my schedule too badly, I try to never get into a situation where a subs work is going to road block the project.

Just thought maybe I was starting to act like too much of a jerk GC, or enforcing my sometimes too lofty standards on somebody else.
"Mike if I were in your shoes, I'd have cut him a check for something... maybe 25%, even if that wasn't the agreement."

I have to respectfully disagree with you here. Holding to the contract shows a respect to the contract.

Beyond that I saw 2 problems with it. Can't speak to the market in Colorado, but I know that here with labor costs, there is no way half of the bid price is materials. It's much, much less (as Mike indicated) and this would be a warning flag to me. Plus - we're talking about a guy waiting 1 day.... I have yet to know a good plumber that doesn't have a credit account with his supplier. He's got 30 days to pay for materials. He can wait the 1 day to finish the job before he collects.

Mike - as to the delays.... I know your pain, but it's one of those "what do you do?" things. I saw that you just started your business this year... This won't be the last time you have to deal with these delays. Keep contact with the client and just let them know what is going on (but don't blame your sub - blame weather, suppliers, God, anything) but if there's any way to get someone there doing "some" work, it eases their concerns. Seeing "some" work getting done will encourage them to believe that the project is still progressing forward.

Hi Tim,

Curious about your comment:
TimWieneke said:
but don't blame your sub - blame weather, suppliers, God, anything
Because he did get blamed, it was painfully obvious to the customer that something was up when at 5:00 the homeowner is asking me when the water will be back on and I am asking the sub, he tells me 6:00, I tell the customer 6:30, at 6:30 the customer is asking when will the water be back on, the sub is telling me 6:45, I am telling the customer 8:00, at 8:00 the customer is asking me again, the sub is telling me in 10 minutes....

The next day I thought it was important to take the temperature of my customer and discussed with him how because of the licensing requirements of Colorado my hands are tied to having to hire independent companies to do plumbing and since they are not my employees I cannot train them to work as we do, as a result sometimes we run into situations like this.

I'm an under-promise, over deliver type of guy, so it was painfully obvious that the plumbing situation was not typical of the service I offer.

What are your reasons for not telling it like it is?
Your invocation of the "M" word is making me fidget in my seat. I'm want for a big 'ol reading from "the letter of Grumpy to the Ephesians".

Why is paying the guy (early) a moral thing? Because he can't manage his money well enough to get by one more day? Maybe becsuse he doesn't want to go to an ATM to get money for cigarettes? Maybe if Mike paid him just a little he'd have had enough cash to drain six or eight longnecks on the way home or otherwise have enough cash so he didn't need to work the rest of the week. If I had a dime for every time someone said to me "Le'me hold $5 'til next Tuesday" I'd be down in FL learning how to roof just for kicks.

I'm with Mike - you get paid like we agreed to at the start unless something really unusual dictates otherwise. Nothing immoral about that.
Grumpy said:
Paying the guy is just the moral thing to do.
Basically Mike I meant to say don't "bad mouth" your sub to the client. If your sub is a screwup, be a mediator, finish the job then don't use him again. Don't make it clear to the client that your sub is a screw up. will be the contractor who brings screwups into people's homes.

Grumpy, I can respect your opinion but still disagree. The way I see it - if a GC doesn't respect a contract one way when it may be in a sub's favor, what's to stop him from not respecting the contract another way when it may be against a sub?

Mike did the right thing. He followed the contract and maintained the leverage for the plumber to finish the job. For a G.C. a job unfinished has a final payout that's just as much as a job not started. If a plumber can't wait 1 day to finish a job and get his final payout per the contract he agreed to, something's wrong and it would have only gotten worse from then on out.


By the way, if this current gig I've got doesn't work out, can I work for you Grumpy? I want my paychecks up front, but will do the actual work sometime later. ;) :D

Well if it works for you then that's fine. I just happen to believe the line from Robert Frost "Good fences make good neighbors."

Actually, I wouldn't put somebody in that position because I believe in keeping my word no matter how much it hurts to. If I agree to terms I stick by them, simple as that. If I screwed up on the deal I take the lumps on it and remember on the next one to do it differently, but I don't go back on my word just because it is convenient.

"Business can be personal" - yes it can, but only after you know somebody well which gives you a personal relationship with them. Working with somebody for the first time is a dance for both parties. Each one should be smart enough not to step on each others toes if they expect to develop a personal business relationship.

As for contracts : A contract is nothing different then giving your word, except it is in writing so nobody has to rely on their memory.

Since you're running your own deal now, you have the opportunity to work without contracts. Simply don't supply them or word them so loosely that they would do you no good if things go badly, totally favor them to the customer since you don't ever want the protection they can afford you.
Grumpy said:
Do unto others...

If you were in the plumbers position and were hard pressed for cash wouldn't you appreciate it if someone helped you out even though they didn't HAVE to.
I got you Tim, that's a good point for certain. :Thumbs:
TimWieneke said:
Basically Mike I meant to say don't "bad mouth" your sub to the client. If your sub is a screwup, be a mediator, finish the job then don't use him again. Don't make it clear to the client that your sub is a screw up. will be the contractor who brings screwups into people's homes.
Grumpy, I can't even put into words how far off that is from the truth. If that was the case I would have not paid him in full when he was done, or I would have slow-walked him instead of cutting him a check right there, I had every legal, moral and ethical right to knock $200-$300 off his bill, but it never entered my mind.

"The original agreement was payment in full upon passing inspection." You must never have heard of a sub who is so incompetent or more likely just gets so far over his head when his work can't pass inspection he just walks off the job and takes whatever he has been paid and moves onto another job that he percieves as easier money than trying to deal with his botched job?

It's not about power, its about protecting your customer and protecting your family financially from the idiots like that.

Tim has it right, something was smelly about the whole deal, he had no more than $170 out of his pocket if he actually paid for his materials, plus according to him it was a one day job, if he worked under his own terms he would have been paid the same day he showed up.

Grumpy said:
why not give him a days pay? Oh that's right you guys already answered, but I heard excuses not answers. The real answer is you guys like the feeling of power and power is money.
Incase you all are wondering why I am getting so worked up it's because I've been in the plumber's situation before. I made a big mistake on a bid and we were short abotu 12 squares of custom order siding. The job took twice as long as planned.
At first the GC had the same attitude, I'll pay when your done. I had to beg him literally. We were about 70% done and he gave me about 40% of the money. That was totally satisactory to me.
That is simply the difference between us, I wouldn't go back on my word. I'm willing to ask people to hire me because I'm a professional, I'm expected to operate as a professional in every facet of my work, from the actual craftsmanship, to figuring my costs, I simply would rather eat it, chock it up to being incompetent and do it right the next time, than go back on my word and then look like a clown.
I'm ALWAYS hard pressed for cash and don't expect any CUSTOMER to help me out. I work in an industry where material expenses can be in excess of 50% of the price I charge; where customers pay in 45 - 60 days and vendors want their money in 30 days. Being able to make it all work is part of the game. If I asked a customer for an advance I'd never get hired again.

Grumpy said:
If you were hard pressed for cash wouldn't you appreciate it if someone helped you out .
Grumpy said:
Business CAN be personal.
If business is ain't business, it's personal.

Grumpy said:
Contracts are impersonal bull kaka. Contracts are there to be invoked when something goes wrong IMO.
You're right, there's nothing personal about a business contract. Good ones help to keep me from spending money on things I didn't plan on. Personally ;) , I appreciate that.

Grumpy said:
it's obvious I am talking to GC's and by your very nature you are supposed to be heartless to your subs.
Dude - that is soooo cold!
Grumpy, I'm a "sub" in every way, shape and form of the word. Less than 2% of my sales this year will be classified as subcontracting expense. All the work I do with subs is on a handshake (actually a phone call). I've known my bricklayer for 25 years; the guy that does my wet tapping for almost 20; the guy that hauls my iron up and down the road the better part of ten. None of the guys I do work with would call me heartless, probably just the opposite. I'd bend over backwards to help them and they'd do the same for me. I regularly pay their invoices before I write myself a check. In all the time I've worked with these guys I've never known any of them to ask for a pay advance. I can't imagine any of these "pros" even considering it.
I will leave it with : that statement is ridiculous and isn't worthy of someone like yourself.

What's worse is we all inevitably discover that we become exactly what we swore we would never be, being so judgemental is only based on your current circumstances, which makes it extremely hard to swallow when you realize that the circumstances you live in create your judgements more than your free will, and when your circumstances change as they always do you find yourself doing exactly what you swore you never would. It happens to the best of us.

As I have said you hold the power to walk your own path exactly how you want now, you can live true to your ideals and be the GC nobody else seems to be, prove your total trust in your customers and subs to do the right thing by you, by for-going contracts, or reducing all written protections down to favor only your subs and customers and stand naked before them with nothing but your trust to protect you.
Grumpy said:
GC's are just all about protecting their own ass from start to finish. I guess there is nothing wrong with that if you enjoy living in a constant state of fear and suspicion.
Grumpy, here is one of my proposals for today, throw in the intense legal crapola and you have a contract.

We are pleased to submit our proposal to supply labor and materials to perform the repairs to the above referenced property, due to hurricane damage, as detailed below, for a total sum of : Sixteen thousand two hundred and twenty dollars and 0/100 ($16,222.00).


-Remove all sagging elastomeric paint.
-Install 2 in strips of 5/8 in. FireShield drywall.
-Repair all holes caused by forklift impact.
-Tape all seams with fiberglass mesh tape.
-Fill and fair seams with two coats of drywall joint compound.
-Apply one coat of Zinnser BIN 123 shellac based primer.
-Apply one coat of Sherwin Williams Surelastic paint.

Excluded from this proposal:
-Any work other than stated above.
-Removal or replacement of stores/products on shelving or flooring.
-Mold removal or Remediation.

PLEASE NOTE: Your name here (the Contractor) can not and will not be held responsible for the presence of any fungi, algae, lichens, slime, mold, bacteria, wet or dry rot and any byproducts of these organisms however produced that may or may not be present now or at anytime in the unforeseeable future. This proposal is based upon normal working hours and does not include overtime. (Owner) shall be responsible for the protection of any equipment or products in this work area. The Contractor is not responsible for anything unforeseen. (Owner) shall insure the Contractor has complete uninterrupted access to the jobsite at all times.

November 1,2004 Page 2 of 2

This proposal is based on full cooperation from (Owner) employees in regards to prompt product/stores removal from and replacement to the shelving. A verbal agreement exists with the product manager and the Contractor that work will be performed in sections approximately 22 to 24 ft long and from floor to ceiling, 21 ft.high (two racks of shelving) to allow continued operation of the sections not being worked on. Based on this model, repairs are expected to be completed in 32 working days.

30% due upon acceptance of this proposal and the balance is due in draws commensurate with work completed. The materials remain the property of the Contractor until paid in full by the purchaser. All invoices are to be paid within ten (10) days of date of invoice. Any legal expenses incurred for collection will be borne by the purchaser. No retainage allowed. All terms of this contract are contingent upon strikes, accidents, or other causes beyond our control.

Should the above meet with your approval, please sign where indicated and return or fax a copy to our office for final execution.

Truly yours,

Your Company

Your name


(Authorized Signature)


Grumpy said:
The legal crapola is the part where you sell your soul to the gc and he oficially has your balls in his pocket.
Grumpy, are you in NARI? They have a seminar coming up on legal and taxation. May be worth a look so you can learn how to make your own legal to cover yourself.

Whoops! Another ingrown grey hair. Sorry.
I went to look for the 'sub' contract and I haven't installed it on this 'puter yet. I guess that shows how often I use them. In-house = quality control.
Here is thinking outside of the box.
My electrical contractor had his own business until he was broadsided on his motorcycle. He is a younger guy and is unable to work full time due to injuries. He can still pull off the smaller jobs and likes getting out among the guys. If I can't use his electrical talents, he's a pretty good carpenter and doesn't do bad drywall either.
My plumbing contractor retired, moved to FL after 30 yrs. of having his own company and I found him working at a box store. He hated retail but wanted to stay busy. I told him that if he could get his license here I'd put him to work. He called me two weeks later. He's very personable and has charmed everybody in the bldg. dept. He's the guy that I send in for permits, in/out + a little BS. Oddly enough he likes working small concrete jobs like ADA ramps.
You have to take every opportunity that presents itself.
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