Difficult customer - behalf of friend

Mitty87

LawnSite Gold Member
I have a outdoor carpenter friend who does those types of jobs for us, or we refer them to our clients. This was a privacy screen, small job, maybe a few thousand. Here is a picture. They apparently are not happy and want it removed completely. Only $250 deposit paid. Here is a very long email as well, if anyone is willing to sift through it and offer some advice it would be appreciated.

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I have taken the last few days to gather my thoughts and also call in a Carpenter, and a retired home Builder/Engineer to look at this panel construction of yours or whomever built it from your team.

When we first met way back in the early part of summer last year, you had told me you were a finishing carpenter and very particular, with high standards of workmanship...in fact you mentioned you had fired someone as they did not meet your standards. You came highly regarded from 2 separate references, and was told it was worth waiting for you for the panel project, as at the time you were busy being high season, and gave you a deposit to secure a date with a tentative start date late Sept/October 2020......and that date was pushed ahead further with winter, a snow fall, and finally a start date in April 2021.

1. At the time, I sent you the pictures of the panels/design I wanted, also included the building plans with the website in Ontario, and I offered to pay for those plans at $25. You said there was no need to purchase the plans, as you were confident you didn't need them, and more often than not, confusing.

2. I told you the panels were to be quite specific to be very functional and serve a purpose for their location; Being a wind load (60-90 km in the winter storms) that sweeps through the above corridor and the obvious privacy issue, being the back yard is in a fish bowl with no definitive property line/border, and needed to be 8 feet high at the given natural grade ( confirmed with the City of Nanaimo prior to building) and 1-1.5 inch squares to allow light, and air through, but provide enough privacy being below 2 homes, and not have all yard debris from above homes blown into the yard.

3. I had asked for lattice that offered some privacy, and heavy duty, like the home beside, as well to withstand the wind/weather elements and be aesthetically pleasing & in scale with the size of the 6"D, 10' H posts. You mentioned at the time, you would be building the lattice & frames to custom in your shop/home...1-1.5" squares that run horizontally & vertically and framed like the pictures I sent.

4. I also sent the plans of the home's property line and offered to show you the 2 known property pegs, as I didn't want to lose anymore space, being the 3 homes are tight in together, like a pie wedge. When you dropped by, I gave you the house/engineering plans as well to look at, and that you would measure from the house to be more accurate.

5. You had said to me, you would would be digging down 2 feet, and be using 3 6"D x10'H posts that were going into the ground, and you were use to dealing with any potential "Island" rock issues, with drilling into the rock, and using saddles/bolts around the posts.

6. I offered to have the stack wall completed to the rock make shift property line, as it was shy a foot or so and the one post to be beside it, as I thought it would look odd behind it. You reassured me it would look good. I also mentioned that you could move the panels,/footing back a foot, as there was some play on the property line and line it up according to the peg lines and measurements.

The sequence of events thereafter, have been quite frankly disappointing, and upsetting~ not what I asked for, wanted, or meets the standard of what I was told or expected of you, being you reassured me numerous times, you knew what you were doing, and to trust you that you build something nice, and for me to not over think things. Judging by your confidence, references and the inside of your trailer, you seem to be very conscientious and meticulous in your work, and pride in your name & company.

7. Prior to me leaving for the Mainland before Easter, I had asked Andrew and the other fellow here ? as he was building a form on the right hand side.....I said "I am not going to see that square form am I ?" No, I wouldn't, it is just a form to make a pad and pour the concrete into. They had to dig down 2 feet with a pick Axe to secure a footing(s) for the posts...(Never did I think I would have ugly concrete unfinished pillars, the highest being 2 feet above grade that were all various heights/sizes, unfinished, and one poured onto my stack wall.)

8. You had mentioned that you would send me some updated work progress photos, which I never did receive, and being very busy myself, I figured you got called away with another project, as my 2 panel project job was small in nature in comparison to other projects & demand.

So, based on the opinions I received from a home builder/engineer and carpenter that builds concrete forms/foundations and fencing etc and what I had already observed on my own, these are the following conclusions & recommendations;


1. The concrete pillars are all different heights/sizes with the largest being over 2 feet high above grade! the other 2 are 9-12" high. Concrete is poured part way down my stack wall...all unfinished and unsightly..Not at all what we discussed or informed of, and completely unnecessary, and sloppy. The concrete pads should have been no more than 4- 6" off the ground, and the bottom of the panel frames 3" above the concrete pads, so to enclose the bottom and bring the framed down closer to grade and close any gaps, and retain the integrity of the beautiful high timber posts~

2.The lattice was not custom made, nor heavy duty, came in pre set manufactured sheets & sizes, then was cut in the back to add another piece below each frame.

3. The lattice was partially framed inset, only on one side (The front), not the back side, and one panel has 2 different thickness' in each of the framework. The lattice hangs off the backside, not framed in, facing my neighbours up top. (some lattice has holes in it) I promised them it would be really nice to look at, being they too have spent a lot of money transforming their backyard in recent months.

4. The top of the panels are missing a piece all together, and doesn't look like the photo or plans that I showed you. just a raw board lying across the top.

5. The 3 6" posts are all different heights; 69", 80", 82" H perched on rough unfinished concrete pillars; 12", 9", 24" H...and 2 feet off the natural grade.

6. Someone just grabbed rocks from the neighbour's worksite across the cul de sac, not mine, and put a whole bunch built up & around the concrete pillars to disguise them and the ugliness, and brought the ones above that formed the make shift property line down to try and close the 2 foot gap.

7. The whole entire structure (concrete pillars & posts) are approx 8 feet high.....one post is completely bucked off at 62"?? Isn't that why you buy nice Douglas Fir timber is so you can see all of them....you said you were buying 10 ft posts. The largest post is 82"H, not even 7 feet, the shortest is 62" 5 feet 2"

8. The lattice is 2.5" squares in most places, some are 3" squares, not the 1.5" squares you said they would be, or that I asked for.

10. The work site was left a mess, sawdust everywhere, 2 large nail/screws, countless staples...bits and bobs in the driveway.

The gentlemen that came by to have a look on the weekend, said the fir posts were of very good quality and a real shame they were cut in odd sizes, the saddles were fine, & noted the bolts were in crooked/slanted at the bottoms, but felt overall good quality on both & secure enough. They told me how the panels should have been built, what the measurements should have been based on my pictures, the overall function/intent of the privacy panels and the given landscape and grade of where they were to be placed.

So, sadly this is a structure does not fulfil the purpose and intent they were suppose to, nor aesthetically pleasing to look at from either side (front or back), doesn't look like the picture/plans and short cuts on the quality of finishing carpentry & no discussion of unsightly above grade concrete forms/pillars and short timber posts. I patiently waited almost a year to have something in place, had several conversations with you, as I too am detail oriented, and was told to trust you. I didn't want to embarrass you in front of your colleague the other day when you came by, so I held my tongue & frustration and wanted to get a few outside expert builder opinions & gather my thoughts on this before I wrote you in great detail to date.

The only way to fix this, is to start all over from the ground up. Or come and take them both away, including theses unsightly concrete pillars/forms and perhaps you can sell the panels to someone else, given the demand for backyard projects and wood.

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I'm not qualified to make a judgement here, but is she being unreasonable?
 
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OakNut

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
Pittsburgh PA
Depends on what you consider "reasonable".

As a customer, is it reasonable to want what you asked for?
I don't know how far off it is from what they provided pics of, but it sounds like it's not quite what was requested.

It's pretty hard to comment based on that one photo, but my initial thought when I saw it (before even reading anything at all) was "That looks weird."
Maybe it would look better from a different angle where you could see more of the surrounding landscape/architecture, but it just looks like a short section in the middle of a slope - it doesn't look like it ties in with anything - it's just "there".

My second thought was that the posts look like they were done half assed.
I do agree with the client on that aspect. The posts should (in MY opinion) disappear into the ground - not get bolted onto a concrete form with a tacky-looking bracket.
Perhaps there's a valid reason for doing it that way - likely due to project location difficulty - but it still LOOKS less than ideal.

Also, the spaces in the lattice look rectangular vs square. Maybe that's not an issue at all, but it looks strange to me.
I also agree with the customer that the holes are too large.

Someone else will say that the customer is being too nit-picky.
Who is right? Depends on who you ask.

I had a contractor build our front porch. The railing looked like CRAP, with the balusters spaced unevenly. I could tell that they started on each end and worked towards the center, rather than dividing the two spaces and figuring out the proper spacing.
When I called to mention it, he came right over and stood there and said "I don't see anything wrong."
I asked if he had a tape measure, and to measure the space that was 3" wide and the space that was 2" wide. He didn't see an issue with the balusters not being evenly spaced.
"I think you're being too nit-picky", he said.

He eventually did that part over, but the work was still sub-par.
Sometimes the customer IS being nit-picky, but sometimes the contractor isn't as good as he thinks he is.
 

Mark Stark

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
Rochester, NY
You talk to your carpenter friend? Did he in fact just use standard lattice? In effect ignoring the demand of the client for the holes to be 1.5"?

This project was a couple thousand dollars?

I don't think it looks bad. I don't even mind the pillars above grade like on the far right. I'd try and paint the metal fasteners on the bottom to try and blend better.

No excuse for the guys to take rocks from another property. Clients will always get goofy about that and it's an impossible argument to win. Messy job site doesn't help either.

Whether or not the job looks perfect..... She is obviously very picky. She wouldn't have sent such a long email if she wasn't so picky. You probably suspected she would be a hassle to work with right in the beginning. She sure sounds like a hassle based on the email. I know it's tough to do but we have to try to remember to not work with people like her from the get-go. It's likely even if we all thought it looked perfect she would still find a problem with something.

I would probably refund the deposit and clean up the job site and return it back to normal and offer her my apologies. Tonight whatever conversation with my finishing carpenter who doesn't seem as though he did what he was supposed too
 

Cut n Strut

LawnSite Gold Member
Location
Midwest
Unreasonable - no. Very particular - yes.

At this point I don’t think your going to smooth anything over considering the frustration the customer has. I think I’d apologize, refund their $ and restore the property to it’s original condition or as close to it as possible. Then apologize again and never do anymore work for them.
 
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Mitty87

LawnSite Gold Member
This isn't my job, but yea I think it is obvious there are a couple things that aren't exactly what the customer asked for, but I don't know if it warrants a complete tear down, which it sounds like the carpenter is going to do.

I did a quote for this woman and am surprised to see how picky she is, because she didn't seem to care about landscaping very much when I was there, there was new sod in her backyard that was knee high.

I told him to try and settle on a discount, but looks like they will be tearing it out.

I did feel a bit bad because when I did a quote for her, I referred the carpenter

I am definitely guilty of having told a customer we would use a certain product and had to change things slightly due to supply issues, like using regular compost if fish compost wasn't available or different sized gravel, slightly different colour brick etc. I think maybe they were so busy they decided to use a pre built lattice, if that is the case here, I can't tell, but it wasn't getting by the customer.

We also have a lot of solid rock here, so digging down 2 feet may not be realistic. There is dozens of empty lots full of blast rock around here so I am guessing that was an easier route....

Sometimes you have a customer and are telling them things, but then you do the job a year later and everything isn't clear.

Sounds like the client was on the other side of the country for the job
 
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Delmarva Keith

LawnSite Senior Member
Not intending to pile on, but thousands of $$$ for what amounts to a couple of sort of nice fence panels mostly off-the-shelf lattice coupled with the very specific instructions of the customer is not reasonable on the carpenter’s end. Your carpenter buddy needs to learn to listen very carefully to what the customer wants and bid the job accordingly. A customer can be as particular as they want and the more particular a job, the more money it costs. High end work can be very lucrative but also requires a lot of patience, with both the work and the customers.

The communication failure just wasted a lot of time and money for everybody.

Also looking down the road, if I’m reading all this right, the fence is about 6’ tall in a very exposed location. If I understand what I read correctly, the posts are bolted or lagged to concrete base through ordinary steel connector plates. The stress concentration point is that joint at the base. The whole structure has zero shear load support for wind load and depends completely on the bolts or lags holding and the steel connectors not bending. I wouldn’t expect to see it still standing after a strong wind storm or two. Maybe refunding the $250 deposit and getting as far away from that job that you can will turn into a blessing in the long run.
 

Ijustwantausername

LawnSite Silver Member
Location
Raleigh NC
Were things not done to spec? Yes

Does she have a right to be upset? Yes

Could she have written a few (and I mean a lot) less sentences and not waxed eloquent for you? Yes

Did you need a page long narrative? No

Would I run for the hills once it's resolved and never ever do work for her again? Yes.

Does she need to go into business for herself and never call another contractor again because she probably "knows" how to do it better than you? Yes

Do I believe that she would have picked apart something else given the fact that everything was done to spec? YES YES YES

I get more annoyed when customers have to write a narrative to explain something. Obviously she is super uber picky and detailed. What she said could have been delivered with far fewer sentences and detail. Clearly my personality doesn't lend itself toward dealing with these types but good on the folks that have the patience.

I would call her to resolve this at the risk of emailing her and having her bounce back with yet another 10 page email. Work it out fast and RUN AWAY.
 
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Mitty87

LawnSite Gold Member
Were things not doneI would call her to resolve this at the risk of emailing her and having her bounce back with yet another 10 page email. Work it out fast and RUN AWAY.

we don’t know what is written in the quote or contract if there was one. It may be true things aren’t to spec, I was just posting on behalf of the guy as I said this site might have a solution for him which didn’t involve a complete removal
 

Capt J-rod

LawnSite Senior Member
Run don't walk. I personally don't care for exposed brackets and different heights on the foundations. Do not offer a discount ever for your work. The footings should have been poured with sonotubes and set to grade. Pour a steel pipe into the form and drill a hole in the post to mount it. The client has an image in their head but can't seem to explain it clearly to get it to life. Plans would have been a good move for someone like this because if it was built to "their" drawing then you could have leveraged that. Rip it out, remediate the area, sell the panels on facebook marketplace.
 

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