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As long as we're sharing, how about bad clients?
Here's one: Uncle Tony, my father's best friend, a NYC developer, who I'd known for 40 years and done at least half-a-dozen projects with. All at HUGE discounts, of course, because he's a developer and because of the 'family' connection.
Uncle Tony asks me to design a house for him. He negotiates a design/build fee of <15% which I accept for the above reasons as well as needing the work, with a stipulation that if the project doesn't get built I get 2/3 of the full fee for doing the design. Needless to say the fee is fixed on a budget of $1.8m for a project that is in the $2.6m range, which he justifies by his being a developer and saying watch how cheap he's going to build it.
I execute a design that eventually doubles in size due to the various neuroses of his OCD / germophobe wife (the only acceptable entry to her house would be the decontamination facility in Dr. No, except staffed with cheap Eastern European immigrants - I could regale you for hours with stories just about this woman's psychoses but that not the point) and Uncle Tony's developer 'instinct' to max it out. Thus 4,000 sq.ft. turns into 8,000 sq.ft. including a couple of outbuildings.
With the design essentially complete the wife brings in the Feng Shui master from Chinatown, a wizened old man with a young Chinese woman translator. The Master divines the site, checking for spiritual remnants of lost burial grounds and some other stuff intended to impress the mentally unstable. In the end the design passes the Feng Shui test with flying colors - no money leaks, no health leaks, no luck leaks - with the single exception of a toilet facing a door, which was only positioned that way at Uncle Tony's insistence (I don't want to get into what this all means or doesn't but it might be a good subject for another thread).
So now the design is done, working drawings executed, permit in hand. The wife has even secretly buried a talisman at the site for luck. But all this time the she has been saying she'll never live there because it's too far from town (security), too close to the woods (ticks), too close to the farm fields (pesticides). While I've been working my friend Rob has been showing her houses. Hundreds of them. And then she buys one. A spec house that has idled on the market for years. Two miles out of town, in the woods, in a deep depression that used to be a landfill (read dump).
At this point I've got another project going, oddly enough a renovation / addition for the fourth owner of Uncle Tony's first house, originally designed by my father. The money is flowing, Uncle Tony is not building but hey, he's my uncle and I don't need the cash, so I let it sit. You can see where this is going ...
A couple of years go by. The crazy wife is losing her mind over the PoS spec house she bought. The air handler is in the attic, accessed through the master BR closet ceiling. Which means that every six months, some service tech (read dangerously criminal looking dirty immigrant) has to get into Mrs. Antiseptics closet (one of many conditions that I anticipated and designed for in the house that was never built). I'm swinging a hammer and doing whatever the hell I can to scrape by. So I call Uncle Tony and remind him of our agreement. He says he doesn't remember, but sure he'll pay me if he owes me, just send the agreement. Which I do.
A few weeks later he's in my studio, and we're talking about the fee due. Uncle Tony says "I'm thinking about designing a smaller house for that site and feel funny having to pay you for the previous house if you're going to design another one."
Without belaboring this any more, that turned into "I'll pay you but I'd rather be your friend than work with you again". Which turned into a partial payment. As far as I can tell, he still owes me $10k.
And the reason I'm writing all this? Because I just got a call from Mrs. Crazypants, who's had 16 "floods" because the PEX is failing and do I have a good plumber.
There was some small satisfaction in telling her that her husband had stiffed me ("Tony would never do that") and what goes around comes around, so as much as I'd like to help I won't. After insistent pleading - in an absolute panic because the water was dripping and she wouldn't let the plumber she was using into the house - only the basement - she hung up on me when it finally became evident that I wasn't going to bend over for her.
The $2.6m spec house she bought has had plastic garbage bags taped up over the windows - which are NEVER opened - for years.
I learned very early in my career that doing projects for family and friends only brings disasters and ruins relationships. Every architects knows that!
PEX? haha we will not touch that and neither will any of our consultants!
Cripes. Miles that's tragic. I can't too it except for the tv crazy clients who wanted a tv in every room including the bathroom. They divorced before it made it through DD.
Miles.....tell me the Toilet is facing the door so just in case you uncle Tony bites it on the toilet, they can carry him out of the Bathroom Feet First.
I would tell you about my worst client but it is all tied up in a Lawsuit, so I best keep it to myself.
I would love to tell you about my second worst client, but it would turn into a book....People with big heads, silver tongues, and a memory that last less than a day can be bad clients. I think I broke the camels back the day I laughed at him, and he realized I was really laughing at him. I have no problem telling contractors to keep there distance cause he is going to have their pocketbook before the project is done.
This thread could easily turn into 'can you top this?'
I spent 14 years in a collection action.
snook, shoot me an email and I'll send you my book.
Crazy story, but tragically, completely believable.
From experience, single-family res. is just NOT worth the headache.
For this market - we, as architects, are required to act as marriage counselor / psychotherapist, and are dropped into a labor pool that includes cut-rate drafters.
It's a no-win situation from the start.
Wait, what's wrong with PEX? I haven't heard complaints from anyone yet...
Miles, not to poke a finger in your eye, but as someone who is starting a new office, do you think a better contract and billing could have helped? Any wisdom "how I should have done it differently" would be useful. I know that you can't always screen your clients in advance and working with difficult clients is part of the game. So what to do?
One of my worst was the very wealthy guy whose email sign off was a bible verse about how god will bless the worthy with riches, and this guy was the cheapest bastard you ever met. Apparently Jesus told him to refuse to pay the tile guy because one of the grout joints was 1/8" too thick.
contracts will only help if you are taking somebody to court. But as soon as you take them to court you are out of your deductible and usually insurance companies end up settling, so you are out of money anyways.
You have to look at the fees owned and try to figure out if its worth it with and if you at the end will get anything at all if not pay and lose even more.
We've taken clients to court before and after they lost they had the balls to come back and try to hire us again for other projects.....
its the installation problems and often the connections that are the problem that can cause many problems in the future and not the tubing itself. Luckily I've ran into it years ago and will not touch it again. There are night mare stories online if you'd like to read, but after replacing all the plumbing in one of our apartment complex projects, we decided we will not proceed with PEX on any project without the owner signing off on it.
So you do copper plumbing instead, poop?
gruen, Our legal system is just like politics: the guy with the most money wins. In the luxury residential market every client is rich as Croesus, and most have the attitude of entitlement that goes along with it.
Thus contracts are essentially useless. The cost of collection can far exceed the cost of the fee being sought, and rich clients know this and use it against you. It's a game you can't afford to play.
Rule of thumb: the fee has to be at least 6 figures before it's worth fighting over. You can easily spend half of that and years of your life trying to collect. Odds are probably the same as craps or roulette.
Jaffe's First Law (Norman Jaffe): The value of a service is inversely proportional to its degree of completion.
Jaffe's Second Law (Miles Jaffe): If you need a lawyer, it's already too late.
The O.J. Simpson Rule: The only color that really matters is green.
I get large retainers, bill small amounts frequently, never release work without payment and head for the hills at the first hint of trouble. I don't compromise my work or ethics and do everything in my power to make projects successful. I refuse to spend my time papering the file in anticipation of legal action. Been there, done that, never again.
Small claims court is very limited ($3,000 in NY) but can serve as an effective tool for even partial collection at minimum expense ($15 filing fee). I had a multimillionaire client send lawyers from NYC to defend a small claim. It cost them more for the lawyer than it would have to pay the fee owed. Which I got.
Binding arbitration in AIA contracts is a minefield. It's essentially court without rules. Anything goes, and everything depends on the arbitrator.
Dona: yes, copper, PVC or CPVC
before turning over drawings for permits, I usually bill 85% and the rest after permit!
I've had clients not pay after we submitted, but then we got a correction letter to which we didn't want to respond and the client quickly came to our office and dropped off payments. I don't like to have hostage situations with drawings, but I will.
Miles, that's pretty much what I'm (planning) on doing- w the added "retainer is applied to final invoice & no drawings w/o pay". Fingers crossed that it works... I need some more of these real world lessons wo the real world mistakes, aka:experience
retainer is applied to final invoice
I tried that once. The client was a lawyer who unilaterally decided to deduct a portion of the retainer against the first payment. Funny thing was, with the retainer he sent a cover letter specifying that payment was according to the exact paragraph in the contract that described "retainer held against final payment". By the time I got the partial payment I had done another month's worth of work. I quit and held the drawings hostage for full payment to date. This was only effective because the contractor was literally sitting on site (fast-track) with a full crew waiting for drawings while the client tried to screw me.
I don't work for lawyers anymore.
You can't treat every new client like a crook. Act in good faith, get a big retainer and bill small and often. At the first hiccup stop work. If money is not forthcoming, adios with a letter of termination for non-payment.
WOW what a story i really enjoyed reading that (except for the getting stiffed part). Really shows what an architect has to go thru in his or her career and how to get back at bad clients.
^ ^ It's not really "getting back" if everything was pre-arranged and subsequent fees withheld...