Surprise Charge From Your Contractor? What To Do Next.

Sometimes we get a call from someone who says, “I received this invoice from my contractor and we didn’t agree to it…what do I do?” As a homeowner, you might get caught in this battle of “who said what” and “who is right.” And without negotiation, it can be a lose-lose situation. If you get a surprise charge from your contractor, here are a couple of things you can do next.

Why Did I Get This Surprise Charge?

Most of the time, surprise charges often come about because of poor communication and lack of documentation. The contractor either assumed that you would be OK with something they were doing, asked you if you wanted a particular thing done without stating that there was an additional charge, or in passing conversation, told you they were going to do something and asked if that was OK…“This will make it better.” What they failed to do was issue a notice of a charge and a formal change order to your original contract.

As the homeowner, you’re not off the responsibility hook either. You should know that whenever additional work or materials are required, there will most likely be an extra charge. You should never assume that the contractor is not going to charge for something; it is your responsibility to ask if you are in doubt. You can also request a change order be issued.

What To Do Next About Your Surprise Charge

You might be angry when a surprise charge appears on your contractor’s bill, but don’t lose your temper. There are several ways to work out a surprise bill from your contractor.

First of all, step back and think how this may have happened. Did the contractor ask your permission or do the work without your knowledge? Most likely, they did ask and you said OK. In that case, you probably should pay the bill. If the contractor did not ask, you may have room for negotiation on the price.

Ask yourself also if you are pleased with the improvement. Did what the contractor added make a positive difference? If so, you could appreciate the improvement and pay the bill. Most likely, the contractor made a conscientious effort to look after your best interest and was attempting to please you in the long run. The intention was right, even though you might be surprised at the extra bill and the process of approval was wrong.

There are, however, cases where contractors pad the bill or add in extra charges fraudulently. This is where the homeowner can take action with negotiation, mediation or litigation.

The Importance of a Change Order

The best way to protect yourself from a surprise charge is to demand a change order to your original contract. In fact, they should be offered by your contractor.

Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, the regulators for contractor licenses, has strict requirements when it comes to change orders. They also offer a free guide titled, “Before You Hire a Contractor.” One of the guidelines states, “The Board for Contractors requires all changes to a contract be made in writing and signed by both the contractor and consumer before such changes are implemented. Be sure that the written change orders to the contract at detailed and seek legal advice if you have questions about the changes.”

The guide goes on to say, “All agreements should be put in writing. It should include everything you have agreed upon and the extent of work to be done.” And later, “Even after work has already begun, your contractor may offer suggestions that could change your original idea for the project. If you choose to add work to the contract, substitute materials or equipment, or delay the completion date, make sure clearly worded and signed “change orders” reflect all changes to the original, signed contract.”

As you can see, contractors are required by their regulating body to provide written change orders. Having a change order is proof of both what the contractor has agreed to provide, and both parties’ signed approval of the change and its price. Without it, negotiations are open to a “he said, she said” debate that may be hard to win.

Who Can Help You Negotiate, Mediate or Litigate a Surprise Charge?

Först Consulting Group was created to help people involved in a construction dispute. We can represent either side of the case (homeowner or contractor), but not the both sides in the same case. As part of our services, we can provide expert opinion and advice, and help negotiate a reasonable and satisfactory settlement between the parties as a neutral third party. If that cannot be done, we can serve as a construction expert witness on behalf of either party to help prove their side of the story in a legal process through expert testimony and detailed inspection reports.

When you have a conflict you can’t seem to resolve, contact Först Consulting Group. We’ll be glad to briefly discuss your case to see how we can assist. Contact us today.


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