The customer is always right … but you know better, don’t you? No doubt you’ve run into clients who have asked for something that’s questionable, whether it’s a matter of taste or even legality. Your solution can mean the difference between hefty fines, or worse, and a pleased customer.

Bad taste, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. “When it comes to tasteless, encouraging second opinions and providing guidance often helps,” says Steve Mitchell, owner of M4 Construction, in Los Angeles. “It would depend on what ‘tasteless’ actually meant ... to determine whether I would move forward with a project,” he says.

Darren Andrews, vice president at Dertzbaugh Construction, in the Washington, D.C., area, says that remodelers should offer alternatives to homeowners who are asking for something potentially problematic. “How these alternatives are presented can determine the client’s acceptance or, at the very least, the opening of their minds,” he says. “When all is said and done, if they still want to go forward with their original idea, I would carry it through to the best of my ability as long as there were no safety concerns or code violations.”

Steve Tittle, owner of Cavalier Enterprises, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, says that if he can’t guide his clients away from bad taste he still takes the job. However, if it’s illegal or violates building codes, he politely declines. “Being self-employed means you can work for whomever you choose,” he says. “Assume everything you do will come back to you someday. I prefer the good work that creates new referrals than something unethical that may put me out of business.”

Keep in mind that your reputation and license are on the line in every project, says Richard Feeley, a REMODELING contributor and president of Feeley Mediation & Business Law, in Marietta, Ga. “While it may seem attractive — or even profitable — to grant a homeowner’s request to do unpermitted work or work that doesn’t meet code, think long-term rather than project-by-project. A homeowner faces a potential fine or penalty; a remodeler who gets caught doing sub-code or unpermitted work faces a possible license suspension and certain increased scrutiny by the regulators on all of his jobs.”

Of course, don’t be surprised when you lose the business if you don’t cater to your client’s every whim; it’s happened to Mitchell: “Yes, I’ve lost a few contracts,” he says, “but no sleep.”

Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING.