As part of a larger remodel, Norsk Remodeling in Seattle installed a gas jet for a barbeque on a client's patio. According to Norsk president Karl Dropping, “In my specs I said I was installing a gas jet in the house, and that for time and materials we'd put one on the patio. I didn't mark it up and did it for cost.” The client saw things differently and claimed they never asked for the patio gas jet, and they weren't going to pay for it.
Situations like this are not uncommon among remodelers. Options for resolving such misunderstandings include mediation, arbitration, small claims court, or litigation. No one — except, perhaps, lawyers — likes the last choice. Dropping used his local Better Business Bureau's volunteer arbitration service, which is included as part of his membership in the organization. (Some local National Association of the Remodeling Industry chapters and National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council chapters offer similar services.) Simply put, in arbitration, a case is judged and decided by a third party; in mediation, a decision is agreed to by the parties involved. BBB arbitration is legally binding.
Dropping presents arbitration to a client by first acknowledging the issue. “I tell clients, ‘You obviously feel strongly about your position. And I feel strongly about mine. Why don't we agree to disagree? I'll contact the BBB and they'll send somebody out,'” he says. “It can ruin the rest of the project if you don't defuse the situation.”
Norsk has used arbitration twice more since that first time about nine years ago. “It's a pretty good way of dealing with a situation when you have a fairly reasonable client who sees things a different way,” Dropping says. He has even had referrals from clients who lost the arbitration process. “They felt good about getting an impartial hearing.”
In the patio case, Dropping says he pulled out the drawings at arbitration. The gas jet wasn't on them. He says he asked, “How did the installer know where to put it?” and that “the husband responded, ‘I told him where to put it, but I never told him to put it in.'” Norsk Remodeling won the case and was paid the $2,800 it was owed.