The Pitfalls of Customer Provided Equipment


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Many DIY’ers go to big box stores and purchase equipment and parts — then realize that they’re in over their heads and call in the pros. Before you agree to install customer-provided equipment, educate yourself on the potential pitfalls. On the other hand, if you’re able to pull off the request, you could become a hero, according to Richard Trimber, a former Chief Operating Officer for two home improvement contractors in the Washington, D.C. area. Trimber now serves as lead attorney for business law and advisory practice General Counsel, P.C. of McLean, Virginia.

“In this situation you’re like an emergency room doctor. It’s your job to help the homeowner understand that you’re there to make things right. If you handle it correctly, you get a customer for life,” Trimber said.

While it’s important to asses just what you’re up against, giving your new customer grief about taking on more than he or she could chew is just a waste of time, according to Trimber.

“The stupidest thing a contractor can do is deride another person’s work. If someone’s calling me because they’re up a creek they don’t want to hear about it for the next 20 years,” Trimber said.

Assess the Equipment and Supplies

Before taking over a DIY job, it’s important to assess the quantity and especially the quality of the equipment and supplies already on hand. There are three important questions that a contractor must answer for himself or herself, according to Trimber:

  • Are these the right products for the job?
  • Do they fit the designated space(s)?
  • Do they work properly?

In some cases, supplies that are of good quality but the wrong size can be adjusted to fit. However, the effort may so costly and complex that the client is better off starting again from scratch. If the equipment and supplies obtained by a DIY client are indeed subpar, you must get him or her on board with investing the necessary funds to obtain the right supplies and tools. You may need to remind the customer that going cheap now may lead to long term regrets, Trimber advised.

“(Explain to the client) you’ve got kids. That vanity will fall apart after they’ve been banging on it everyday. You’re not buying a hamburger you can forget if you don’t like it. You may be stuck looking at it (subpar work) for the next 15 years. This is the ultimate ‘you get what you pay for’ business,” Trimber said.

Cover Your Legal and Financial Bases

When taking over a DIY job, you cannot assume that permits have already been obtained. In some jurisdictions, including Virginia, homeowners are allowed to make certain adjustments to their homes without obtaining a permit. This is never the case for professional contractors. You should also ensure that proper inspections have taken place. If the homeowners haven’t pulled the proper permits and arranged for needed inspections, that’s your first order of business, Trimber advised.

You’ll also need to construct the contract so that you and your company are protected from liability that may arise from work you didn’t perform and equipment you didn’t supply. An “unforeseen circumstances” provision is an essential element for shielding yourself and your company from potential adverse legal action, according to Trimber.

“Any finished work behind the wall needs to be discussed and put into the contract. You can easily break something that was poorly installed in the process of fixing the job. (Or) a window replacement requires replacing the casing and windowsill. You may have to drill a hole in the wall that makes it look like you’re breaking it further,” Trimber said.

Be forewarned that you may run into resistance, especially if you’re asking a DIY client who has already spent a considerable amount of money to shell out even more. If you’re facing lean times, that can also pose problems, according to Trimber.

“Don’t walk into a job needing the job. If you need the job you will wind up making mistakes,” Trimber warned.

At all phases of working with a DIY client, projecting a professional demeanor and maintaining open lines of communication are essential, according to Trimber.

“Part of the contractor’s job is to educate the homeowner. It’s better for them, and it’s better for you,” Trimber said.

Disclaimer: This article describes general scenarios associated working with DIY clients. It is not intended to provide legal or financial advice. Please consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction with specific questions you may have concerning this subject.

Audrey Henderson
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Posted In: Customer Service, Management, Money

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