Back in mid-July (around the 12th or so?) we had a business card left our front door. I normally toss all of this kind of stuff, but we happened to actually be in need of some of the services listed on it.
DH and I discussed it and decided to put in a request for an estimate - we weren't sure we could do what was needed right at the moment, but to even get it done before winter we would obviously need to know the level of expense we were facing. We planned to get estimates from 3 different companies to compare (and not just money, but their communication style, eye for detail.. that sort of thing. Much rather find someone we liked and could stay with long term).
What we needed done was to have all the weeds from the flower beds yanked, the ground tilled, a weed barrier put down, and mulch put down for low maintenance. We're on level 2 mandatory water restrictions in my city at this point. We also asked about the price of having the existing shrubs and bushes trimmed.
Here is where things went screwy.
They sent me an email estimate that listed the price per thing we wanted done, with one of those things having 2 options at different costs (weedeating, or handtilling). I didn't reply because I thought it was more than we could afford right now, but that gave us a good ballpark idea. We were debating well, what if we just did the weedeating and not the shrubs trimmed etc, could we swing that right now, stagger out the job?
They sent me a reminder email about the estimate six days later, so I replied thinking I was making sure of the amount; ok so 1+1+2+1 = X total? That amount sounds fine. Another email a few seconds later: Does that amount include tax? They responded no, it doesn't, that adds another $43ish. Again I didn't respond, this was a new amount so DH and I would have to kind of figure it all out again. This was Monday night. (Bolded comes into play here in a bit)
Then I had to go out of town Wednesday. Got home around 230pm.
To a finished lawn job and a big huge pile of bagged of clippings on my corner. No note on the door; 3 people in the house while I was gone said no one knocked and they thought it was our usual weekly mowing service (who did also come that day). No invoice or anything was left.
They had come and done the work. I absolutely lost my ever loving shit. I could not absorb what had just occured (full disclosure: I do have an anxiety condition for which I take medication). I sent an email immediately - I had never spoken with them on the phone or met someone from the company, that had been our only method of communication - saying OMG What happened here, this is a big problem! When I signed in to email them I found a further email mentioning they "COULD come do the work Wednesday" and something about making an account on the site to add my credit card. One was in the spam (the account one), one in regular folders.
Fast forward about a half hour or so and 2 people I don't know are knocking at the door. DH is still not home, I'm not expecting a package.. now the knocking is a forceful banging. The dog is barking nuts. DemonPrincess is getting upset. I open the door.
What followed was a bunch of passive aggresive bullshit with one of the guys waving print outs of my emails "that amount sounds fine" and insisting that meant I wanted the work done. Demanding payment in full because they did the job and bought the materials. I tried to be as noncomittal as possible and say I could see their side, but could they see mine, etc. I needed time to process what had happened. One of the guys kept trying to nail me down to make some statement about paying; I said we didn't agree to this, basically, I can't just pull $500 out of my ass right this second, even IF we had to pay this we'll have to talk about it first and how to do that.. The other guy looks more sheepish and doesn't talk much (turns out he's the one who was actually emailing me and took my statement as assent).
After DH gets home, he takes pictures of everything and we realize several things:
- We've always had black mulch (I think brown and red just look like dug up dirt for a curb appeal thing, if the beds are empty); they laid red (which turned browner after a rain sprinkle).
- They yanked one of DH's beloved Rose of Sharon (it was stunted compared to the other two, but still a couple feet high and he was nursing it along).
A couple more emails are exchanged. I react the way I do in these kind of situations - I need more infomation. Turns out the city doesn't license lawn care companies. I tell them the mulch color isn't the same that was there and why didn't they ask about it, what would they offer as a solution to that? I ask about them being bonded and insured. I ask to have copies of any invoices, receipts, etc for the work done.
I mean, if I'm going to be forced to pay for this, do I at least have the right to have it done the way I desired - right color of mulch, hey you ripped out our Rose, etc?
They reply back and argue that the mulch is brown, not red. (Well asshole, it ISN'T BLACK). No other word about that. They offer to plant a new rose (a seedling or whatnot in August in Texas? Excuse me while I cry.) They are real assholes about the rose though, that it would have been obvious not to pull that, but "they'll take my word that it happened". They don't address anything about the receipts or send an invoice or work order or anything. Language gets more aggressive.
So here we are. DH and I are 50/50 both on what to do. We on the one hand feel that when they sent back the amount with tax added, that changed the amount (duh) and a lack of response is not agreement. The original amount, if they took us to small claims, they may be able to argue successfully meant assent "That amount sounds fine to me". But there's no statement from me agreeing to the increased bid, since I didn't reply about it before they swooped in to do the work.
I feel we don't owe this money at all. It was their responsibility to get a clear agreement. It was their responsibility to wait to hear back from if that time/day was ok for them to come onto our property. It was their responsibility when they saw that one material was used and they had another (the mulch color) to at least make an effort to contact us to see if that was OK, or to take back that much and get black. They failed about a dozen ways from Sunday to do anything that ought to be pretty damn common sense.
However, there's this legal term about quantum meruit. (I probably just butchered the spelling, ignore it). Even if my agreement wasn't clear, they might be owed fair pay for it. (If you didn't know about this, learn it. Don't get bitten in the aass the way we are. Always be clear to say NO I WILL GET BACK TO YOU. Do not say something sounds "ok" when what you mean is "that doesn't sound heavily overpriced and like you're trying to scam us".)
I made the mistake of not being clear (to the first amount). Make no mistake I am not paying that second amount. Not happening. Even they aren't asking for it because they know they can't get it. But their position is that we still had a contract based on the first amount, and that I agreed to it.
WWYD? Do we cut a check and take the expensive lesson? File with the BBB (they are listed with them)? Say sod off, it's your responsibility to get a clear contract with agreed terms, you eat it (and be prepared to go to small claims if so)?
Help me out here, internets, for I am lost. If it was a lesser, trivial amount I could just shit out on command, I would pay it for the pure purpose of just being done with all of this. But $520 is totally not trivial to us.