It looks nice, but....
June 27, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

They finished painting my house today, and the bill is exactly as I expected. However, I didn't exactly get the service that I expected, although the house looks great. Is it too late to try to negotiate a lower rate?

In a nutshell, painting our large, Queen-Anne style house was a big, complex job and we only had a tiny number of contractors who were willing to put in a bid. The place I eventually chose quoted me a $13K estimate. Over the winter, I got a card from their competitor offering me 15% off their price; I asked the place I'd chosen (we'll call them Smith Painting) if they'd match that discount and they said they would. So, over the past month, we've been painted (finally).

Now, four years ago, I'd gotten estimates and they were more in the $8 - $9K range. When I asked why the price had gone up so much, I was told that there was a new law about how contractors had to handle lead paint, and that because of the age of my house and the possibility that there was lead paint on the property, my house would need special handling, which drove up the cost. I accepted that the new quotes were universally thousands higher than the quotes four years ago, and this explanation made sense.

However, when it actually came time to paint the house, there was zero special handling to be seen. I mean zero. The workers were not even wearing masks as they scraped. In a number of places the paint scrapings from the house actually fully covered the ground around the house (when I asked about this, I was told "it's the power-washing, it gets everywhere and there isn't anything we can do"). I did ask their head guy about this specifically, and he seemed concerned, but ultimately it never got any better.

The house is now done. They have promised clean up of all the paint chips, but I can't imagine a way they'll get them all. I fully expect to have to deal with them in our soil for years to come. (The good news is they found no trace of lead on the house; it's partially shingled and they feel that the house had probably always been stained (vs. painted) until the prior owner painted it in circus-tent colors in the late 1980's.)

So, I have the bill in hand. It is for exactly the price we discussed (15% off 13K minus my deposit). I'm fairly pissed off, though, about the enormous price increase over the 2009 quote, particularly since I was apparently given a nonsensical reason for it.

What would you do? If you would try to negotiate the bill down, how would you do it?
(I am already planning to note some other "professionalism" issues (smoking on my porch, peeing behind the garage, the full spray of paint chips everywhere) on Angie's List.) Keep in mind that I am very satisfied with the finished product, just not so much with the path we took to get there.
posted by anastasiav to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Did they do the testing and determine there was no lead paint prior to completing the work? So that they were able to skip any "special handling" steps because they knew none were required?
posted by handful of rain at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2013

First, don't pay until they clean up the paint chips to your satisfaction.

As for the special-handling-lead-paint thing -- everyone quoted you the same higher price. That means either the special handling is true, or that there's something else in the market that's driving up prices across the board. Either way, you paid what the job was worth today. The fact that it was worth less in 2009 doesn't mean it's not worth that today (as an example, the price of gas has gone up even more than your paint job did).

So, after they clean up the paint chips -- and frankly, expecting there to be no paint chips left after a complete house painting is a little much, so don't go over the ground with a fine-tooth comb -- pay them what you agreed to pay them.
posted by Etrigan at 11:15 AM on June 27, 2013 [16 favorites]

If it's any consolation, this stuff happens all the time. This is a contracts case, and basically you're obligated to pay what you agreed to in the contract.

In the future get new bids when embarking on a project, ESPECIALLY if the difference in bids is super high.

Now, no law says you can't call the guy and ask him for a price reduction. After all, right now, it's all about him getting money out of you. It would be different if you needed something from him.

So mention the ways in which you are dissatisfied, discuss the difference in quotes, and see what it gets you. Have the contractor put it in writing BEFORE you pay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2013

Everything is always negotiable. everything.
posted by killdevil at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did you get an itemized quote or statement of work? Is lead paint abatement on the quote? if so, it should have been removed when the lead paint test came back negative, and the price should be lowered.
posted by muddgirl at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I never accept verbal quotes for this very reason.
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2013

You can always say that it looks great, but that your ground is covered in paint chips, which are presumably lead paint that they were supposed to abate. Refer to the specific person and date if you have it, when they said that the estimate was as high as it was specifically because of the lead abatement. Hopefully you have an itemized estimate that includes it, too. Then ask whether they:

1. tested and found no lead -- in which case can you get a discount since the abatement wasn't necessary

2. tested and found lead -- in which case what are they going to do to handle all the lead paint all over the ground

3. didn't test -- in which case are they in non-compliance with the law that was quoted to you, what will happen when the inspector comes, and what are they going to do about it?

Don't be argumentative. Just be factual and good-natured. See what comes back.
posted by davejay at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did they do the testing and determine there was no lead paint prior to completing the work?

It's hard to say if they ever did any formal testing. The on-site lead guy just said they "could tell by looking" at the chips that it was not-lead based. They did say they found a small amount of lead around the one basement window that had already been sealed in by the last painting, but they didn't seem very concerned about it.

Tough shit.

Again, remember that they said the price difference was so big because they had to handle my house in a special way -- that they didn't actually do , not that the price had simply gone up by this vast amount.

Is lead paint abatement on the quote?

No, there is no line item for lead abatement in the quote, and that's where I think my problem lies. We had a discussion about it, but it was never noted in writing that this is why the cost was so much higher. I do have a written quote that itemizes a ton of things (repair, equipment rental, the actual paint, labor, etc) but no mention of lead in the written quote.
posted by anastasiav at 11:20 AM on June 27, 2013

Well, the market quotes were all about the same, right?

So if you had gone with a different painter, you'd have paid that 15% that was discounted, right?

Prices change. Costs of labor go up. Costs of supplies go up. It's a fact of life.

Short of insisting they get all the paint chips off of your ground, I really don't think you got a lot to go on --- 4 years ago was 4 years ago. If you had wanted the price from 4 years ago, you should have had the house painted 4 years ago.
posted by zizzle at 11:25 AM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

First,'s never too late to negotiate your payment because you're dissatisfied, but know that if you agreed to pay, unless the finished product is not as promised, then the painter could hold their ground for the full original price you agreed upon. And it sounds like the house looks fine.

Seems like you do have a cleanup issue, and I would explain that I wasn't going to pay them anything until they came back and completely cleaned the property and surrounding area. Have the supervisor come and look over everything with you.

Again, remember that they said the price difference was so big because they had to handle my house in a special way -- that they didn't actually do , not that the price had simply gone up by this vast amount...

there is no line item for lead abatement in the quote, and that's where I think my problem lies. We had a discussion about it, but it was never noted in writing that this is why the cost was so much higher. I do have a written quote that itemizes a ton of things (repair, equipment rental, the actual paint, labor, etc) but no mention of lead in the written quote.

Well, you agreed to pay this, and the lead abatement/testing is not in writing, so I think you may be out of luck. And forget about being annoyed over the price differential from the earlier quote. You knew the price when you agreed. I think you can chalk it up to a learned lesson...get everything in writing.
posted by kinetic at 11:26 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you agreed to a price for a particular service, they provided that service to your satisfaction, but now -- because you're still upset about the price you agreed to -- you don't want to pay.

If you're going to try to negotiate down, I think you're going to have to come up with a better explanation of why you shouldn't have to pay that much.
posted by cranberry_nut at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's possible that by "special handling," they didn't mean lead abatement itself, but rather all the regulatory stuff that has to occur prior to knowing whether or not there was lead in the paint - in other words, not ventilators and trash bags, but having a trained on-site lead guy plus the cost of the testing that seems like it did occur if they found a small amount of lead that was painted over around one of the windows.
posted by muddgirl at 11:30 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Did they haul away any waste? Could the special treatment be related to the disposal of that waste? Did they scrape instead of sand because of the possibility of producing small particulate?

You might want to ask - the special treatment might not be entirely obvious, it might just be a change in general practice instituted by regulation which generally increases the cost of jobs...
posted by NoDef at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2013

"Dear {Manager},

I am writing in regard to the painting of my house at 123 Anystreet. I have several concerns that I would like to document before I pay the final bill. Specifically:

The quote of $11,000 was in consideration of necessary handling for lead abatement. However, it is clear that your workers did not perform any special handling of my home, because there was no lead. No one on your team informed me of this, and no special handling was performed.

Your workers ultimately painted my house to my satisfaction, but there were numerous instances of unprofessional behavior during the work that concerned me greatly, including instances of smoking on my porch, urinating on my property behind the garage, and failing to account for the clean-up of paint detritus which still litters the ground around my house.

In consideration for these issues, I'd like to speak with you in person about my final bill.

Note, you should definitely not bring up reviewing on Angie's List in a threatening way, because no business owner is going to respond well to threats, especially since you did technically get a painted house. But you can bring this up subtly when you speak with him or her by mentioning that you felt comfortable hiring the company because of the good reviews on Angie's List, and you are confused why the work on your house didn't live up to that reputation.

They may not agree, but you're documenting the issue in writing, and a good business owner is interested in making sure you're a happy customer. Give him a chance to do that. Don't hold the final bill hostage, just say you want to chat before paying it. If he doesn't care, just pay the bill, but be sure to review on Angie's List and BBB.
posted by juniperesque at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

If it helps, the reg they're referring to is likely EPA's RRP Rule, and the primary cost is in certification and in training their employees to renovate safely. EPA has a hotline you can call with specific questions.

I can also say that anyone who says they can tell you if a material contains lead (or asbestos) just by looking at it is full of shit. It needs to be backed up with actual sampling. I would find out if they actually sampled. If they didn't sample, I'd figure out how to get the paint chips on the ground sampled, because that could be a huge problem down the road.
posted by pie ninja at 11:51 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even if they didn't have to handle lead paint, they have to hire/train people to handle lead paint and pay them a rate that includes that skill/service; they have to work extra time into the schedule should lead paint be found, which means they can take on fewer jobs; they have to buy and maintain whatever equipment and supplies are involved should lead paint abatement become necessary; etc.

This sort of thing happens all the time. You still have to pay mechanics and doctors for their time and expertise, even if your car is totaled or it turns out to be the common cold that the MD can't cure.
posted by headnsouth at 11:51 AM on June 27, 2013

This all depends on what your contract/written quote said. If they satisfied the terms of the contract, then you aren't due a discount, though you can always ask.

Is the $4,000 price increase an approximation of the special handling for the houses that need it? It could be that only half of old houses need the special handling, but they don't know if a particular house will until they start, and for the houses that need it it costs $8,000. So they are essentially spreading out the cost of the new regulations over all houses of a certain age, whether those houses need it or not.

Because if it were easy for them to determine whether your house had lead paint and they were legally allowed to repaint it without special handling if the test was negative, their competitors would come over and test for lead and undercut their quotes by $4,000. So the fact that all the quotes were about the same suggests that it's not so easy or you DID get value for the extra money (maybe it covers their liability insurance for working with lead, for example, or it covers the extra cost of disposal).
posted by payoto at 11:51 AM on June 27, 2013

This may be a bit off topic - but I call nonsense on the "tell by looking" lead paint assessment. Having experienced the lead paint testing method, lead assessors in my area had far more sophisticated tools to check for lead (a gun that 'read' through layers of paint to see if lead based paint was beneath the existing paint, dust wipes, and soil collection). Even if one could "tell by looking" you're only looking at the outer most layer of paint, and not what may be beneath it.

I agree with the letter written above by Juniperesque.

I would request documentation from their lead test that this was the appropriate removal method as well.

If you're going to pass the expense of training employees on lead remuneration onto your customers - then the client should get better service than "can tell by looking at it" for lead detection.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The special handling is true and applies to ANY house built before 1978 under current EPA guidelines (if you are in the U.S.). Enforcement is sketchy but having just gone through this with a remodel and exterior paint, it does not sound like they in any way complied with the EPA regulations.

I don't know if you can negotiate a lower price at this point or not, but the EPA regs do not require any testing whatsoever -- if it's an old house, they have to comply. (With some exceptions and opt-outs that do not seem to apply to you.)
posted by xeney at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2013

You know what, I would go to the store and get a lead paint test kit and test those chips and see if they contain lead paint. Because earlier this year the rental house next door got repainted. The painters came over and gave me some legally-required notice that lead remediation was taking place. And then they proceeded to just straight up power wash the paint off the house in a wind storm. Paint chips blew EVERYWHERE, including into our yard. No masks, no tarps, no precautionary measures of any kind. So they knew there was lead but just couldn't be bothered taking the appropriate steps. If you find out that that's what happened to you, then you're going to be in a very strong position to negotiate this bill down to nothing + they pay for cleanup.
posted by HotToddy at 12:33 PM on June 27, 2013

First, a lead paint test kit is $10 from your favorite hardware store so scoop up some of those chips. If it was never painted until the late 1980s my guess would be no lead, but it's cheap enough to test. Also, as noted above ask for their proof obtained before beginning the job.

Assuming no lead definitely see how the cleanup goes before paying - the cleanup is part of the job. They could have put down catch-tarps to make cleanup somewhat easier.

This page can help with some state-level regulations and here are some federal ones ("New federal rule requires contractors to do lead-safe renovations in homes and day cares built before 1978"). From the sound of things, they may have not followed all the laws which can land them in big trouble.

We lived in an old house that was scraped/repainted (as renters) and we had to sign things affirming we know the risks and these guys were dressed up in spacesuit gear, had tarps everywhere, giant vacuum things and so on. Plus we took extra steps to not bring dust in ourselves for the time it went on.
posted by mikepop at 12:36 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The fine for not complying with the EPA regulations is something like $30K a DAY (for the contractor, not for you). You have a pretty big bargaining chip if they actually were not complying. And our experience was closer to mikepop's.
posted by xeney at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2013

Negotiating for cash back is difficult, because you agreed to the price without a clause for 'what if there's no lead.' Make them clean up thoroughly, and make them document the lack of lead, and also test some paint chips yourself. Lead is really toxic, and if there's lead in the chips, it's been in the air, and you and your family have been exposed. If there's lead in the paint chips, negotiate for remediation. The Extension Service is an excellent resource for info on lead.

Meanwhile, have your child's blood tested. It's a cheap test, and the results shouldn't take more than a few days. Your lovely home is quite likely to have lead paint inside. When we lived in an old house in Portland, I had my son tested; he was fine. The house had replacement windows, and we'd painted most of the rooms, painted woodwork, and ceilings. Our yard had lots of lead in the soil - not bad if it's covered with thick grass, but bare dirt can be a problem. We replaced all the soil in the tiny veg. garden, and put @ 1/2 inch of new soil down, both to cover the leaded soil and to promote the grass. A lot of the lead in soil came from car exhaust.
posted by theora55 at 2:37 PM on June 27, 2013

It could be that lead abatement is what drove the market price up, not that your job costs more because it needed any lead abatement.

Additionally, increased costs may not be in your job as much as in the cost of doing business. Lead abatement requirements could mean, for example, training/certification costs for their entire crew (I suppose)-- that's an increase in the cost of doing business in general, because the painters are essentially worth more as more-skilled labor than they would've been in '09.

I don't know that this is the case, but I've seen equivalent things happen in my industry.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Before going into negotiation mode, I'd start in friendly question mode. "You'd explained this cost was higher because of the new lead handling requirements. Did they end up impacting this job? How so?" They may have, in ways that aren't obvious (e.g. hand-scraping instead of power-sanding). Or if not, THEN sure, might as well ask, "Oh, great, then can you credit me the extra cost you'd built in for that?"
posted by daisyace at 3:16 PM on June 27, 2013

Thanks for the replies, everyone.

Thanks to Mikepop's links, I found some specific things they did not do that they are required to have done (and they are an EPA certified contractor), including:

- We certainly never got a lead pamphlet within 60 days of the start, as required
- No signs were posted
- There was no containment that we could see at any time
- The ground was never covered to 10 feet
- "the firm must clean the work area until no dust, debris or residue remains." :; this is absolutely not the case; I took extensive photos of the debris and paint chips last night (before the epic rainstorm) and they are thick on the ground, including areas on the driveway and sidewalk that could easily have been swept.

I've emailed them this morning expressing my concerns (again, we had previously had a phone conversation about this that resulted in little action). Reading through this document from the EPA, though, has left me even more angry (and a little freaked out).

Besides having my child's lead levels checked yet again (my son is in the process of being diagnosed with ... something (right now the leaders are Developmental dyspraxia with ADHD) but his lead levels have always been normal.) Now what the heck do I do? Just report them? Give them a chance to at least clean things up? Get an attorney?
posted by anastasiav at 10:39 AM on June 28, 2013

I'd say this is worth an attorney consult, which should be free. Try to find one that has experience with environmental stuff, bring your photos and list of all the things they did not do that they were required to do. Tell the attorney what outcome you want from this (examples - removal and replacement of soil around your house plus other decontamination inside and out; them to pay for testing of lead levels for your family (and possibly further costs based on results); payment for alternate housing while your home area is tested/remedied; negotiate a reduction in price; sue them outright; have them lose their license and pay fines). The attorney will tell you how any of those situations are likely to go, and you decide from there.

That's probably better than going to the company "Hey look at all these violations let's talk about this bill again" because they will probably just stonewall you or fire up their lawyers to sue you for slander, blackmail, etc. and then you are on defense instead of offense.
posted by mikepop at 5:42 AM on July 1, 2013

Adding, if you decide to go with an attorney they will probably advise you stop communicating directly with them so you may as well start that now.
posted by mikepop at 5:43 AM on July 1, 2013

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