Handing Back the Check

Advice on backing out of a bad deal before it gets worse, while you still can. September 29, 2014

I only occasionally build cabinets. This customer needs a low cost vanity real fast. After taking measurements, giving a typed up quote, and receiving a down payment I am getting a bad feeling about the contractor and the homeowner. Itís only a $1400 job. Both are all over my case to get it done and I donít even have the plywood yet. They keep changing details and insist that I now get done in half the time I told them. So they are being real difficult and now I donít even want to work for them at all. I have not cashed their down payment check. Do I have a legal obligation to build their cabinets or can I cancel and say I just canít do the job? Do I need to contact my attorney Monday?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor P:
If you are really feeling that bad, hand them their check back and tell them why. Then it will be up to them to address your concerns or go elsewhere. Your willingness to walk away from the money says volumes and will change the power dynamic in this transaction. Good for you for recognizing that the little voice is full of wisdom.

From contributor C:
It's a $1400.00 job. Just get it built and move on.

From Contributor W:
I am tearing up a large check Monday. Go with your gut - it will scream bloody murder once you tear up the check but it will thank you profitably later on. This is the faith in yourself. I never discuss why with the client as this re-opens negotiation and I always lose after I go back. I just thank them for considering me, but no thanks!

From contributor A:
Social media has changed a lot of the rules here. It used to be that we would invent reasons to have two or three interactions with a customer before we agreed to work with them. It always seemed prudent to know who we were doing business with before we signed on the dotted line. Since you don't have to say no until you have to say no we would keep the project in our pocket until or unless something better came along. The customer, however, doesn't have as much experience interpreting sign like we do. They don't know how to identify red flags and sometimes think since you didn't say no that the project is still on target and they're going to get their cabinets from you. They may not have experience shopping for cabinets but they have something called YELP. You should not underestimate the power of a good review or a bad one either. Make your decision quickly and keep your customer in the loop. Learn to interpret the clues and don't leave your customer hanging.

From Contributor W:
I agree with the solid decision. I have always believed the worst thing I can do is mess with a customerís expectations as I do not want mine messed with. It is this reason that once I make the decision to stick with it I use as few words as possible and move on. No hard feelings no renegotiation.

From Contributor R:
I would consider being honest in that you made a mistake in accepting the job, but cannot in good conscience go forward because you were not fully aware of the urgency and do not want to hold up the contractor or customer. Apologize for the misunderstanding, hand back the check, and wish the customer well. Refuse to explain further than that. If possible, refer the customer to someone else who you truly believe can handle the project. Then, if you get slammed in social media for this, you may be able to explain what you did to resolve the situation. Being able to say you initiated an apology and deposit return will go a long way to negating a negative posting if it occurs.

From contributor F:
I disagree just a bit from the others. I don't think it was a mistake taking the job. From your description they are trying to make these changes after you already received the check and took the job. In that situation they are responsible for this job going south. I've found that the advice to go with your gut feeling is worthy of listening to. I wholeheartedly agree that you should return the down payment check to the client. You don't need to offer any excuses, just apologize and let them know that their timeline and your schedule do not line up. I generally believe honesty is the best policy, however if they continue to push you into the job then maybe it's time for an excuse. You'll want to be ready for it ahead of time though, "due to x,y, and z my schedule has been set back several weeks".

From contributor R:
They accepted the terms of the contract with the deposit check. Your contract does include a delivery date, right? If they don't want that delivery date now, they want to break the contract. Do you have a clause for them to break the contract with percent of payment due to you? I say build it and deliver based on the contract. Send them a request for change contract with the new details added, and wait for that to be signed before starting. That's why we have contracts in the first place.

From the original questioner
Thanks for the advice and comments. This morning I let the customer and contractor know that I have declined to enter into the agreement. They had not even signed the proposal, spec sheet or drawing yet. I recommended that they hire the shop to build the rest of their cabinets. Iím not worried about social media. I am old school. Iím not on Facebook and donít have an iPhone. These people wanted the cheapest wood, cheapest hardware, etc. and then when I explained everything and typed it up they had to have more expensive hardware, profiles matching perfectly, sooner deadline etc. and all for the cheaper price still. They did not want to pay sales tax on the room addition job. I will pay a restocking fee for the plywood but thatís fine with me. I mailed back their check certified mail.

From contributor Z:
I have returned checks more than once in my 34 years in business and never regretted it. You have done the right thing and will sleep better.