Q: I’m a contractor. Last year, I installed a $5,000 deck for a client as per our contract.

She later contacted me about boards in the deck that were cupping. She contacted the home improvement store we purchased the wood from and they advised her to replace the bad boards at their cost, which I did, then advised her to stain and seal the boards immediately, which she did.

It’s now a year later, and she wants me to install a new deck for free. She says I installed the deck without letting the wood season for three weeks prior to the installation.

I don’t know what she’s talking about. There was nothing wrong with the deck after I replaced the boards. It looked great and she was happy. Now she’s unhappy with me. What should I do?

A: If I hired you to install a deck and it was installed badly or if the materials were poor, and the deck looked awful a year later, I’d want you to rip it out and start again.

It sounds as though something happened over the course of the year and the deck has not weathered well. To figure out what you owe her, you should go back to your written contract.

Did you provide her with a warranty? Should the materials have been “seasoned” before installation regardless of what the home improvement store said? If you didn’t have a written contract, you need to determine what your agreement was with respect to the installation of the deck. If she purchased the materials for you to install them, would it have been her responsibility to “season” the wood? Were you just providing the labor and she the materials? Does the deck look good or bad these days? What does your contract say about her signing off on the project?

I think you need to go to her house and look at the deck and ask her why she is so unhappy with it. If she is just the kind of person who is never going to be satisfied, and you know you have fulfilled your responsibilities under the terms of the contract you signed, you can always say “Sorry” and see what happens next.

But showing up in person often goes a long way toward making someone feel better. In any case, it will give you a good idea of what your customer is thinking, which is always useful. And, if there truly is something wrong, you’ll be there to make sure it gets fixed properly.

When you’re on site, take your camera and perhaps even a digital video camera to make sure you have some evidence of the deck’s condition. If you can’t sort the issues out, you might need to seek the advice of a good real estate attorney.

Published: Aug 26, 2006