Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hedging for a final invoice agreement

Late this summer, E.C., reader from New England, discovered that the privet hedge that surrounded his yard was dying. The hedge had lived in the front and side yard since he purchased the house more than 30 years earlier. So E.C. was faced with the decision of whether to replace the hedge or to have it ripped out and replaced with something else.

That decision didn't take E.C. long. Because the hedge had taken hours every couple of weeks in the spring and summer to trim and weed, he had longed for a hedge-free yard for probably 29 of the past 30 years he'd owned the house. Now that the hedge was dying, he saw a perfect opportunity to create a lower maintenance yard.

After interviewing several different landscapers, E.C. hired one to remove the hedge and then to re-grade his yard and put down new sod where the hedge had been as well as throughout the rest of the yard. He received an estimate for the job, agreed to the price, and the work began.

On the third morning of the project, the landscaper mentioned to E.C. that he might want to have a dry well constructed in the front yard to keep the drainage from the gutters getting too close to the home's foundation. The cost of the dry well was not part of the original estimate for the landscaping. The landscaper told E.C. he would let him know how much the dry well would cost so E.C. could decide if he wanted to add that to the work being done.

E.C. went off to work. The landscape crew continued to work, and no word was ever spoken about the dry well again while the work was being done.

When the project was completed, E.C. loved how his new yard looked. Neighbors did too. The landscaped was pleased with the work too, and asked E.C.'s permission to put a sign in the front yard mentioning the landscaping was done by his company. E.C. agreed and the sign went up.

A few days later, E.C. received an email with an attached pdf from the landscaping company. The pdf was of an invoice for $1,306 for the dry well. If he paid within 10 days, E.C. could get a 10 percent discount and pay $1,175.

E.C. responded with an email that he had no idea that they went ahead and constructed the dry well so he was surprised at the additional cost. The landscaper apologized and said that they determined it was really needed and they installed it the day he and E.C. discussed the possibility.

Ultimately, the landscaper offered to accept $986 to cover materials and told E.C. he would eat the labor costs as a show of good faith. E.C. agreed, but wonders if he did the right thing by paying anything rather than fighting the cost for the un-agreed-upon work.

While E.C. could have decided to try to fight the cost since he hadn't agreed to it up front, his decision to agree to pay the $986 for the work done was the right thing to do. Had E.C. consulted a lawyer, he might urged him to fight the bill. But E.C. did the right thing by agreeing to what both he and his landscaper believed was fair. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Azalea Annie said...

Good communication would have prevented this issue from ever appearing. It appears the landscaper did not make the case that the dry well was necessary, and give the price for labor and materials for the dry well. The homeowner had to know that the dry well was being installed, but he did not ask about the cost for the dry well.

What were they thinking? Or not thinking, if that's the case.

Still, there's an ending without attorneys involved, and that's a good thing. People of intelligence and good well don't need an attorney for every question.