Should homeowner pay for con­trac­tor’s con­struc­tion tools?

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Residences Central - Tim Carter

Ques­tion: My con­trac­tor sub­mits bills for la­bor and­ma­te­ri­als, and I re­im­burse him. How­ever, I’m notic­ing items such as $50 “di­a­mond blade” and other tools on the bills. What is the usual prac­tice? Does the con­trac­tor or the homeowner pay for a spe­cial tool or blade that he chooses to buy to use for the pro­ject?

An­swer: Let me start by say­ing that you, as a homeowner, should pay for con­struc­tion tools and equip­ment that are com­pletely con­sumed on your job. How­ever, there is a mas­sive gray area, and I hope that the writ­ten con­tract you have with your con­trac­tor spells out what’s to hap­pen in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Be­lieve me, it’s easy for you to get taken ad­van­tage of in a lab­o­rand-ma­te­ri­als or cost-plus deal like you de­scribe.

If I were work­ing for you, this is how I would have ne­go­ti­ated the con­tract. First, I would have a small mul­ti­plier, sim­i­lar to a sales tax, that gets added to ev­ery bill I sub­mit to you.

This small per­cent­age — say, 1 per­cent — cov­ers wear and tear on the tools I al­ready own and will use on your job. This would even in­clude wear and tear on my truck that I drive to your job. All of these things even­tu­ally wear out, and the cost needs to be spread out pro­por­tion­ately over all the jobs where they are used.

This fi­nan­cial ar­range­ment takes care of pre-owned tools pretty nicely. The mul­ti­plier that’s used can seem like fuzzy math, be­cause some tools have a much longer life-span than oth­ers. A truck might last 10 years or more, whereas a cir­cu­lar saw that’s used each day for hours may fail af­ter three years. You’ll have to trust that the con­trac­tor is not charg­ing you an ex­ces­sive amount for the use of his tools.

When it comes to new con­struc­tion tools that have to be pur­chased for your job, I would have writ­ten into my con­tract with you that ei­ther you get the tool at the end of the job — af­ter all, you paid for it — or I can buy it from you at a slightly dis­counted price (af­ter de­duct­ing for the wear and tear on it dur­ing your job).

If nei­ther party wants the tool, it can be do­nated to a lo­cal char­ity that uses tools, or it can be sold in the open mar­ket­place. It’s easy to sell tools us­ing free on­line clas­si­fied-ad web­sites.

You can some­times skirt this is­sue en­tirely by rent­ing the needed tool. Why buy a tool if it’s needed only one day? The prob­lem is that tool-rental costs can soar if a tool is needed for a long time. In that case, it makes sense to buy the tool, but the own­er­ship of the tool needs to be spelled out be­fore it’s pur­chased.

In your case, the $50 di­a­mond blade gets a lit­tle tricky. The con­trac­tor might not have owned one and, in fact, needed it for your job.

How­ever, the en­tire blade might not be used up af­ter he’s fin­ished with it. It could have lots of cut­ting time left on it. In this case, I would have of­fered to buy it fromyou at a dis­counted price. If not, I’d leave the blade at your home for you to de­cide what to do with it.

Re­place­ment parts for con­struc­tion tools are an­other fuzzy area. Let’s say that while the con­trac­tor is at your house, the mo­tor on his elec­tric con­crete mixer fails. The part might cost hun­dreds of dol­lars.

There is no way that you should have to pay for the cost of the new mo­tor — be­cause it has been wear­ing out for years when it was used on other jobs. It’s rea­son­able for you to pay a small part of the part cost, as the mixer, once up and run­ning again, will be used for your ben­e­fit. (I say this while as­sum­ing that the mo­tor will last for sev­eral years af­ter it leaves your job site.)

I have some ad­vice for you. In the fu­ture, try to min­i­mize the num­ber of sit­u­a­tions where you use a cost­plus sys­tem of pay­ing for a job. They are fraught with un­cer­tainty and can cause all sorts of anx­i­ety about what the fi­nal bill will be. When­ever pos­si­ble, al­ways work with a fixed-sum con­tract where the con­trac­tor agrees to one price no mat­ter what hap­pens.

There are cer­tain jobs where there are un­knowns.

For ex­am­ple, a con­trac­tor dig­ging a foun­da­tion­might have a rock clause in case he hits bedrock and has to blast or to use spe­cial equip­ment that digs more slowly. In roof­ing work, there might be a clause to pay for rot­ted wood un­der shin­gles, be­cause the prob­lem­can’t be seen un­til the roof is stripped off.

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Blades, sand­pa­per, chalk, mask­ing tape, etc. are tools that can get to­tally con­sumed on a job and should be paid for by the homeowner.

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