MIDLOTHIAN, VA (WWBT) - Can a contractor hike the price of a job without notice and make you pay for it? An 85-year-old Midlothian woman says that's exactly what a tree service did to her.
She regrets paying the higher price but says she felt she had no choice.
This was no small increase. The cost of taking down one big oak from the lady's backyard jumped from $1,400 to $3,400. It's the way she says it was done that has some in the tree service industry upset.
Jacquelin Gusti showed NBC 12 the contract she signed on June 27, 2016 with Thomas Smith's Tree Service out of Unionville, Virginia. The smudged $3,400 amount she says was originally $1,400
"I'm old, and I figure he figured he could just tell me and I'd give it to him, which I did," said Gusti.
The 85-year-old woman says Smith knocked on her door when it was dark and after the tree had been taken down. He asked for the contract back and scratched in the new amount.
"He said, 'it's going to be a little more than I told you. It's going to be $3,400.' My eyes flew wide open, because I didn't expect that much."
Thomas Smith denies it happened. He claims he doesn't remember the job but says he would never do that.
We spoke over the phone twice, only once at length, after more than a half dozen calls to him went unreturned.
Tim Jones says he introduced his friend and neighbor to the tree service after seeing them in the neighborhood. He says he was there for the original contract talks and remembers the $1,400 price.
"I would just love to see Ms. Gusti get her $2,000 back, for those gentlemen to stick to their original contract," said Jones. "As a business owner myself, if I under bid a job, I have to eat it, and I think they should have stuck by the original contract."
We talked with True Timber Tree Service, and it says this type behavior hurts everybody in the industry. We asked: when you hear $1,400 jump to $3,400, what is that?
"There's no excuse for that," said Certified arborist and industry expert Randy Reynolds. "As an estimator, you don't miss that badly."
Reynolds says the right way to change a contract is to tell the customer the moment a problem that may alter the price is first discovered - not after the work is done.
"Just eat the cost," said Reynolds. "You kind of present it to the customer and say, 'I really messed this one up. I underestimated and these are the reasons why.' Some of them will say, 'I'm going to give you some extra money for it.' But we never scratch anything out and say the price is now this."
Thomas Smith said he's coming to Richmond from Unionville Friday to meet with me and Jacquelin Gusti. He has not said he's refunding any money. He says he wants to see the work area and talk with her.
We will stay on top of it and let you know how it goes.
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