Am wondering if I've been scammed out of $2300.

I had a 40’ X 40’ pole barn built a few years ago. I would now like to install a metal (steel) ceiling inside the barn, and then install fluorescent light fixtures.

The distance from the floor to the bottom of the trusses is 10 feet. The metal ceiling panels will be screwed to the bottom of the trusses.

I have installed all the wiring for the lights. It’s ready for the ceiling.

So… back in June I placed an ad in a FB group for buying/selling in our county, and asked if there were any local contractors who install metal ceiling panels. A guy named Jeff answered back. He is an independent contractor who used to work at a company that builds pole barns.

So a few days later he came over to look at the barn and gave me a written estimate: $2000 for materials and $1000 for labor. I told him it seemed like a fair price. He asked to be paid for the materials up-front. My wife wrote him a check for $2300. (At the last minute he said we should make it out to $2300, just in case his estimate was a bit low.) I told him I was still in the process of running wires for the lighting, and I would be ready for him to start work in a month or so. He said, “No problem, I’ll go ahead and buy the materials now at the lumber yard, and have them hold onto the materials for us until we’re ready.” He then gave us a receipt and left.

Well that was in June. I messaged him on FB in July. He said he was busy.

And then I contacted him about once a month afterwards. Same response each time - he was very busy building a house, blaa blaa blaa.

So a couple weeks ago I was getting a bit pissed off about this, and told him as much. I told him, “Let’s start the job the week of October 10th.” He said, “O.K.”

I am now wondering if he is ever going to do this job. :mad: If he postpones the job again, I am going to tell him to simply deliver the materials and then we’ll part ways; I’ll either do the job myself or hire someone else to do the installation. But what if he balks at that? What’s my recourse??

Yea yea, I know I really screwed up in how I handled this. I was too trusting; feel free to pounce on me.

Assuming he doesn’t begin the job as promised, your recourse is to demand the $2300 back, and failing that, small claims. I wouldn’t bother demanding the materials. He probably doesn’t have them, anyway.

If he was anything professional there would be a signed contract detailing the scope of the job.
You do have one, right?
Otherwise, small-claims court. Otherwise, yes - you are screwed.

I would call the lumber place and make sure he really did buy the materials.

Well, look at one bright spot: you were smart enough to pay by check. So you have hard evidence and a clear-cut case if you go to court.
I ain’t no lawyer…but I don’t see how he can mount any defense. (But then, even if you win, I don’t know how you can collect, either.)

Now, whether going to court is worth it, I don’t know. Small claims is supposed to be perfect for things like this…But check with somebody local who has practical experience in your specific court.

Small claims court, you’ll likely win. The hard part is getting the person to pay. If he’s broke he won’t pay and there’s not much worth doing that you can do about it.

Well here’s a website:

I won a small claims case in 2013 and just kissed the money goodbye because it was a headache trying to collect. For some reason I thought when I received the judgment, BAM, the court would enforce the SOB to pay right then and there or set something up to where my money was coming back to me. The good thing is that this situation fixed my credit that was wrecked because of it, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. The money would’ve been nice though.

My wife has had a similar issue with a guy she paid to install some new windows in our daughter’s house. She paid him half up front and has spent most of the summer trying to get a response from him. He finally emailed her back last week saying he had taken on too many jobs and was short-staffed and had fallen behind schedule. He said he would complete the job in the next couple weeks at no additional cost. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m not holding my breath. Good luck with your situation, I hope it works out.

Don’t pay till the job is done. Maybe a down payment although around here, people don’t ask for one.

Well, sad to say, but you were probably ripped off. You might take him to small claims court, but that takes up your time.

Tell you what… If you just send me 10%, $230, I will take care of this problem for you, and make sure you get all of your money back. Just send me the cash, and your worries will be over!

You could take it to Judge Judy – defendants sometimes prefer that because the show pays any penalties (plus a free trip to LA).

I suppose it’s a good sign that he agreed to start the week of Oct. 10. Up to this point it seems he’s been telling you straight up that he’s too busy. Which sucks for you, but at least he’s been honest. I hope for your sake he comes through for you. But if he doesn’t, I agree you demand the money back and forget about any materials he may or may not have ordered.

The way I read it is that you hired him, he replied and thought he was getting a job, but then you told him you didn’t need him for a “month or so”. Keep in mind if you’re ad said that the job didn’t start for a month he may have passed it by and picked a different job instead. But he said that was okay and in the mean time found other work.
When you were ready for him, he was doing another job. He can’t drop what he’s doing because you’re suddenly ready for him, even if that job is taking longer than planned.

It sucks for you and he probably (hopefully) feels at least somewhat bad about it, but I’d at least wait until Monday the 12th (the week of the 10th?) and see what happens. If he shows up, great, if not, then just ask for you’re money back. No ifs ands or buts, just tell him you’d like the money back so you can hire someone else and I’d add something like “I need to get this done before my Halloween party in two weeks, I told my wife it would be finished like 3 months ago”.

Also, for us to form some real opinions, you’d have to fill us in on the rest of the details. For example, what was a ‘month or so’? Did he tell you that he might be in the middle of another job when you called him and you’d have to wait? Did your FB ad say that the job couldn’t start for a month?

Thanks for the replies.

I’m going to call the lumberyard today to find out if he really ordered the materials. I have a hunch the materials were never ordered.

I will message him this evening, and ask if he will be ready to start work next weekend. If he gives any excuse on why he can’t start the work, I’ll tell him (assuming he never ordered the materials), “Jeff, it’s been four months of excuses. You are to return the money I paid you - in full - within 72 hours.”

How’s that for a plan?

I contacted a sheriff buddy of mind about it. He told me something that was interesting… according to Ohio law, if you pay money to a contractor up front, and they stat the job without finishing it, you can take them to small claims court. But if you pay money to a contractor up front, and they never even start the job, it is a criminal offense (Theft by Deception - F5 felony).

I have to admit from my experience working with tradesmen that they are often incredibly unreliable in terms of time commitments. It seems that all of them would rather accept more work than they can humanly do rather than let a prospective job slip by. They seem to have a very elastic view of when they will be on your site and usually seem to be doing 3 jobs at a time.

For this reason I would still be hopeful. Not confident but hopeful.

In a situation like that you pay for the materials when delivered to the job site.

btw…$ 1.875 per SF installed not seem all that unreasonable

Here’s the FB conversation, FWIW. (Looks like I was a little off on money values and times.)

June 1

Jeff: I have a price worked up for ur barn but I was out late pouring concrete and didn’t get home till like 9:30 I’ll get ahold of u tomorrow and meet up with u thanks
June 2

Crafter_Man: No prob, Jeff. Just call/text 937-XXX-XXXX.

Jeff: My kid has a baseball game tonight I’m working in Springfeld tomorrow let try meet up then if u want I can go ahead and tell u the price And then meet up to look at it

Crafter_Man: Not a prob - actually tomorrow is better for me, too.
June 3

Jeff: I’ll be there about 7 is that fine

[Jeff came out to look at the barn and provided a written quote: $2200 for materials, $1000 for labor. We did not pay him any money at this time – I told him we need to think about it first. - Crafter_Man]
June 10

Jeff: I was just letting u know that metal is going to go up on Monday . I thought I would let u know thanks [Jeff is letting me know the price of metal is going up soon, and thus we should order the material ASAP. - Crafter_Man]

Crafter_Man: Thanks Jeff. Am out of town right now. I’ll talk to my wife.

Jeff: Ok I thought I would just give u a heads up thanks

Crafter_Man: $2200 for now, correct? She will probably want to pay you w/ check. Cash for the labor amount shouldn’t be a problem.

Jeff: I thinking 2500 let me look. Yes 2500 then the rest when we are done

Crafter_Man: Should she make the check out to you?

Jeff: Yes Jeff dose she want me to pick it up tonight because I’ll be that way in a few going to my dads

Crafter_Man: Tonight may be good. Would you mind giving her a call at 937-XXX-XXXX (home) or 937-XXX-XXXX (cell)? Her name is Crafter_Woman. Thanks.

Jeff: Yea I’ll call her thanks again
June 19

Crafter_Man: Jeff, Are all the supplies on order? Haven’t yet gotten around to do the wiring.

Jeff: Yes they just when ever u are ready I can have it there within that week u tell me

Crafter_Man: Cool, thanks.
June 20

Crafter_Man: Jeff, Will the steel panels screw directly to the bottom of the trusses? Thanks, Michael

Jeff: Yes It will be every other

Crafter_Man: O.K., cool. For steel, are electrically boxes typically recesses (such as they are in drywall), or are the electrical boxes typically mounted “on top” of the steel, so that the entire box is exposed?

Jeff: It’s just how ever u want to do it. I have seen them both ways

Crafter_Man: Will it look sort-of like this (where there are ribs)? If so, I assume the lights must mount between the ribs?

Jeff: Yea that’s what I was saying u can do it that way or u can put it on the inside of the metal
August 5

Crafter_Man: Jeff… I’m about ready. Only have one more wire to run.

Jeff: Ok it might be a few weeks pretty booked right now

Crafter_Man: A couple weeks will be fine. Thanks.

Jeff: Ok
September 4

Crafter_Man: Jeff: what’s the status? I have the wiring done. Let me know. Thanks.

Jeff: I’m working on building a house right now trying to fit it in real fast

Crafter_Man: That’s cool… no super-rush, but I have the wiring done. Would like to get it completed soon.

Jeff: Ok I’m sorry just been slammed

Crafter_Man: No prob. Wife is complaining that we’ve already sourced $$$$ for materials. Just wondering when installation will take place.

Jeff: I have been working every weekend I’m trying to get u in as soon as possible

Crafter_Man: Again, I understand.
September 15

Crafter_Man: Jeff, I need an estimate on when the job will start.

Jeff: I’m thinking like the first weekend in October I’m really swamped right now

Crafter_Man: Has the material been paid for?

Jeff: Yes I’m just really busy I’ll do it on the weekend

Crafter_Man: Can you start Oct 10/11/15?

Jeff: Yea sounds like a plan

Crafter_Man: I’ll ping ya the week before then. Thanks.

Jeff: Ok sorry just took off a lot faster then I thought like right now I’m building a house
September 19

Crafter_Man: Am doing some planning for lighting. How wide is each piece of steel? 6 inches? 12 inches? Can you provide a link to what it looks like? Thanks.

Jeff: 9" on center

Crafter_Man: Is each piece perfectly flat? Or is there a rib?

Jeff: There is a rib

Crafter_Man: So when you look up at the finished ceiling, the ribs will be 9 inches apart?
(Center to center.)

Jeff: Yes

Crafter_Man: Cool, thanks.

It looks (to me) like what I said above, you made an agreement with him to do some work but then told him you wouldn’t need him for a while (you must have done that by phone or in person), when you were finally ready for him, he wasn’t ready for him. Now you have to wait for him to finish the job he’s currently working on.

Also, on top of that, you didn’t mention that he’s a weekend warrior, this isn’t his job, it’s just how he bring in extra money*, so he only has one or two days a week to do these side projects. That means any household chores, any baseball games, any school functions for the kids…all come first. Keep in mind, once he’s starts your project, it could take several weekends to finish. If he’s the type of guy to start one project and stick with it until it’s done, that’s great, but some people take on more than one and juggle it. That’s how my guy was. His project that he promised would be done in two weeks, took 6 weeks and probably a dozen phone calls.
*Well, maybe it is his job also, but he’s clearly doing this stuff only on the weekends.

I haven’t met a fellow homeowner yet who didn’t love this Pearls Before Swine strip.

Sounds like he’s trying to cram in as many jobs while he can. I imagine he’ll slow down considerably after this month. Seems to elaborate to be a scam. He has your money, so I would expect dead silence from his end if he was planning on just stealing it. Hope it works out in the next couple weeks.

Perhaps you’re correct. If so, I would simply like my money returned to me (or materials + any $ difference) and I’ll do the job myself.