Overbilled for my closet repair! Should I sign this nondisclosure agreement?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Laurence Bauman’s closet collapses, he hires Beltway Builders to fix it. But soon afterward, the closet collapses again. Now the company wants him to sign a nondisclosure agreement. What’s going on?

Question

I recently found a contractor on Angi to fix my bedroom closet. I reached out to the recommended company, Beltway Builders, and they sent a man named Texas Greg to give me an estimate.

Texas Greg quoted me a crazy price of $1,350 for the job. When I asked why it was so expensive, he said it was the day rate for two handymen. I accepted it because my wife was freaking out that her clothes were all over the floor.

Only one person showed up for the job. He took four hours to finish. I complained to Beltway and told Texas Greg that I should get a $500 refund for getting only four hours of labor while being charged for 16 hours. Texas Greg said I was wrong and that they undercharged me. He said my bill should have been $1,650.

Shortly after the work was finished, the shelves in the closet collapsed. This time, I fixed it myself. They offered me a $100 gift card to Outback Steakhouse and made me sign a nondisclosure agreement that I couldn’t disparage them or their work any further. 

I would like a refund for the second repairman who did not show up. Can you help me? — Laurence Bauman, Pikesville, Md.

Answer

A contractor should do a competent job at a fair rate. So much went wrong with your experience, I don’t even know where to begin.

When you research a contractor, you can certainly use Angi as a resource. But you don’t want to rely on it exclusively. Ask around and get a good word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or relative. (Related: How I got a refund as a civilian (and how you can, too).)

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Also, if someone quotes you a rate that’s too high, you’re under no obligation to say “yes.” (As it turned out, you finally decided to install the shelves yourself for free.) I realize your wife was upset about the closet, and you needed to get the job done quickly. But you didn’t have to go with the Texas Greg estimate. (Related: Best Buy promised me a $150 refund for my Bosch dishwasher. Now it won’t pay!)

Texas Greg really gave you a Texas-sized estimate for the closets. I might have requested several estimates for the job. (Here’s our guide to fixing your consumer problem.)

I see from your correspondence with Beltway Builders that there was some additional communication with the company and that you involved the BBB. That probably irritated the company, leading it to send you the gift card offer with the nondisclosure agreement.

What’s a nondisclosure agreement?

A nondisclosure agreement is a legally binding contract that prevents you from revealing certain things about a business relationship — in your case, it would be anything relating to the job Texas Greg had quoted you.

It would include your comments on the closets and the images of the collapsed closet that you sent me with your complaint. (Related: Here’s how to make a simple UPS refund problem complicated.)

We deal with nondisclosure agreements all the time in our advocacy practice. Sometimes, they’re nuisances or misunderstandings.

The most frequent user of nondisclosures is Viking. As part of a settlement, it requires customers to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Viking is trying to keep a potentially unflattering story out of the press, but it never works.

Remember, no one is forcing you to sign the contract. You can walk away from a nondisclosure agreement and do whatever you want, including complaining to a nationally syndicated consumer advocate.

Should you get a refund for this botched job?

I reviewed the job, and I don’t think you should have had to pay $1,350. I would have asked another contractor for an estimate or just fixed the closet myself.

So I contacted Beltway Builders on your behalf to see if I could negotiate a truce. A manager called and apologized. He said both of the people involved in your repair have left the company. And he agreed to refund you the $500.

As for the nondisclosure? Well, the $100 gift card turned out to be worth $50, so I would say your agreement is probably voided.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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