I was a plastering contractor during the last horrible recession of the late-’70s. Work was so scarce that we even bid for one of the more notorious developers in our area. Even knowing this particular developer was infamous for burning subcontractors, running a project site with no regard for proper sequence and avoiding retention payment, we felt we had to bid his work. We bid the work high, believing if we got the job for that price it would be worth it. To our surprise, the purchasing agent called and said that they would like to give us four projects that we bid. After reviewing the bids with a fine-tooth comb, I knew we could keep our guys going and hopefully turn a decent profit-even without the retention paid-if the job would be run reasonably right. That turned out to be the missing “if.”

The Big "If"

The contracts came in, and to no surprise, they were 100 percent one-sided in the developer’s favor. It was what I referred to as a “hammer and nail” contract, and you can guess who the nail was. I must have had a dozen meetings over the contract language. I heard all the phrases we know too well, such as, “No one ever complains about that clause” or “Our lawyer says that has to be in there.” We have all heard it before. I eventually got the contracts to a place I believed was fair, so we signed and got started on two of the projects.

The first project was run by a rookie, green superintendent who was short on knowledge and long on arrogance. We fought daily on just about everything. I remember thinking, “What we do to keep our guys working is not really worth it.” The second larger project was about ready for the scratch coat of cement. When I arrived the day before we were scheduled to start pumping, I had to inform Grizzly Adams (not his name, just how he looked) that the project was not ready.

Can't Start

No windows were in. There was no water in the buildings. There were trenches everywhere and those were just the start of the problems. Grizzly felt confident as he pulled his standard hammer and nail contract from his desk and read it to me. I went to my truck and brought back the “real” contract that said windows had to in place; we were to have water at every building and there would be no working around trenches. His face went red and he threw my briefcase out of his trailer into the parking lot. As I was walking away he screamed at me, “You will never finish this job!”

He was right; I did not finish the job. The lawyers argued for weeks and we got paid for most of what we did minus legal fees. As news of the incident spread through their company, the other green superintendent was feeling good when he told me, “You are the worst plastering contractor I have ever worked with.”


I asked, “How many plastering contractors have you worked with?“ He admitted there had been only three. I replied “Well, I have worked with hundreds of general contractors and you are without a doubt the worst I have ever worked with.”

A few months later, I read in the newspaper this same developer had trouble selling some premium homes in the local beach community. He came up with creative financing to potential buyers. Basically, he played middle man to the bank. The problem was this slime ball never sent any of the homebuyers’ money to the bank. He filed bankruptcy and the home purchasers were all evicted, lost their down payments and any monthly payments made to him. The story made the evening news as he was charged with a host of crimes.

Learn and Grow

A few years later I was asked to bid a stucco job on a very large apartment complex that was being converted to condominiums. As I walked the massive project, I saw notices were attached to several of the front doors. They were all being evicted. When I got back to my office I wanted to research this developer. I was not terribly shocked to find out it was my old friend Grizzly Adams. When I called the main office, he was there. To my surprise, he was actually thinking I would provide a bid on this project.

I know I am not the only one who experiences this stuff; I just get to write about it. The point of this story is to underscore that a contract is important but if the character of the person you are contracting with is rotten to the core, the work is simply not worth it-even if you think you have a good, ironclad contract. If the person is scum, just do yourself a favor and walk away.