Here are some Do's and Don'ts when it comes to Agreements:
DON'T Stage a property without an agreement in place. I don't care how nice the people are, if they have not signed your agreement, they are not obligated to pay you, or even return the items you put in their property. Do NOT show up and Stage believing they will sign the paperwork and pay for the services. Please - do NOT do that! With how easy it is to have clients sign docs now, there is no reason a person does not adhere to your policy - unless they are planning on taking advantage of you.
DON'T forget about the payment terms. If you are a professional Home Stager and are not accepting credit cards for payments, you are operating at the mercy of your clients. Invoicing for payments is a waste of your time and because you do not have a valid form of payment saved for the client, they may NEVER pay you! ACH drafts is an option, but you are still at the mercy of when your client decides to pay you. You need to be in charge of processing payments.
There are lots of options out there to allow you to process credit card payments where YOU are the one in control. Merchant fees are write-offs and a cost of doing business. For me, my time is worth so much more than generating invoices, calling to hound people for payment and keeping track of deposits and checks, or not getting paid at all.
DO use an online signing program such as Docusign or E-Sign. It will save you so much TIME and hassle to be able to send agreements to your clients electronically. The forms are easy to complete on a smart phone, tablet or computer, and they DO hold up in court as official legal documents.
DO have an attorney or other trusted legal adviser review your agreements. There are online resources to help you craft a fairly good agreement, but having a professional review it for any inconsistencies or information that you need to add is a good idea.
DO continue to revise your Agreements over time. Situations arise that you may not have thought of or planned for, and when that happens, you may opt to put a new term or condition in your Agreement.
Like the time I went to Stage a house and there was no electricity. I was literally Staging by flashlight. Next agreement that went out had, "Electricity must be functioning," in the terms. I also went to Stage a property that had been winterized by the seller - so not only was it freezing cold IN the house, the toilets would not work. We were not by any quick shops so THAT was a situation we did not enjoy! Next agreement, "Plumbing and heat must be operational." We cannot change the past, we can only learn from it - so use your "experiences" to help you strengthen your agreements.
The agreements need to spell out:
- Your terms for doing business - what you are providing (services)
- Pricing and payment terms
- Penalties for properties that are not Stage Ready upon your arrival
- Removal terms such a 7 business day notice to remove or else a rush fee applies
- Ongoing rental terms - when does the rental start, do you provide refunds for unused portions or for a client who neglects to tell you they don't want to renew and then asks for a refund.
- Payment timing - do you take full payment at time agreement is signed or a partial deposit?
- The deposit is non-refundable (I personally take 100% of the fee up front at time of agreement being signed and it is not refundable)
- All request for removal of Staging items must be in WRITING (text or email)
- What happens if a payment declines or is not made? (retrieval of items immediately)
- Access to the property - you either have a lockbox code or you make a key so you can access the property to check on the Staging items.
- If the agent or seller changes the access and does not notify you prior to pick up day, you charge a penalty for your time, your crew's time, etc. for not being able to access the property.
- Electricity is on
- Heat works
- Plumbing is operational
- A/C works (in summer for hot places)
- No audience while Staging takes place
- Information about the inventory - it is Staging inventory and not necessarily new
- Difference between Staging and design - client does not get to select or control inventory selections
- Staging selections are at your sole discretion
- No substitutions or additions
- If there are pets, they need to be secured
- Photo use and release
Get all requests in writing:
This advice was given to me by a credit card company after a client disputed charges. I won the dispute, but enacted that rule so that there is never any question on when a client makes a request and how that date falls in line with the required time frame for giving notice and avoiding charges.
When you have a solid Agreement in place, if a client does dispute payments that were applied from their credit cards, you will have a great paper trail and document to send to dispute any charge-back issues.
Is Ignorance, Bliss?
One of the things I have learned over my 16 years in business to date is clients often do not bother to read what they are signing. Does that mean they are off the hook when it comes time to enforce your terms? No.
I am AMAZED at how many clients do not bother to read what they are signing. Our agreements are not like the Microsoft agreements that everyone just signs without bothering to read. Microsoft honestly could put in their agreements I would owe them a million dollars or my first born child, and I would have just selected, "AGREE TO TERMS AND CONDITIONS" because I don't want to take the time to plow through all the legalese.
Our haste in getting through the paperwork can put us at risk. Clients who sign a Staging Agreement and initial certain clauses without reading what they are signing cannot use ignorance as a reason to have you make special arrangements for them or expect to have the rules bent. Being able to point back to the Agreement they signed (and perhaps even initialed special terms) protects your business and money.
This is a business. Treat it like a business and protect your interests.
For sample Staging Agreements go to the www.iahsp.com site. It is one of the resources we have provided to our members. Not a member? You can join and become part of the world's largest Home Staging Association!