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Etiquette

Read Your Contracts -- my cautionary tale

Hey Guys,

After a recent bridal expo in Orlando, I was getting ready to commit to a photographer who was gifting some free prizes.  After two phone consultations and e-mailing back and forth (and talking it over with my faincé, of course), I received their contract.

Now this vendor claims that hundreds of couples have agreed to this contract as it stands before and I believe them.  They have good ratings and reviews on sites such as TK, and it seems like they've made a lot of people happy.  However, I am kind of shocked that anyone signed such a contract. 

I then asked around my office, trying to figure out how so many people would have signed something that I found so inappropriate....and the overwhelming response I got was that many people don't REALLY read their contract: they don't look for the loopholes or missing parts.  They skim the document and sign on the line. 

I hope most brides and grooms ARE looking at contracts and do have an idea of what they think is acceptable and unacceptable.  Remember, contracts should be negotiable: if a vendor isn't willing to hear what you think should be included, that hints at trouble you might have down the road.  I had to let this vendor go because they were not willing to hear my concerns about their contract, and were quite unpleasant about it.  The contract as it stood didn't instill confidence that my wedding would go as planned--the opposite, I couldn't help be see how they could screw me over  and I would be helpless to do anything about it!  I wanted to post my cautionary tale. 

Things to look for, that were problems in my ill-fated contract:

1. What, Exactly, Are You Buying?
Your contract MUST include details of what you are buying, how much you are paying for it, and when it is due.  Your contract is your entire agreement, and while there are many honest people in the world that will seal their word with a handshake, if you don't have it IN WRITING what package or services you are buying, a clerical error or malicious intent can make you end up getting something different.  This is a safety measure for you--you will get what you have agreed upon.

2. How Much, Exactly, Are You Paying?
Your contract should include ALL fees: sales tax, convenience fees, travel fees, cake cutting fees, gratuity, labor, etc.  You should know exactly what you are expected to pay.  If you see a contract that talks about a "fee" but doesn't list what it is, be sure you get it in writing exactly what the fee will be.  If not specified, the "fee" could be anything, $10 or $1,000, and you'll be obliged to pay it becuase you agreed to the "fee" in the contract.

3.  What Important Deadlines Are There?  Full, Partial, or No Refunds?
Be sure you understand your deadlines for cancellation/refunds/deposits/severe weather clauses.  While we never wnat to think about our wedding day (what we are working so hard to plan) may not go the way we planned, but it is in your best interest to know these details up front.   Do you have deadlines for when things need to be paid, for when you can cancel services and get some refund or any refund at all?  If there is severe weather, will your deposits carry to a new event date, or will you be starting over from square one?  Be sure you agree with cancellation deadlines.  Most typical deadlines for cancelling and getting a partial refund (often minus a non-refundable deposit) are more than 30 and more than 90 days.  Figure out what you think is a reasonable and unreasonable deadline, and stick to that.  You may find that some vendors have unreasonable deadlines. 

4.  Copyright, Owning Your Image & Vendor Promotion
Giving up your copyright in photos is a big deal, although not a dealbreaker for everyone.  Many photographers include copyright with their packages, giving you control of your images.  If you do not get the copyright (often you'll get a print release, which is NOT a copyright), then be sure the contract includes that the photographer cannot sell to a third party (if this is important to you).  If the photographer has a full copyright they can sell your images to third parties (hotels, dating sites, erectile disfunction commercials) and you don't have to know and you certainly don't get any money for it.  I think it is reasonable for a photographer to need to have some images to use for their personal portfolio and advertising, but not reasonable that they could sell my photos to whomever without my consent. 

5. What If the Vendor Can't Fulfill Their Promises?
Be sure your contract includes what happens if the service provider cannot or will not hold up their end of the contract.  If they move away, dies, go into bankruptsy, decide to cancel at the last minute to go to comic-con...what happens to you, your money, your event.  It should be, at minimum, a full refund of your money and you should also look for liability past that (ex: having them assist in finding a new photographer on short notice, and paying reasonable fees necessary to use their services).  You don't want to get a phone call the morning of your wedding saying that a vendor has pulled out of your event leaving you with nothing in its place.  

6. Who Will Be Working Your Event?
For photographers especially, be sure that it is in the contract that changes in photographer must be approved by you.  You don't want to have your work subcontracted out to someone else whose work costs half as much as you've paid, and you don't want to be stuck paying transportation/milage fees to a different vendor because your company has the sole right to assign a vendor to your wedding.

AND THE NUMBER ONE THING TO KEEP OUT OF YOUR CONTRACT: 
7. Commentary and Review
Never waive your right to public, private, direct, indirect, electronic, or written commentary on their business.  This basically means you forefit your right to give a fair and honest review of the company.  Of course, a company won't try to have a good review removed, but they CAN have poor reviews removed because it "breaches their contract".  It's not always fun, having to give a bad review--especially when it's a review for your wedding day that you hope to have nothing bad about it.  However, fair and reasonable reviews are a way to have the market in control by the consumers, not the companies.  I am willing to bet that any company that has this clause in their contract only has it because they have a large number of unhappy clients that they want to keep quiet.  We all awnt to know which vendors haven't held up their end of the bargain, and this clause in a contract prevents us from knowing!  No bride should agree to stay quiet if they get ripped off.
hcox6311

Re: Read Your Contracts -- my cautionary tale

  • Very good advice.  I paid attention to the contracts for DD's wedding and, after the fact, there were still a few areas I wished I had added some protection for us into the contract.

    As exciting and wonderful planning a wedding can be, just remember that your vendors are business people and business people are in this to make money, and they are not necessarily looking out for your best interest.
  • Good advice.  For my wedding, I made sure EVERYTHING was in writing, and if I wanted a contract modified, I got that in writing too. I once got screwed out of a $700 security deposit because my landlord and I had a verbal agreement about something.  He then sold the property without warning, and the new landlord claimed that I had violated the terms of my lease.  Since I didn't have anything in writing, I lost out on the money.  Even if a vendors has a "standard" contract, it is always okay to insist on modifications you feel are necessary.  If they won't do this, you can always take your business elsewhere.
  • Great post, much of what you say is extremely rational and wise. People definitely should thoroughly review contracts, get everything in writing, and make sure they understand what they are agreeing to.

    However, your warning is a little extreme. There are many many types of relief that people could get if they are "screwed" by a contract, that you omit. This leads to people thinking that if something does happen to them, there is nothing they can do and it is essentially a wash to try and fix their problem. Vendors thinking that clients are too intimidated by contracts to question their enforcement is how they win and clients lose.

    For example, you say that if you agree to a "fee" you have to pay the fee no matter how much they decide to charge you. That is simply not true. Contracts are governed by reasonableness, and there is no way a court would enforce, for example, a $10,000 cake cutting fee for an average wedding. But, if they wedding had 3,000 guests, maybe that would be considered reasonable and would be enforced.

    Basically, don't get  your legal advice from a message board, and don't worry that everyone is trying to screw you. Yes, it is easier to avoid harm then to fix it, but don't panic. Just be careful and diligent, do what PP says, and if you do get harmed in some way, be calm. There is usually a way out of the situation.
    Dreaming of our Hawaiian honeymoon! Wedding Countdown Ticker
  • In Response to Re: Read Your Contracts -- my cautionary tale:
    However, your warning is a little extreme. 
    Posted by nycrose2013
    You're right, of course.  I tired to edit out all of my hysteria from when I was very upset and the wound was fresh.  (One version of this said that the contract had everything but waiving my right to legal proceedings if they beat me up and leave me in a ditch.)  

    My apologies.  
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