Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I charge at the latest credit problem.
Last fall, my appraisal firm was engaged for consulting services in a litigation by an attorney representing one of the parties in the action. A formal engagement letter with the terms was signed and returned to us. The retainer was paid by the client using their American Express card. Over the next few months, the services were rendered and there was constant dialog with the client. They provided access to the property as well as information and documentation.
We delivered the report and received feedback that our services were complete and the client was satisfied. We were then was asked to provide additional services by the client in the same matter and we submitted a new proposal.
About two weeks later we were contacted by American Express saying the cardholder questioned the initial charge from the past fall and the removed the amount (a substantial fee) from our AMEX account. Apparently credit card companies are only required to send via US Mail in order to provide an opportunity for the vendor to contest the complaint. A non-response indicates the vendor is not fighting the contested fee and the cardmember gets their money back.
We never got their mail notice, and therefore never responded (they are not required to send via certified or overnight mail) so our fee was removed from our AMEX account. We noticed the account debit when we got our monthly statement. The fee was significant and we had received no notice, so we called AMEX in a panic.
The AMEX people were very nice but my first contact gave me the clear impression that because the attorney had signed the engagement letter, and then asked his client to call in the fee using a credit card, so we were not protected.
I was taken aback because the client had interacted with us for months and had called in the card number to us. It smelled like fraud if we were to lose our compensation for our efforts this way.
In order to contest the action, I was told to send a letter to AMEX and they would decide whether the fee was reasonably taken from the cardmember. That sounded pretty ominous to me. It would take 2-3 weeks for us to get a decision.
About 2 weeks later we received a notice via US mail (glad we actually got it) that AMEX had returned our fee to the account. Game over, money returned.
This experience was pretty distasteful since 4 months had passed since we were originally engaged and paid.
Apparently credit cards are not as good as cash.
UPDATE: AMEX was contacted by the cardholder again who simply submitted the same documents and said they protest the charges. These were the same documents that we submitted already that prove that the cardholder was simply trying to get out of paying for services they had already authorized. AMEX called me and I explained again what the situation was. They agreed that this was unfair to us and indicated that the case was closed and we would retain our fee. What a nightmare.