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The BIGGEST MISTAKES contractors make... and HOW TO AVOID THEM!!! Part 2: Bad Change Orders

The BIGGEST MISTAKES contractors make... and HOW TO AVOID THEM!!! Part 2: Bad Change Orders
PART 2: Bad Change Orders
Poor planning is the surest way to get poor execution.

Over the years, I have come across some pretty horrific stories from homeowners about contractors. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, communication is paramount to a fantastic job. Pre-Construction is the phase of the project where the dream of the homeowners takes real shape. How the general contractor deals with Pre-Construction is a precursor of how every other detail in the project will be handled. If the contractor executes poor Pre-Construction practices, or if Pre-Construction is absent from the project altogether, you can expect a very hectic remodeling experience. If Pre-Construction is handled professionally, it will set the project up for success and you have very good reason to expect that the general contractor will handle the Construction phase with the same attention to detail and organization. During the interview process, keep an eye out for professional problem makers so you can find a professional general contractor who will steer your project toward success.

Good Ones vs. Bad Ones

A Change Order is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a deviation from the original plan that will, likely, create additional costs and time extensions to the project. Though a professional Pre-Construction phase will eliminate most Change Orders, there might be unforeseen issues hiding behind the sheetrock or tub that must be addressed (i.e., mold or rotten wood). Homeowners might also drive Change Orders as they decide mid-project to change direction on an aspect of the remodel. These are normal Change Orders and while they can be expensive, they are either necessary or at the direction of the homeowner. What I want to address are bad Change Orders, these can derail projects, leaving the homeowner’s bank account and home in shambles.

Why does this happen?
Two major reasons for bad Change Orders are inexperience and laziness. Let’s look at the inexperienced contractor first.

As I mentioned in Part 1, I once took my son on a frightening roller coaster ride without fully preparing him. The end result was that he hated the ride and was not very appreciative that I insisted on riding it. One thing that I didn’t mention, is that I had not gone on the ride before either. In this case, there was very little I could prepare him for except to say that the ride would probably be fast and likely have a lot of ups and downs. If you are dealing with an inexperienced contractor, you will have to deal with problems that the inexperienced contractor does not even know exist. If that type of contractor gets the job, he will take your checkbook on a ride for its life!  

More often than not, an inexperienced contractor was originally part of a crew and thought they could jump into general contracting without appropriate mentorship. This inexperience will create multiple mid-project adjustments due to lack of training and foresight. What does this look like? Imagine mid-project that the contractor approaches you for an additional $5k-$10k for appliances. A week later he needs another $3k to cover drywall expenses. A couple of weeks later, he needs more money to cover labor expenses to keep the job going. He then comes back in a week for more money to pay for the tile. In this seemingly endless cycle, clients keep paying in hopes of getting the job done, all the while, wondering what happened to the original bid. Some homeowners quit paying and the contractor walks off the job-site, leaving the homeowners’ bank account drained and the project half finished. Dealing with an inexperienced contractor is one of the worst experiences a homeowner can have. Dealing with a lazy contractor can be just as infuriating.

While inexperience may not indicate a character flaw, laziness is another story. Lazy contractors lack the organizational skills to pull off a project successfully. Pre-Construction, as described in Part 1 of this series, leaves little room for the imagination. Unfortunately, undergoing this type of process with clients is too much work for a lazy contractor. “Let’s wing it,” could be the perfect motto. Homeowners will hear lots of, “I didn’t know you wanted to do it like that,” and “I didn’t budget for that.” Lazy contractors seem to operate under the assumption that the homeowners understand the intricacies of the project, expecting that the homeowner should know exactly what to say, instead of taking the time to ask. Without clear communication upfront, the homeowner will end up paying. For example, Helton Remodeling is currently working on Pre-Construction for a project in which the homeowners previously hired a lazy contractor. The project was originally set at $69K, but ended up costing them $120K! One day, the homeowners even came home to discover a large paint crew painting the exterior of the house - an aspect of the project that was not in the contract and was never discussed with them. The homeowner paid to have the exterior of the home painted as part of the project and found out about it mid-process. This was a prime example of laziness on that contractor’s part.  

Another example of laziness is leaving materials in the form of allowances and starting the project. Many materials will have increased labor costs, so if this happens, you may have mid-project Change Orders because these details were not worked out ahead of time.

Something worth repeating is that Change Orders will always add time to a project. Changes steal momentum from a job going well. This is why I prefer to work out all project details in Pre-Construction. This provides the homeowner with the best possible scenario for all aspects of their project.

How can the Homeowner avoid bad Change Orders?
  • Ask about the general contractor's Pre-Construction phase. If it does not follow the one outlined in Part 1 (all details worked out beforehand and written down for homeowner approval), it is probably best to look for another contractor.
  • Talk to references and ask them about the Pre-Construction phase and Change Orders for their projects. Were all the details worked out ahead of time? How were Change Orders handled? What kind of changes were encountered? Were there any bad Change Orders?
  • Ask the general contractor about the Change Order policy. If the policy is not clear and does not require to be in written form and signed prior to moving forward, you are more likely to face bad Change Orders in the project.

**Helton Remodeling Services, LLC provides quality remodels and additions in the Austin Metro Area.**
We partner with award winning interior designers and architectural firms to make your dream project become a reality.

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