Part 3: The Incoherent Contract
Poor planning is the surest way to get poor execution.
The goal of this blog series is to equip homeowners with the basic understanding needed to hire a professional contractor and bypass the professional problem makers in this industry. We have already covered two common mistakes of professional problem makers, inadequate preparation for a job through a Pre-Construction phase and writing bad Change Orders. In part 1, I also emphasized that these problems stem from poor communication. Great contractors view communication as an art, allowing them to capture the homeowner’s vision, temper expectations and deliver that message to everyone participating in the project. In general, we expect comprehensive communication from any other profession. So, why do we lower those expectations when it comes to construction?
Perhaps, home improvement shows, like those on HGTV have made construction seem overly simple. It is not! Every show airing has been expertly crafted, planned out and edited by a professional team of people for our entertaining pleasure. Your project will be crafted, planned and run by one person, and you better hope they are a professional with superior communication skills. This person must hear you, first to understand what you want in terms of actual work, materials and budget and then be able to plan it and communicate those plans to every employee, vendor, city official and subcontractor involved. The vehicle of this communication is the Contract.
Contracts: Verbal vs. Written
If a Contract leaves much to the imagination, it is likely poorly written. There should be very little room in a Contract for assumptions. As a homeowner, you should be wary if a contractor seems satisfied with a verbal or ‘handshake’ agreement. The cardinal rule of Contracts is that everything should to be written down.
Thorough Contracts temper expectations.
There is something about writing down details that allows the homeowner to see inside the contractor’s head and know how he is interpreting the project. Verbal communication does not work like this. When I was 16, I moved with my parents to a Russian speaking country. I did not know a word in that language. It amazed me, though, how long I could carry on conversations with the simple word “okay.” As long as I said “okay,” the talker thought I was listening and kept on going. A contractor can do the same thing.
A contractor can fake organization through verbal communication. You may never know he is winging your project till you see his written plan for it. Does he account for all parts? The timing of it? The details including all materials and how they will be installed? The cost and how that cost will be allocated throughout the project? These are important items that need to be established for a successful project.
Another reason I appreciate the Contract is that it serves as the final word. Helton Remodeling can have any number of ongoing projects up and running at the same time - if poorly organized, this might get confusing. The Contract serves as a game plan and a reference for what has been priced out and agreed upon. I may speak to a client and run through various options for a project, but until these options are written down in the Contract or Change Order they are not part of the project. This is a good rule of thumb for homeowners, as well. What if we had a conversation and I walk away thinking you want to add a $10k expenditure to the project and move forward with that assumption. Should you be obligated to pay for that assumption? What if you were just throwing the idea out there with no interest in actually investing in it? As you can see, operating off of the verbal can get hairy awfully fast. Keep to the cardinal rule: If it is not written down, it is not happening.
Hopefully, through this 3 blog series, it is clear how the communication skills of your contractor can make or break your project. Excellent communication does not happen by accident. That is why we intentionally enter into Pre-Construction with every client. Our overarching goal is to create the Win/Win. Pre-Construction eliminates bad Change Orders. Pre-Construction also narrows down the specifics of a project strategically, allowing them to be written into the Contract clearly and without question.
The Contract should be a simple affair provided you undergo Pre-Construction with your contractor. A winning contract will provide the following:
Project details with line items including every aspect of work, every material to be installed and how items will be installed
A fixed price for the contract based on the project details
A payment schedule that is mile marker driven
A schedule for the project - preferably a weekly account of what to expect
Company policies for how particulars will be handled (i.e.: Change Orders, punch-lists, etc.)
Standard contractual policies outlining each parties obligations (this should be written by an attorney)
**Helton Remodeling Services, LLC provides quality remodels and additions in the Austin Metro Area**
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