Contractors sometimes forget that homeowners aren't familiar with the logistics of construction work. Ensuring you both know what to expect about the logistics of day-to-day work will help set customer expectations and ensure a smoother project.
"TV shows give an unrealistic view of how remodeling projects go," says Jesse Morado, president of Renovation Coach Inc. "They see everything happen in 30 minutes, and it's only the good stuff. Projects don't work like that." Many points need to be worked out so everyone understands what will happen, and that agreement should be put into writing and signed by the homeowner. Here are 10 questions to ask:
1. When do you want to hold the weekly construction meeting' Weekly meetings should update the client, if only so they don't interrupt work during the week with questions that can wait. A pre-construction meeting should address all of the logistics, says Steve Lusk, president of Lusk Building & Remodeling.
The meeting should be held at the same time each week, and the morning is preferable, says David Lupberger, home-improvement expert with Service Magic. "In the afternoon, the homeowner is in no hurry and loves to talk about his project," he says. "In the morning, we all have places we have to be, so we stay focused."
2. When can we start work' This includes start and end times, whether work can be done on weekends and other scheduling requirements. Lusk reserves Saturday work for special "catch-up"needs and stresses that no work is done on Sunday. Also work out how the crew will access the home's security system, says Morado. Temporary codes or notification to the security service must be provided.
3. Who do we contact for decisions' Contact points are critical, as is timing, says Lupberger. Limiting when the lead carpenter is available for questions (he suggests the first and last 15 minutes of the day's schedule) ensures work isn't interrupted yet provides homeowner access. Likewise, the contractor must know which family member has the final say if a decision must be made immediately.
4. May we take photos of the existing rooms' Photographing walls, windows, doors and all finishes in rooms accessed by the crews will ensure no disagreements over whether cracks or breakage occurred prior to or during construction. "This will come back to bite the contractor if he doesn't have a record," Morado says. Digital cameras make it easy to keep a record that can be referenced if needed.
5. Is the work area secure' Determine if all furniture will be removed, where tools will be stored, if deliveries can be made in the driveway or the garage. "Explain that cars will have to be parked outside of the work area during construction," says Lusk.
6. Is there any way we can lessen the construction impact for you' Discuss the sensitive portions of the work area with the client and explain what protective measures will be taken, and how landscaping will be protected. Explain dust-containment procedures and let the homeowner know what protective materials will remain in place during work. Also explain daily clean-up activities and what items will remain each day.
7. Have you made arrangements for all family members and pets' The homeowners must secure all pets and children away from the site. "Contractors can't spend time chasing dogs if a door is left open and he runs out," stresses Lupberger. "You cannot be responsible for children and animals."
8. May we use personal areas of the home' Some homeowners will allow use of bathrooms or provide a smoking area, but check first. You don't want a homeowner arriving on site and thinking his home is being misused. Lusk stresses to the client that crews are not allowed to have liquor at the site or play music.
9. Have you removed everything that you want to keep' Some items may have sentimental attachment for the homeowner or may be resold. Lusk stresses that all attached items in the renovated area become the company's property when demolition begins and can be removed as needed.
10. Do you understand the post-construction process' Lusk explains what the final punch-list procedure will offer, notes that any product warranties will be provided and detailed, and details what isn't covered, such as caulking, which must be maintained by the homeowner. He also stresses that the new spaces cannot be occupied until the work is completed.
Each contractor will have his own version of the list, Lupberger stresses. His, in fact, is 20 questions long, and breaks down these key areas into specific questions. "These questions provide a starting point," he says. "Contractors should take them and use their own experiences to modify them." But they have to ask the questions, or they'll end up making assumptions that surprise homeowners.
Contractors should specify each individual question in the categories noted here and write down the homeowner's responses. The client then should sign off on the list and receive a copy, contractors agree.
"You want to create a good, professional start knowing that things can go wrong unless they are specified up front," says David Lupberger of Service Magic. "You have to manage expectations and make customers accountable for their portion of the agreement."
Some contractors include an opt-out clause in their contract, through which they can leave the project if the agreement is not adhered to, notes Jesse Morado of Renovation Coach. But that's a nuclear response no contractor wants to enact. More likely, if pets cause delays or other portions of the contract are broken, the contractor can use the agreement to resolve the problem or explain why there is an additional cost.
"You can treat it like a change order if you must," Morado says. "But it can be tough. You don't want to create an adversarial relationship. You need a customer-service mindset at all times. Be flexible and always communicate what's happening. That's the key."