The Emotional Homeowner 7: Onsite Job Procedures

Let your clients know what to expect during construction
By David Lupberger
February 03, 2011

We have all worked with emotional homeowners, but what we don’t always acknowledge is that we may have been the ones responsible for making them so emotional. Our clients get upset when they don’t understand why something is happening, what will be happening next, and who will be there to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Take the time to review your onsite job procedures thoroughly. Your construction agreement should already address some of these issues under a set of General Conditions, but you need to review exactly what the language in the agreement means to both you and the homeowner. More than likely you’ll have conflicting assumptions and expectations, so expose these now, otherwise they will pop up unexpectedly, cause tempers to rise and slow the construction work.

Listed below are some time-tested and effective job procedures. Most of them apply to bigger projects, but there is something here for everyone. With these procedures, your customers will know what you’ll be doing and how it will be done. They’ll also know you have a plan that you’ll follow every day. As with the project ground rules discussed previously, the procedures will allow you to deal with any potential issue right up front and should include the following information:

Contact numbers: Let homeowners know how to reach you or the project manager by phone, cell phone or pager.

Supervision: Review project supervision, addressing issues such as who will be onsite and when they will be there. Remember to discuss when workers will be showing up in the morning and when they will be leaving.

Weekly progress meetings: Schedule a weekly progress meeting on projects lasting more than three weeks to discuss any matters that arise. Keep to the schedule as much as possible, so your clients will know, for example, that every Wednesday or Thursday morning at 6:45 or 7 am they can expect to see you.

Cleanup: Make sure you clean up at the end of each day, but also, clearly define what cleaning up means. If, during construction, you broom clean and stack excess building materials, but do not use a shop vacuum every day, communicate that. It is imperative your clients fully understand what daily cleanup really means.

Construction Schedule: Provide a construction schedule to let your clients know what is happening and when it will happen. Although some home-improvement contractors do not include construction schedules (also known as production schedules), doing so will reassure your clients and should be part of any agreement you sign. In addition, they’re easy to fill out and don’t need to be elaborate or complicated; it should just list what work will take place beginning on which date and when that same work will be completed.

Moreover, a schedule serves as the means of demonstrating that work is proceeding on time. To facilitate communication, post a schedule on site. As work progresses, highlight or draw a line through completed tasks. Homeowners get a real sense of completion as they see tasks being marked off, one by one. This process also gives trade contractors a sense of completion.

Make sure you provide this same schedule to trade contractors before a job starts. It lets them know exactly when they are expected on the job site. On your end, use this schedule as a reminder to call the trade contractors two or three times to confirm when they will be needed onsite.

Change orders: Review change order procedures up front and in complete detail. As an example, you may want to convey to your clients that no changes will be made to the plans until both of you have reviewed them. And allow yourself some time—perhaps five days—to respond to change orders in writing. Naturally, exceptions to this rule may occur, but ensure your clients understand from the beginning that change orders are expensive and have to be reviewed carefully before incorporating them into the work schedule.

Addressing change orders in the construction agreement is critical as they can dramatically affect your business. For example:

• Changes may necessitate new drawings. The architect may not be able to redraw the plans quickly, which will result in additional delays and expenses.

• Liability may increase because of an elevated possibility that all changes will not be recorded on all copies of all contract documents. As a result, some trade contractors and suppliers may unwittingly work from outdated and incorrect documents.

• Changes must be reestimated and processed and take up additional time.

• Changes disrupt the remodeling schedule.

Because of these inconveniences, a change in the scope of work usually entails additional expense to you, which you then pass on to the homeowners. Because changes can also be initiated by you, make sure you include a change order policy and procedure to this effect in your agreement.

To eliminate misunderstandings, require that any and all change orders be documented in writing. Too often contractors hand homeowners a stack of change orders at the conclusion of a project, sending them into shock because they were unprepared for the final bill. Your clients should know the cost of a change prior to approving the work. Communicating the cost, as well as the terms of payment, ahead of time may be more work for you, but it locks them into a set price and payment schedule, ensuring payment as the job progresses.

For changes made on the spot, say, during a weekly homeowner progress meeting, put them into writing and submit them to the homeowner within five days of the change with all costs specified. Also, make sure your customers understand the following:

• The company will provide all change orders to the homeowners in writing with all materials and labor costs specified.

• Change orders may require a new date for substantial completion.

• State specifically that any change order can be implemented only upon the homeowner’s and contractor’s signature.

Since most homeowners do not really understand the real cost of home remodeling, a small change can be much more expensive than they would ever have imagined. Consequently, find out the cost of any change ahead of time.

In addition, because change orders take time to research and process, some contractors will process only a certain number of change orders at no cost; once a homeowner exceeds that number, they add an administrative fee to complete additional orders. If you decide to take this approach, outline for your clients the number of gratis change orders plus the processing cost of each change order beyond that number.

Job Book: Place a job book onsite to let homeowners record their concerns. It gives them a place to write their comments when you’re not there. Each day, either you or, say, your lead carpenter can check it to see if any concerns have been recorded, and promise your clients that you’ll respond within 24 hours.

By clearly discussing the above with your clients before the project begins, you’ll help them better weather the rollercoaster aspect of a home remodel and ensure a smoother ride.

—David Lupberger was formerly ServiceMagic.com’s Home Improvement Expert. He draws on more than two decades of experience in the residential remodeling field, working with remodelers to develop proven business systems. More than 90 percent of Lupberger’s work came from repeat and referral business, demonstrating the trust he developed with clients. That experience led him to write a book called Managing the Emotional Homeowner, which has become one of the bibles of the remodeling industry.
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