No Surprises Contracting

Be sure you and your contractor are clear on what will happen and when.

When remodeling jobs go sideways, it’s for a reason, and that reason is almost always about communication failure and expectations that went unmet.

It’s the remodeling company’s responsibility to communicate with you, the customer. You should not be put in the position of having to beg or pester the company for information about your job. A professional operation will stay in touch and update you on specifics, as per your request. There’s a lot you need to know and are entitled to know between signing the contract and writing the final check.

First, find out who’s going to be in charge of your job. Is this the person you’ll be communicating with? You’ll want his business card or some other contact information, including his cell number and email address. If they’re really on their game, he’ll call or knock and introduce himself. Let him know if you want to be updated at the end of the day on job progress.

Second: Be clear on costs. Your contract should include the cost of both labor and materials. If the company calls and tells you that the job is taking more time than it should, and that it will cost more, or that they’re short a few squares of shingles, that’s not your responsibility, that’s theirs. You shouldn’t have to eat the cost of their estimating mistakes.

Third: Anticipate change orders. On the other hand, be aware that workers, in the process of installing, can hit unanticipated trouble spots—such as rotting wood—that force them to halt the job, and that makes finishing that job more expensive than originally estimated. That is not their responsibility. Not all problems in construction are immediately evident on the surface. Their responsibility is to build what’s in the contract. That’s why most companies have what’s called a change order procedure, which describes how they will handle unanticipated (unforeseen) circumstances. This should be outlined in a clause in the contract. Generally, they’ll have a change order form—a separate contract—that will be filled out for you to sign. Payment is collected when the change order is presented.

Fourth: Be clear on start and end dates. There’s nothing drearier than a job that drags on and on and on. And there are contractors who will do that, mostly because they’re poorly organized. If that job is properly estimated, with man-hours built into the price, then when it’s finished should not be a matter of mystery or delay. Don’t be afraid to hold your contractor accountable to what’s on paper and agreed to in writing.

Fifth: Money talks. Exterior contractors generally operate on a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 payment schedule. Your contractor typically will ask for a check for a third of the price of the job as a deposit to ensure your seriousness. That deposit gets you on the job schedule. The company—usually whoever’s managing the crew onsite—will ask for the second third as the job begins, and the final third when the job’s complete.

When the job is complete, whoever the onsite manager is should walk you through to answer any questions, ensure it’s been done to your satisfaction and explain warranty procedures and hand over warranty and other paperwork.

Sixth: Service with a smile. The best manufacturers of windows, siding or roofing offer a warranty on the performance of their products. Products such as shingles or windows don’t often fail. They’re checked rigorously at the factory for quality. So manufacturers can afford to offer warranties of anywhere from 25 to 50 years or “a lifetime.” But here’s the problem: products are only one part of that job. Even if a window fails and the manufacturer provides a brand new window, someone has to remove the old one and install the new one. Or, if a roof leaks because installers, for instance, failed to properly flash the area where the roof and chimney meet, the roofing contractor should be willing to fix the problem free of charge for a certain period of time after the completion of work. That’s called a workmanship warranty, guaranteeing the quality of the company’s installation. A good company will offer at least a five-year warranty on its work. The best companies offer a workmanship warranty equal to the life of the manufacturer’s warranty on the product.

About Mike Damora

Mike Damora is vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers, in Randolph, N.J. You can follow him on Twitter @madamoracatch him on Drift.