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How to Avoid Construction Delays and Arguments

stone retaining wall

Showing a contractor a photo like this allows you to communicate exactly how you want your retaining wall to be. Think of all the photos you could put in a PDF document that would prevent arguments! Copyright 2023 Tim Carter

How to Avoid Construction Delays and Arguments - It's So Easy

Just before writing this column, I did a phone coaching call with a man who lives in northwest Ohio. He wanted me to tell him if it was possible to build a room addition to his son’s home. The dealbreaker was the addition had to match the existing house so it would appear as if the addition was part of the original house.

My answer was, “Yes, it’s possible to achieve this goal, at least when one looks at the house from the street. You may have trouble sourcing the exact brick and the siding on the second story.”

As the call progressed, I shared the things he had to do before he even thought of signing a contract with a remodeling contractor. The biggest obstacle was to discover if any local zoning laws would prohibit the addition. The man was unaware this could be an issue.

I explained to him what setback lines are. These invisible lines on most parcels of ground create a border around your house. Think of this part of your lot as green space or a moat around a medieval castle. I informed him he must go to the local zoning office to determine if there was enough space between his son’s house and the side yard setback line to build the addition.

Dick Bruder - Mr. Organized

Next up I shared the story about Dick Bruder. Years ago I picked up my phone and Dick was on the other end. “Tim, it’s Dick Bruder. I want you to build my pool house. Can you come over for a pre-build meeting this weekend?”

I thanked Dick for his trust and of course agreed to stop by his home. I had attended countless meetings like this in the past and I felt this one would be much of the same. Dick would have lots of questions and I’d have lots of answers. It turns out Dick had but one question.

Dick met me at the door and showed me into his dining room. There on the table were two large binders. I didn’t think much of it at the time. He sat down and said, “Tim, I’m excited to work with you and can’t wait to get this project started. I asked you to come to the meeting so we could get on the same page.”

He then added, “I work at a large company and do lots of international travel. If you have any questions about this project, I’m not going to be able to take your calls during the day. That’s why I created these binders. Please open yours and look at it.”

I did as Dick instructed and lo and behold I was dumbstruck. As I turned each page, I discovered everything that was missing from the architect’s drawings was in the binder. Every single product that was to be used in the project was already selected. Every paint color was specified. The actual paint chips were glued into the binder.

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. My first thought was, “Holy tomato, this is going to be the most profitable job I’ve ever done.” Why? I’d not have to waste any time waiting for a homeowner to make a decision and there were going to be no change orders! What’s more, I knew exactly what the customer wanted down to the exact hardware to use and even the color of the tile grout!

Dick finally asked me after a pregnant pause, “Tim, what do you think? Do you have any questions?” I think I said something about how he was the first customer to ever have thought everything out. He loved that answer, and it was true.

“Well, Tim, then all I need to know is how you get paid.” I told him my policy was to just give him a bill at the end of each month for the work completed and for all material that was on site. I just asked that he pay the bill within five days. “That’s not an issue. You’ll always have your money on the fifth day.”

The job took about three months from start to finish. I only talked to Dick one time and he called me. The topic of the discussion was about parking arrangements at the top of his driveway. His wife was upset that she had to sometimes wait for us to move our trucks if she was in a hurry to leave.

It turns out the job was my most profitable one ever and Dick and his wife were very happy with the finished product. There was no drama, and happiness ruled the day.

You don’t have to create an old-fashioned binder with today’s technology. You can create a stunning PDF file using a word-processing program. Create a page for each room. On that page drop in screenshots of the exact look you want. You can get these photos from manufacturer’s websites, Pinterest, or search engine image searches.

You can put links in the document to the specification pages of all the products. This way all the rough-in dimensions will be known. You can put in close-up photographs to show the level of craftsmanship you expect. This PDF file should be created at the same time you draw plans. Each bidding contractor should get a copy of both. Both of these should also be an addendum to your contract with the remodeler/builder you choose to work with.

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