Renovating, constructing or remodeling your home is always a stressful time. You’re hemorrhaging money, there’s a seemingly endless volley of questions, and you may be living in amongst dust and debris, doing dishes in the bathroom sink. Early on, you absorb these inconveniences as part of the process but as deadlines come and go, It’s easy to let yourself project your frustrations on to the one entity who is responsible for you things not being complete. Unfortunately, as an Architect, I’ve seen much good will sour between Owner and Contractor during the final weeks of a project when stress levels are greatest.
If you take the time up front to follow a few basic rules you can trade stress and anxiety for confidence knowing that things are organized and running smoothly. Honestly, you owe it to yourself considering the staggering amount of money you’ll be investing in your home. You really should enjoy it as much as you possibly can.
So many outcomes in life are the result of good communication, let’s start there…
1) Open Communication
From the outset of your project clearly define and discuss your expectations for communication. Set up a pre-construction meeting, preferably at the building site. Use this time to hand off the final drawing set and specifications, you do have drawings and specifications right? Setup a meeting schedule and discuss your preferred immediate contact method: email, twitter, cell? Try to stress that this be reserved for only the most immediate of questions, ones that would hold up progress if they weren’t answered immediately. You don’t want to be a stumbling block, but equally you can’t be expected to answer the hundreds of potential questions that could arise in day’s work. On projects where I’m observing the construction process I schedule a weekly meeting which I usually request to be on Wednesdays. This allows the Contractor time to mobilize on Monday; work through issues on Tuesday and by Wednesday there’s typically a backlog of questions to be answered. I expect to get sporadic questions throughout the week that are simple to answer and may allow work to progress with minimal time disruption on my part or the Contractor’s, but calls every half hour I strongly discourage. Establishing this workflow early on enables everyone to be more efficient in accomplishing his or her tasks.
Insist that all communication to and from subcontractors go through the General Contractor, and remember, you must abide by this rule as well. It’s easy to have a casual conversation with a subcontractor, but never allow this to be confused with supervision or direction. That is the sole responsibility of the Contractor; it’s not a role you should assume as this often results in costly additions to the project. This reinforces accountability on the Contractor’s part and ensures nothing gets lost in translation between you and someone on a subcontractor’s crew who has no authority to make decisions or may not understand the financial underpinnings of your project.
2) Well defined, clear expectations
The easiest way to be sure your Contractor is delivering what YOU want and equally what HE thought YOU wanted (and ultimately priced), is to have a set of drawings, schedules and specs. This doesn’t have to mean spending tens of thousands on an architect, although I think that’s a good investment too and, by the way, one that you can finance inside of your mortgage. It does mean that you spend more time up front thinking about all aspects of your projects. Because I know what a daunting part of the process this can be I’ve developed a checklist to help you. There’s more than you might initially think. It’s often the reason people feel so overwhelmed during construction, they haven’t ever considered the quantity of materials that go into making a house. Grout color, cabinet hardware, door knobs, hinges, glass type, paint, flooring, fasteners, insulation, roofing, siding, these are just a few of things to think about. Remember that your vision of your home has evolved over time, in your headspace, and it’s nearly impossible for your Contractor to completely understand what you were thinking unless it’s translated somehow onto paper. That’s the easiest way of letting them know exactly what you want.