When dealing with contractors, communication is key

October 30, 2013

Pierce, a real estate investor based in Northern Virginia, has been chronicling his quest to reconstruct a Temple Hills, Md., house for a fall sale.

It’s been crazy.

We are rushing to meet our latest revised deadline on my Temple Hills project. It’s the last week, and I’m determined to get this home completed.

This is do-or-die time: It could cost me tens of thousands of dollars if I don’t get the house listed for sale within the next couple of weeks. Winter is the worst time of year to try to sell a home, and winter is only weeks away.

I arrived to find that the painting was almost halfway complete. The paint color was so light that I’d thought it was primer. The contractor informed me that if he had to repaint, it would make it tough to meet the deadline, just five days away.

It was a Sunday morning. I called a handyman/painter I know and asked whether he could rush over that day, repaint the upstairs the correct color and keep the project on track. He said yes.

I had sent the contractor photos of the vanity and tile for the bathroom and a list of items for other areas of the house.

The contractor responded that he would get the items but that he believed them to be upgrades. Right then, I realized the problem. First, the contractor was thinking like most contractors and trying to save every penny. And, second, we had a communication disconnect.

In our conversations and contract, I had specified that we would use mostly “builder grade” products and throw in a few higher-end items for some sizzle. In my vocabulary, builder grade means middle quality, middle cost. In the contractor’s vocabulary, builder grade means the cheapest thing you can find.

It was a stressful couple of days, but it also was productive. The contractor and I found solutions to the problems and went a long way toward bringing our vocabularies more in line, which should greatly facilitate future projects.

The contractor also showed a willingness to correct problems and work toward solutions. That showed me that I had a contractor with whom I could work, and it gave me every expectation that future projects will improve.

Hopefully, the contractor learned something similar about me. We’re in this together. In the end, that home represents both of us. I would rather negotiate a change order than end up with work that doesn’t make sense for the project.

In remodeling projects, it’s extremely difficult to write down detailed scopes of work and materials lists. Often, general terms are used to outline expectations. However, specifying and agreeing to a price range on finishing materials is a very good use of time.

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