Thursday, September 15, 2011

Controlling Your Renovation

Working with a repeat client on finish selections for his in-progress renovation has me all worked up over the General Contractor versus Owner relationship and the division of responsibility within that relationship.

The first time I met my client "Dan" was right after he'd closed on his house and before the renovations had started, he was relaxed and super easy to work with.  I joked about having to spend a day shopping with a fun and charming guy was definitely not a painful way to earn money.  That was about a month ago.  At our second meeting yesterday I could tell he was a ball of stress when he arrived and it didn't take long for things to unravel.  The conversation I had with him has really gotten my wheels turning, and I'm annoyed just on principal with so much of what Dan told me.  He's spending 5 hours or more a day at the renovation while his GC isn't there.  The GC is burdening him with every issue.  The latest being that the wall painter doesn't want to do the trim and doors.  I had to try not to laugh when he told me this.  Seriously? Time to find a new painter.  It's a package deal if you want the work.

I realize that I'm walking a fine line when I'm not participating in the actual construction on a project.  I have strong opinions on the way things should be done and what is acceptable by good industry standards but unless specifically asked for my view on a specific topic I try to bite my tongue unless I'm seeing something blatantly wrong or dangerous.

Most home owners will do one maybe two major renovation projects in their lifetimes so the entire process is a learning experience for them but I think there are some key points that will help make the process easier:

  • Do your homework before selecting a contractor.  Check references, talk to people, google, check BBB.  If you are opting to use a general contractor rather than attempt to general the project yourself, your GC is going to be your MVP.  Find out how much time they plan to be on site, ask what their expect your daily time commitment to be.  Make your expectations clear.
  • Have a contract and know what is in it.  Make sure you read and edit the GC's standard contract as necessary.  Get them to commit to a schedule and include it in the contract.
  • Have an idea of material price points and what you want.  Do not let your contractors drive your selections when it comes to materials.  I had suggested to Dan at our first meeting that if he decided to replace the cabinets that he consider Ikea cabinets.  In stock and inexpensive.  Or even one of the stocked lines from a local discount supplier.  Instead he's now waiting on god-awful oak cabinets the contractor pushed him into, and he's already unhappy with them before they've gone in.
  • Don't get too caught up in making everyone happy.  That isn't your job.  It's the contractor's responsibly to make you as the owner happy.  Obviously everyone wants the relationship to be a friendly one but it's still a professional relationship and as such you cannot be afraid to stand your ground.  Do not let your contractor make his problems your problems.  He (or she) is getting paid a fee to resolve the issues that come up without involving you if at all possible.  If you are spending too much time babysitting the work, speak up.  Demand that the GC be on site more.  If you think something was installed poorly, insist it be corrected.  If you selected something other than what shows up on site, require that it be replaced.  If there is construction debris everywhere remind them that clean up is done at the end of every day, not the end of the job.
  • Inspect the work before you pay for it.  Payment is the strongest motivator for action in my experience.
Bottom line is that a GC is supposed to make your life easier, that's why they're worth the fee.  If that is not happening, it needs to be addressed head on. 

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