The contract-signing phase is what really sets the stage for
the entire job. The contract must be clear on the scope of
work, all specifications, and the payment schedule. Along with
photos and references from past jobs, I keep standard contracts
and change orders in my portfolio. I don’t read every
word of every document with my clients, but I will point out
the most important sections to help eliminate any gray
The clients will never be more flexible than at the contract
signing, and your credibility will never be as high. After all,
the client picked you to build their dreams, but the stress of
surprises and unexpected costs during the project will
eventually take its toll. Warn them now about possible extra
expenses, and your honesty will pay off later as the inevitable
This is also the time to present the clients with a list of
any product selections and other obligations they have to take
care of before work can begin. I use a simple form that lists
all of the decisions they need to make tied to a specific
deadline (see Figure 1).
Client Deadlines &
1.To keep work from grinding to a halt while
homeowners decide on colors or other options, the author
provides his clients with a list of tasks tied to
The list not only ensures that I will be able to order
everything needed for the job in plenty of time, but it also
makes the clients feel that they are a part of the process.
I like to schedule a meeting for about a week before beginning
work. This is the last chance I’ll have to prepare
customers for what is coming and to eliminate potential
misunderstandings. Most homeowners have difficulty visualizing
the construction process, and they need to have everything
explained to them. During this preconstruction conference, I go
over the contract once again, but this time I have the benefit
of being able to describe the work while walking through the
job site. Answering questions about the project now may prevent
conflicts later. I can explain, for example, that the entire
living room won’t be getting new drywall just because a
new doorway is being created to the family room.
I also go over the schedule during this conference (Figure
2), explaining the importance of cooperative weather and the
role of subs.
2.The author gives all of his clients a copy
of the same schedule he uses to track job progress. Extra time
for possible construction delays is built in to the schedule
dates, and notations serve as reminders for required
I also explain the delays that change orders can cause,
since most customers simply don’t realize the way change
orders can mess up the schedule. I also emphasize that any
change orders must go through me, not my help or my subs.
Work can slow down or stop when customers freely roam the
site during the workday, so I take a few moments to establish
times when the owners can meet me at the site. I do mostly
remodeling, so the people I work for are usually living at the
job site. Even so, I ask them to limit visits to the regularly
scheduled site meeting or to check in before or after working
hours. A friendly but firm explanation will usually get the
point across, but I’ve had to board up a new addition on
occasion to isolate it from the rest of the house.
This preconstruction meeting is also the best time to
designate a message center for written communication, and to go
over any other rules for the project, such as the protocols for
paging, phone calls, or change orders.
I like to hold weekly meetings, and I impose an agenda to keep
things organized and moving. The agenda should include project
status (ahead of or behind schedule, and why), goals for the
coming week, and a list of the questions that have arisen since
the last meeting (Figure 3).
3.An agenda keeps weekly meetings on track
and provides a written record of job progress, changes to the
scope of work, and homeowner decisions.
I’m careful not to bog the customers down with
unnecessary details, since that’s the burden I was hired
Be sure to include a short question-and-answer time to clear
up uncertainties. It’s best to do this at the end of the
meeting, since many questions get answered during the
discussion of agenda items. Ask your customers to save all of
their questions during the week for this time, unless something
urgent comes up. Explain that unnecessary questions and
interruptions during work time slow down progress and may
affect the schedule and budget.
Weekly meetings also keep me in tune with the
homeowners’ state of mind, teaching me how to give them
what they want and improve on what they don’t like. Do
the daily cleanups look okay? Are my guys trampling on border
plants? I can’t keep every client happy all of the time,
but these meetings improve the odds.
The way a customer pays is another form of communication that
tells me a lot about the kind of job I’m doing. Cheerful
payment probably means they’re happy with the job, but if
they write out the check grudgingly, then I suspect
there’s a problem.
I find that the best approach is to simply ask what’s
bugging them. The customer may be having a bad day that’s
unrelated to the job, or they might be bummed just because
it’s tough to let go of $10,000, no matter how good my
work is. In some cases, however, there is a problem, and this
becomes my opportunity to fix it. It might be something small,
like the way a stack of materials blocks part of the driveway
or the fact that the trim we’re about to install
isn’t quite what they thought it would be. By tending to
these concerns early, I can usually keep minor irritants from
becoming major problems.
The Punch List
When the job is closing, I use a punch list to wrap things up
and get the final payment. About a week before completion, I
ask the clients for their list, and then add some items of my
own. The punch-list process both reminds the clients of my high
standards and reassures them that I will complete the job
properly. I explain that I expect final payment when I’ve
finished everything on the list; anything after that will be
handled, but it will be considered warranty work.
Finally, maintaining contact after the job is done is an
effective way to get new work and good referrals. I conduct a
satisfaction survey anywhere from a month to three months after
the job, and do checkups at six months and twelve months.
Mostly I make little repairs, like fixing nail pops or
recaulking, but the cost is minimal and the payback is
I stay in touch with customers via phone, cards, and drop-in
visits. Occasionally, I’ll drive a bucket of balls or
have a beer with a past client, or my wife and I will have
dinner out with a husband-and-wife client, but this kind of
entertaining is reserved for clients with whom I’ve
worked well and for whom I’d enjoy working again. I
typically get more than one call from clients with whom
I’ve stayed in touch, but I get far fewer from those with
whom I haven’t. As a rule, I make contact at least twice
a year, even if I know my customer has no future plans for
remodeling. Why? Because my work will be seen by their friends
and family, and I love referrals.
Communicating well makes my business run better. I get more
work, make better profits, and enjoy a good reputation with
satisfied clients. Like that buddy of mine, I could build a
house with just one tool, but the tool I’d pick is
Norman Allaby has been a remodeling contractor in
Connecticut since 1986.