How To – Consumers Guide Working With Contractors And Understanding Project Timelines

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    Contract completion times are one of the most common complaints by consumers however by asking a few questions up front most of the headaches can be eliminated.

    Like no other business Remodeling and Building Contractors are always blamed for longer then expected completion times, delays in service while the work is being completed and delays before work begins. In some cases the blame is justified however in many cases it is just miscommunication of all of the steps and outside factors that can cause a delay.

    If a contractor provides a completion date they will most likely not set it in stone unless they are being paid extra. This is because most projects require the use of subcontractors in specialized trades like electricians or plumbers and ordering and delivery of materials by a third party. In addition inspections and permits to begin the work can cause delays along with weather conditions, family emergencies and much more.

    Think of it this way when you schedule an appointment with a doctor you are likely to be asked to wait a few weeks for your visit then when you arrive you will still need to wait. Most of us understand this and accept it. Similarly although we may complain about other customers in front of us we almost never get mad at a cashier when we are forced to wait 10 or 15 minutes in a long checkout line rather then hit the self checkout and get out of the store faster.

    The reason we don’t run to a managers office or file a lawsuit when these delays happen is because we have become accustomed to the delays in service.

    Now consider this if your contractor is late one morning and they are picking up supplies do we consider that they may have been waiting in line… or even the fact that although they are still working on your project their absence is troublesome in our minds.

    On top of those situations you must consider that a contractor normally needs to meet with new customers and arrange new work. That hour they came out to give you an estimate meant that another project was not being worked on but this is how the business is. Contractors can not dedicate all of their time to their craft and none of it to their business or they would be out of work within their first month.

    And finally the last situation is third party delays. If you order a special fixture that takes 3 weeks to get in then obviously the contractor can not install it. Permits before work begins often take a few days but in larger cities it could take weeks or even months. Inspections during the work must be performed for framing, electrical and plumbing and scheduling government employees is next to impossible. Most contractors work around inspections by altering times that outside contractors perform work but when that happens you have to consider the electrician may not have an open day.

    So, as a consumer there are many times that delays in your project are justified.  Getting mad at your contractor for justified delays would be similar to throwing a fit every time you go to the market and get in a long line that makes you miss the beginning of your favorite tv show.

    How do you cure the headaches of Contract Delays?

    During your initial consultation with your contractor you should discus the general timeline of the project. If the project is small and can be completed in a single day or less then a formal timeline is not necessary.

    If the time for completion is over one day then you should ask the contractor at the very minimum to write a start and completion date on the contract. The contractor may not be liable for missing a completion date unless it is written into a contract where they gain monetarily if they are early or lose if they are late but it will give you a good idea of when the work will be done and will be proof that you asked.

    If the work to be completed is over an extended period of 7 days to a few weeks or months then before work begins you should require a formalized timeline that shows all of the work to be completed and which days work will be scheduled.

    You should then withhold payment for services until they are completed unless something specific like a special order of materials is required. Step the payments into milestones such as Tare out, Rough in, finish work and final approval. Remember that subcontractors may require immediate payment for services so be ready to pay your electrician or plumber but then request a receipt that says payment in full and no lien can be brought against your house for non-payment.

    If work needs to be inspected by a building official you should never pay for it until it passes inspection. You will have inspections.

    If you are asked to pay for materials you should ask for the original receipt to verify costs and most states will require the contractor to furnish one. This will help you with manufacture warranties in years to come. Expect the contractor to add a service fee for markup because they often get a discount which defrays the cost of delivery and dealing with the supplier.

    Understand Change Orders and Consultation Limits

    During a project you may want to change something. You may not want to wait for that faucet that still is on order and won’t arrive for 2 more weeks or you may want to upgrade, change locations of items or a variety of other things.

    If you were doing the work yourself then there would be no cost associated. However if you change something that must be inspected that could mean the contractor needs to submit an alteration to the plan. This can cost both money and time.

    Also if that faucet is already shipped you may not be able to return it. The contractor will have hardship with their supplier that they need to work with every day and someone will need to eat the cost and that would be you.

    Change orders are often stated up front as an additional minimum fee and all costs associated.

    Consultation Times

    In addition to change orders you may want to consult with your contractor during the project at a time that they are not on your location. This may mean that they need to reschedule other customer work or general business work.

    You should expect to pay your contractor for the extra time that they consult with you. Some contracts will have consultations times written into the contract. Ask your contractor about change orders and consultation times before work begins.

    Final Note

    Remember that your contractor may be working on your project even when they are not in your home. This is different then a contractor that takes your money and walks away.

    Consider all of the other businesses that you deal with and then compare them to the work your contractor is performing. Understand that the business you are hiring is made up of people that are just like you. They go to work to earn money and they have lives and families and conditions can happen to place work on the back burner even if they have the best intentions of completing your job in a professional manner.

    Asking up front for a timeline for long projects is mandatory.. for projects that are under a week and require no inspections get them to put the start and finish date on the estimate and for single day work don’t pay until the job is done and you are happy with the results.

    Contractors should be more then happy to tell you about expected delays. They are more likely to be up front because they know it is a concern that often causes problems. You will never see a sign on a supermarket door saying expect to wait 15 minute in the checkout lines.

    So.. get the information you need then protect yourself by paying in stages and write things into your contract if they are important.


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