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How to Avoid Renovation Aggravation: 10 Easy Steps for Contractors and Homeowners

execute a reno

Home renovations are complicated projects with a lot of moving parts. How can you execute a renovation project from start to finish with minimal problems and maximum project transparency?

First, hire a good contractor!

Second, stick to good communication.

Good communication is built on contractors and homeowners who follow a clear set of procedures. Avoiding renovation problems isn't an art, but it does involve attention to detail while being a thorough team communicator.

Handshake Deal

Handshake deals are often done with good intentions. Casual business seems like a good idea, but it's not a safe option. Homeowners and Contractors are better off being business formal while maintaining a friendly relationship.

Keeping records of everything that happens before, during, and after the renovation project is the lynchpin of a smooth reno.

If both parties can stay on the same page and stick to these three practices, they will be better off (and happier).

Renovation Reality Check

In a perfect world, the contractor is the executive project manager and errors don't happen. This leaves time for the homeowner to relax on the couch and wait for their new kitchen, bathroom, or basement to arrive. However, the world isn't perfect, and this isn't a realistic image of a home reno either!

Imagine this: A homeowner has hired a contractor for a large-scale project. The homeowner and contractor are chatting in the front yard after a long day. The homeowner mentions that they prefer beige grout to what was written in the contract (black grout). The homeowner comes to see the project a week later and it's finished with black grout.

Woman Angry

Homeowners have every right to get mad when a renovation doesn't go as planned. Be a responsible consumer and learn how to protect yourself from the get-go.

Of course, the homeowner is angry with the contractor because they mentioned the change last week. Now the client doesn't want to pay the contractor. The contractor puts a lien on the house. The homeowner sues the company. It's a constant battle from there.

It seems extreme, but these types of issues happen all the time!

Verbal agreements for home renovation changes are a huge risk. Homeowners and contractors should avoid them at all costs.

Pro Tip: Any contractor, sub-contractor, or labour or materials supplier (hired by the general contractor or by the homeowner) can put a lien on the property if they are not paid by the general contractor, sub-contractor, or homeowner. The homeowner may not have a direct relationship with the business or individual who is filing the lien.

So, it's the homeowner's responsibility to make sure that the sub-contractors, general contractors, and suppliers are paid. Homeowners should write a clause in the contract to help prevent lien issues.

For example, a homeowner can withhold 10% of the price of the project to cover the cost of any sub-tradespeople who were not paid due to work or performance deficiencies.

What's the Issue with Verbal Agreements?

The issue with verbal agreements is that they are undocumented. This leaves room for miscommunication, ambiguity, and error. Details can be referenced in the future when they are recorded in writing. And, when both parties sign a written agreement or a change order, they do so understanding the conditions that apply.

Handshake

Never leave renovation changes up to a handshake agreement. The contractor and the homeowner are not protected if something goes south!

Things go wrong during a renovation--that's inevitable. But, without hard evidence, it's difficult to distinguish error from intention. This makes it more difficult for a homeowner or a contractor to rectify an issue in a court of law.

Why do I need Renovation Details in Writing?

Some review sites, like TrustedPros, require users to provide documented proof if they claim that a statement on the site is factually false. Documented proof allows TrustedPros to remove, redact, or editorialize a review. According to TrustedPros, roughly 80% of contractors that dispute negative reviews can't disprove client claims with hard evidence. Reason being that they usually don't have documented evidence to support themselves.

It's essential for both parties to keep all home renovation documents. This helps to preserve objectivity. Otherwise, one side may supply documents that support their claim while omitting other documents that prove the opposing party's statements.

For example, a client posts a review stating that they asked for granite, but the contractor installed marble. The contractor provides documents that prove that the client requested marble. However, they didn't provide the recent document, which shows that the homeowner requested granite at a later date.

It's important for both sides to keep written documentation of all agreements and change orders. It will help contractors remove negative reviews, keep reviews active, and aid both parties in a court trial or mediation session.

Errors are easy

Home renovations are complicated and leave a lot of room for error. Most of the time, the general contractor will manage the project (logistic, construction and all) on their own, on the go, while simultaneously working on the project. It's a hectic job!

Although details and complications come with the territory, it's easy for things to fall through the cracks, or for demands to get lost in translation. The best thing to do is take appropriate precautions to prevent this from happening.

Water damaged home

We may think that it's easy to avoid major and minute problems through simple communication. However, problems are usually at their worst when it's too late!

How can homeowners and contractors have a smooth renovation?

Contractors--how to do the best job possible and avoid room for error

Contractors are seasoned experts in their trades. It's easy to forget that homeowners are lay people who may not understand the ins and outs of their home renovation. The best way to complete a project while keeping the client on the same page is to:

  • Educate and inform the client about the home renovation and how it is completed.

  • Update the homeowner on project requirements as they come up and provide appropriate documentation.

  • Execute the trades successfully in order to complete the project.

  • Keep the homeowner in the loop when changes are required, and ask permission when changes must be made

Orginized Contractor

Contractors must be able to stay organized and communicate throughout the project, given their experience in the industry.

Homeowners--how to stay on the ball during a reno

Homeowners have a vision for their home renovation project and it should materialize. Although contractors are fully capable of doing this on their own, the project is a team effort.

It's the homeowner's job to stay connected to the project. They must deal with issues that are within their control as quickly as they can. Complications and disappointment happens when homeowners sit back and leave everything up to the contractor. Here is how to avoid that:

  • Learn about your provincial trade license guidelines before starting with the contractor. Don't leave any room for surprises!

  • Check in with your municipality before you progress with the project. Inquire about permits on your own. Then ask your contractor about it before starting. Obtain a copy of the permits.

  • Check in with the contractor throughout the project and ask for progress reports.

  • Document the renovation and major milestones on a calendar. Compare this to the milestones that you set in your contract.

  • Ask for change orders if you notice any changes to the original project.

  • Collect and keep every document, record, conversation, and report. It is tedious, but at the end of the day, it can save a lot of time, frustration, and money.

The Lynchpin: Keep Records!

Keeping records is easier said than done. Something said in passing could seem like an insignificant detail until it snowballs three weeks down the road.

Check Business Registration

Don't forget to check your contractor's tax number to make sure they're a legitimate business.

The moral of the story: have everything in writing. Contractors and homeowners must document everything and share it with one another during the renovation.

10 Ways to have a Smoother (and Better Documented) Renovation

1. Document Changes Using Change Orders

A change order will document each time the client or contractor must make (or request to make) a change to the original contract. The contractor will produce a document that outlines what is to be changed, and both parties will sign it. Here are some examples of scenarios that should use a change order:

  • The client asks for different materials/products than what was outlined in the contract

  • The contractor must make changes to the layout or structure

  • The contractor asks the client to choose a new material since the original is out of stock

  • Scheduling changes are required

Change Order

Change orders help protect contractors from unverified procedure issues. They also help homeowners stay on the same page as their contractors so that there aren't any unwanted surprises.

Download a copy of a change order outline here!

2. Problem Notifications

Contractors do come across issues as they renovate (i.e. mold, structural, wiring, hvac or plumbing). These issues can drive up renovation costs. When a contractor discovers something, it's important to stop all work and notify the client immediately.

Problems

The contractor should take a photo of the problem and then document it in writing. Next, they should provide their client with a quote to fix the issue, tell the homeowner how much it will cost to continue. They should also provide the client with a change order (or some alternative). The client must fully understand the issue and sign off on moving forward.

3. Referral Release Forms

Sometimes, general contractors need to hire other skilled tradespeople to complete a project feature. This could be anything from masonry to landscaping. If the contractor needs to do so, then they must have their client sign off on the referral.

Contractors should supply their clients with release forms. They should stipulate that unless agreed upon, any trades or businesses that the company refers to to the client are not under contract or the supervision of the company. In addition, the company is not responsible for their actions or work.

Thumbs Up

This will help the client understand that if the referred tradesperson makes an error or puts a lien on the property, they are to be held accountable--not the general contractor. The homeowner should sign a contract with that referral company or contractor as well.

This release form protects contractors and homeowners in the event of another company's oversight, error, or poor business practice.

4. Record all Business Conversations

Who doesn't give their contractor or client a call? If you decide to chat with your client or contractor, then you should be sure to record the conversation for precision--especially if you plan to talk about business. Consider downloading an app such as Automatic Call Recorder to record your conversations. You can download a dictation service too.

Phone Recorder

The built-in 'record' feature on your smartphone is a great resource during a renovation project.

Another option is to record your meeting conversations in person as well. This isn't to be controlling, it's a matter of preventing hearsay. The last thing you want is to be on a different page than your client or contractor.

5. Make Daily Reports

Homeowners and contractors should discuss this point together as they establish a project contract. Both groups can decide what is important to report on a daily basis. Some options include:

  • Reports on severe weather, and if it affected the renovation project (if it will affect the timeline, then the contractor should write a change order)

  • Interactions with neighbours

  • Inspector and city permit officer appearances and outcomes

  • General progress

  • Site clean-up

Reports

Discuss daily reports as a team. Contractors should avoid feeling like they are being mico-managed.

We recommend that contractors and homeowners use a daily clean-up checklist, especially for live-in renovations. This can help avoid disputes over messiness and safety hazards. It will also help the homeowner feel more comfortable in their home as the renovation progresses.

Click here to access a copy of our site clean-up checklist!

6. Use Email and Texts for all other Communication

If you prefer to stick to writing, then it's best to communicate with your contractor exclusively through emails and text messages. This is a good approach that can be easily supplemented by change orders and contracts. It's a good idea to record any additional conversations about business as well. Consider taking minutes during business meetings as well.

Text and Email Messages

Text messages and emails are very helpful, but they can get confusing. Try and stick to one method and one thread. Both parties should keep copies of the conversations.

Don't forget: even though your conversations are in writing, it's still important to use change orders, notices, and referral release forms when changes are made during the project!

7. Use a Contract

Documenting your renovation in a written and signed contract may be old news for some. However, some folks still believe that a contract isn't necessary. The reality is that a contract is very important in preserving a solid renovation from start to finish. Additional documentation without a contract doesn't hold as much water in a court of law.

8. Use Invoice Software

Invoice software will help you document and maintain clear communication about invoice payments. Some programs, like FreshBooks, will record and notify you when the client has seen an invoice. Clients can pay by Visa, which will go straight into the company bank account.

Invoice

This helps companies and clients keep track of payments, and it speeds up collection and processing time. Invoice software is a great way to maintain proof of payment, which is useful during conflicts when a contractor must prove that they weren't paid for their work.

9. Take Advantage of Free Cloud Software

Using software that both parties can access is extremely important. This helps everyone stay in the loop and on the same schedule. Homeowners and contractors can see live changes in a communal calendar, or additional items added to a to-do list, for example.

Cloud Calendar

Using a cloud calendar service such as Google Calendar, TeamUp, or UpTo helps everyone stay in touch about availability for meetings, appointments, delivery dates, and milestones. This eliminates the need to go back and forth asking for reminders in order to make a schedule!

Keeping track of documents in the cloud helps the contractor and the client keep valuable information in one place. Sifting through one's email to find valuable documents is tedious. Programs such as Google Drive and Dropbox are perfect for sharing and keeping track of progress and needs.

Finally, take advantage of to-do list apps. They are a lifesaver for those who have hectic days and busy teams. Set a list of tasks and errands, share it, and see when items get crossed off the list. We recommend an app such as Tick Tick for reno teams, general contractors, and homeowners. Eliminate oversight!

10. Use a Group Messenger Program

A group messenger program such as Google Hangouts or Slack (and even Facebook Messenger) can help you keep your team connected in one place. You can create chat groups for certain projects that will help keep everyone in the loop together, while tieing down conversations to writing. They are also fun to use!

What Documents Should I Keep?

Document List

  • Invoices

  • Blueprints (all updated versions)

  • Change orders

  • Text messages

  • Emails

  • Requests

  • Voice notes, call recordings, meeting minutes, meeting recordings

  • Test results (asbestos, mold, etc.)

  • Equipment orders (disposal bins, porta-potties)

  • Cleanup checklists (signed by both parties)

  • Inspector and permit officer documents

  • Project Calendar

  • Contract

  • Photos of stages complete

*Please note: all materials and information provided in this article are only guidelines and suggestions. TrustedPros encourages homeowners and contractors to do further research before settling on any renovation and business related documents. TrustedPros is not held responsible for any renovation oversight as a consequence of any information within or attached to this article.

Posted by: Nicole Silver
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