Tips for General Contractors: 10 Things You Need Your Client to Tell You Before You Start a Project
As any general contractor knows, each new home build and remodeling job comes with its own set of challenges. From general troubleshooting to dealing with difficult clients, bad weather to material delays, every project comes with unique demands. After all, they’re one of the main reasons why your role as a GC is so essential to a project’s success.
So talk through these 10 issues with your client before you kick off construction. With a little proactive problem solving, you’ll be rewarded with less wasted time and resources and fewer miscommunications and client questions, leading to a more seamless process for you, your crew, and the homeowner.
Written by Elizabeth Brownfield
1. The Contract
First things first: before you and the homeowner sign on the dotted line, double-check that your contract includes a detailed and comprehensive description of the scope of work, expected duration, any exclusions, information about your licenses and insurance, and a set payment schedule. A clear and thorough contract is the best way to protect yourself and avoid confusion with your client.
2. Communication Preferences
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of your communication with a homeowner: easy communication keeps a project humming along smoothly, while miscommunications and missed messages can wreak havoc, inflate timelines and costs, and create frustration and headaches for everyone involved.
So before you even start a project, ask your client how they prefer to communicate. Many clients today will tell you to text them, especially for time-sensitive issues. But there are still many people who prefer to be contacted by email or want to hear your voice on the other end of the phone. And you may have a client who wants to be contacted by phone…but never bothers to check their voicemail.
Establishing the best way to get in touch from the start is the best way to prevent missed connections throughout the process.
3. Designated Point Person
No one wants to get in a sticky situation where one half of a couple tells you one thing while the other half says another, leaving you trying to navigate some tricky personal politics. Be sure to ask your clients ahead of time for one specific point person.
Likewise, let them know if they can go to you with all questions, or if they should check in with individual subcontractors for status reports.
If you’re going to be on vacation, out of town, or off the grid during the course of the project, be sure to let the homeowner know beforehand so they don’t feel caught off guard when the time arises. And let them know in advance whom they should contact in your place.
When you return, reaching out to the client to make sure everything went smoothly in your absence will go a long way.
5. Regular Check-Ins
Avoid a constant flurry of one-off questions by scheduling a specific day and time for a general check-in with the client.
6. Site Prep
Before the first swing of a hammer, make a plan to prep the space and surrounding areas where materials and equipment will be coming in and out. Figure out what needs to be relocated inside and outside of the house to avoid damage, and how interiors are going to be protected from dust and debris.
7. Day-to-Day Schedule
Your contract will spell out the estimated date of completion for the project. But you also want to talk to the homeowner about when time construction will begin and end each day, whether or not there will be any work happening on weekends and holidays, and who they can expect to see working on site each day.
8. Rules On-Site
Ensure smooth relations between the homeowner and work crews by establishing in advance how you and subcontractors may use the space. Minor details may be a major deal to the client. Talk through a plan for where the crew will park, whether or not they’re able to use a bathroom inside the home, where they can have lunch, take breaks, and throw away trash, and who is responsible for cleaning and locking up at the end of the day.
If the client is living in the home during renovations, ask them if there are any issues with children or pets the crew needs to be aware of. No one wants to be responsible for the family’s cat escaping because someone accidentally left the wrong door open.
Make sure your client understands that any amendments to the original project plan will require a change order. Don’t be tempted to skip the paperwork and rely on a verbal agreement: change orders are key for keeping everyone on the same page and for documenting adjustments to the original contract.
10. Contingency Plans
If there are potential problems you see before construction kicks off, or aspects of the projects that concern you, manage the homeowner’s expectations by being upfront about them and discussing a worst-case scenario.
While it may seem counterintuitive to bring up a problem that doesn’t yet exist, in the long run, your client will be more prepared if the issue does arise. It will also give them peace of mind to know that you’ve thought through every step of the project, and that you have a solid plan in place when and if construction hiccups do happen.