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.

4. Availability

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. 

9. Changes

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.

10 Things Homeowners Expect from Their General Contractor

Want a blueprint for success with your next client? From your initial meeting to ticking off the last item on your checklist and every stage in between here are the 10 most important things homeowners look for from their general contractor. Deliver on them, and you’ll have successful partnerships and projects every time.

Written by Elizabeth Brownfield

1. Solid References

Before you can get to work, you’ve got to win the business. So you always want to have a list of previous clients who can speak to your track record for completing projects on time, on budget, and to their satisfaction.

2. Reassurance

This may be the first time your client has ever remodeled their home or worked with a General Contractor. They may have questions or expectations they don’t even know how to ask you about. Or, they could feel intimidated because they don’t know the lingo.

Reassure them by sharing your experience and qualifications, including how long you’ve been in business, what licenses and insurance you hold, and how many projects similar to their own you’ve completed recently.

Let them know in advance what permits you will need to obtain, and fill them in on any inspections that will be required so they will feel assured that you’ve got every aspect of the project covered.

3. Good Communication

Like in any relationship, communication between you and the homeowner is key. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time together during the course of the remodel, and it’s personal spending so much time in someone’s home.

Before you start a job, ask your client what the best way to get in touch with them is. If they only respond to text or hardly ever check their email, it’s helpful to know from the start.

Miscommunications not only affect your relationship with a homeowner, but they can be costly too. Avoid them with clear, honest, and timely communication. It will help build the homeowner’s trust and confidence in your work, and will be a helpful foundation should issues arise.

4. Reliability

Clients want to know that you can be counted on, and that you’re going to show up when you say you will – it’s as simple as that. So if your plans change and you can’t be on-site when expected, you’re going on vacation, or if you have a family emergency that calls you away unexpectedly, update the homeowner as soon as possible and let them know when you’ll be able to reschedule.

5. An Accurate Budget

No matter the size of the project, all homeowners want the job to be completed within their budget. Make sure that your project estimate includes a comprehensive and detailed accounting for the cost of all required materials, permits and work by subcontractors so the total price tag doesn’t balloon beyond the initial figure. And if changes come up, be clear about how much the work will tack on to the total bill.

6. A Realistic Timeline

Likewise, avoid problems down the line by creating a feasible timeline that takes into account potential delays like bad weather, delivery snafus, and any holidays when work will be put on pause.

7. Troubleshooting Skills

Problem solving is one of the most valuable tools you have in your GC toolbox. And as a seasoned professional, you probably have a good idea which aspects of a project have the biggest potential to go wrong. So avoid headaches and protect the best interests of your clients by putting contingency plans in place before common issues arise.

Homeowners have to understand that things may go wrong – that’s one of the main reasons your role as a GC is so essential. The most important thing is for your client to know that you have a plan of action when problems come up. Promptly address the issue, offer solutions, and get the fix in place so you can all move forward.

8. A Good Network of Subcontractors

Every electrician, plumber, flooring installer, and other subcontractor you hire for a project is a reflection of you. Have a solid Rolodex of talented and trustworthy subcontractors who will complete their work well and on time, and be respectful when they’re on-site, and you’ll always look good.

9. Quality Control

Be thorough in your examination of your individual subcontractors’ work as it kicks off, progresses, and is nearing completion. The devil is in the details, and you know the homeowner will be checking every square inch with eagle eyes. Get ahead of any complaints by inspecting the work in their home as if it were your own.

10. A Final Checklist

When work has wrapped, take some time and care to go through your checklist. Make sure that subcontractors haven’t left dust and debris, materials, or tools behind, and double-check that all paperwork is in order.

Closing the loop with final details will ensure a happy homeowner, prompt payment, and referrals for more work.