Tips for General Contractors: How to Ensure Projects Don’t Tank Due to Minor Miscommunications

Communication is key to the success of any construction project. Even minor miscommunications between general contractors and their clients can lead to major headaches, delays, added costs, and bad feelings that can make a good working relationship quickly go south. Follow these tips for clear and easy communication so misunderstandings don’t derail your next construction job.

Written by Elizabeth Brownfield

Create a Crystal-Clear Contract

You already know that a GC’s best tool for keeping everyone on the same page throughout a project is a solid contract. In addition to all the basics that you want to include like the timeline and payment schedule, spend the extra time to really drill down on the details in the scope of work as well. Keeping allowances to a minimum will also help keep the project and budget in check from the start.

Agree on a Method of Communication

Before you kick off construction, make sure to establish with your client how you’ll communicate throughout the project. You don’t want to end up leaving a voicemail about an urgent issue when it turns out they never check for messages, or constantly be sending emails when it turns out they only respond to texts.

Designate Primary Contacts

No contractor wants to play referee to quarreling spouses who can’t agree, or pick whose decision to run with when each half of a couple gives them conflicting information. Avoid being put in an awkward position by asking couples from the get-go who your primary contact will be for the duration of the project.

Likewise, be sure to tell your clients if they should reach out to you directly with questions and to get progress updates, or if there’s a site supervisor or project manager they should check in with instead.

Schedule Regular Check-Ins

Carve out time for regular status updates with your clients. Whether you prefer quick daily check-ins or longer weekly meetings, consistent communication will keep the project humming along no matter what the size. And bonus: scheduling regular meetings means greater efficiency since you’ll spend less time answering one-off questions from homeowners. 

Avoid Contractor Speak

Keep in mind that your client may not be up on construction lingo. So while you know what an egress is and what CAD stands for, talk on the homeowner’s level whenever possible, or take a minute to explain the terminology so it’s easier to talk shop with them down the line.

Put Changes in Writing

In a dream world, every new home build or remodel would stay true to its original plans. But we all know how often changes occur during the course of a project, oftentimes creating construction delays, scope creeps, and budget overruns. When these project pivots happen, make sure to put the revised plans in writing with an official change order. Make sure too that the homeowner understands how the new plan with affect their timeline and budget.

Manage Expectations

Ever get the feeling that a client with a modest budget for remodeling their ranch house is expecting it to be transformed into the Taj Mahal when the project’s complete?  Help manage their expectations by letting them know the limitations of their budget. And let them know if you see particular aspects of the project where the client’s plan to skimp on materials is likely to lead to their dissatisfaction.

Be a Proactive Troubleshooter

No GC wants to make the call telling a homeowner there’s a problem that’s going to push back the timeline and inflate the budget, but we all know how often these hiccups happen. Don’t delay the inevitable: as soon as you’ve got a grasp on the problem, get in touch with your client to fill them in on the issue, let them know their options, and make a game plan. Your prompt and proactive communication will show the client that you can manage the problem and keep their project on track.

10 Things a Homeowner Wants to Know Before Hiring a General Contractor

Homeowners usually talk to a few different general contractors before they choose the person who will lead their new home build or renovation project. And these are the 10 most common things potential clients want to know before they decide who to hire for the job. Be prepared with this information in order to win the new business time after time.

Written by Elizabeth Brownfield

1. How Long You’ve Been in Business

First things first: before homeowners will ask you specifics about a building project, they’ll want to know that you’re coming from a place of experience. If you’ve been a GC for decades, the number of years you’ve been in business will speak for itself. If you’re newer to the building industry, reassure potential clients about your capabilities by telling them how many projects similar to (or more complex than) their own you’ve completed recently to the homeowner’s satisfaction. 

2. Other Homeowners Will Vouch for Your Work

Many clients will find you based on the recommendation of a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member. But they’ll also want a few additional referrals who will speak to your proven track record of success. Keep an updated list of satisfied homeowners handy so you’re always ready to give potential new clients the names of people you’ve worked with in the past — ideally those whose projects have been similar to their own.

3. You Are Licensed, Bonded, and Insured

Homeowners will want to ensure that you’re licensed to work in their area, and that they won’t be held financially liable if a member of your crew is injured on the job. So have copies of your license, certificate of insurance, and bonds at the ready so your new clients know that you’re covered for all contingencies.

4. Your Bid is the Best

Most likely, the homeowner will have shopped around and gotten bids from a few different general contractors. So be prepared for them to ask questions about how your bid compares to others. If your bid isn’t the lowest, you may have to explain that the lowest bid is not always the best. Reassure them that you priced your bid fairly with the lowest cost to them, without cutting any corners or skimping on materials.

5. What They Can Expect Day-to-Day

Give potential clients an overview of what the work site will look like on a daily basis. That includes what hours work will be going on, whether or not construction will continue on weekends, if the crew will need access to areas other than the designated workspace (including bathrooms and break areas), and if they should expect to be without water or power over the course of the project.

8. Who Will be at the Site and How They’ll be Supervised

Likewise, homeowners want to know who other than you will be in their home. Tell them what subcontractors and crew will be there during the project, and how often you’ll be on-site to supervise. 

6. Timeline for Completion

A realistic timeline is one of the most important aspects of a project, especially for homeowners who are living in the space during renovations. Give the homeowner the rundown on both how soon you’d be able to start the job, as well as a detailed timeline for the project from kickoff to final inspection.

7. Payment Schedule

As you no doubt know firsthand, when and how much GCs get paid can vary widely. So let the homeowner know upfront what they should plan for in terms of payment arrangements. Tell them what percentage of the project costs will be due as a down payment before work kicks off, how much will be due while construction is underway, and finally what the remainder is that will be due when work is complete. 

9. How You’ll Give Status Reports

Establish with the client the best way for the two of you to communicate (be it text, email, or phone), and if you’ll check in with them with quick daily status updates or longer weekly face-to-face meetings.

10. That You Communicate Well

Finally, one of the most important things a homeowner wants to know before choosing their contractor is that they’ll be able to communicate with the person easily throughout the sometimes-stressful building or remodeling process. First-time homeowners or nervous remodelers may have a lot of questions for you from the get-go. But keep in mind that your clear, confident and helpful answers will assure them from the start that you’re the right person for the job. 

10 Types of Projects When a Homeowner Needs to Hire a General Contractor

Fixer-uppers. Storm damage. DIY disasters. One of the most valuable lessons a homeowner can learn is when it’s time to hire a professional like you. Here are the 10 types of construction projects for which they’ll need the oversight and industry know-how of a general contractor to turn their home design dreams into realities.

Written by Elizabeth Brownfield

1. Anytime Multiple Pros Are Needed

Plumbers, carpenters, electricians, cabinetmakers, flooring pros, appliance installers…for kitchens, bathrooms, or any other remodeling projects that require more than one specialty contractor, hiring a general contractor is essential for homeowners. 

No matter how big or small the project, when multiple specialty contractors are needed, coordinating the logistics and timeline of multiple subcontractors makes everything more complicated. A GC is needed to manage the day-to-day work, troubleshoot, maintain the site, and keep the client informed — all while keeping the overall vision for the project in check.

2. If They’re Tackling a Fixer-Upper

Even when clients seek out a fixer-upper, they might be surprised at how quickly their list of repairs and redesigns can get out of control (or by how sloppy their own attempts at retiling the bathroom can look).  Hiring a GC is not only the fastest way to achieve their dream home, but is also the best way to preserve their sanity during the extensive remodeling process.

3. Whenever Permits Are Required

As a contractor, you know all too well that to add a wall, turn a garage into a living room, or install a new fireplace, city and county building permits are required before work can begin. But your average homeowner wouldn’t know where to begin securing this paperwork. That’s why they need a well-versed professional like you to navigate the world of local ordinances and building regulations to make sure their project is above board and up to code.

4. For Simple Structural Changes

Homeowners might assume that they have to hire an architect and GC when making structural changes like removing a wall in order to open up a room. Let them know that you can handle smaller projects on your own, from getting a structural engineer in to assess the space and scope of the project, to overseeing construction and electrical work and obtaining the proper permits.

5. To Bring an Architect’s Plans to Life

Those working with an architect to build a custom home will need to find a GC to help translate their plans from abstract floor plans to brick-and-mortar homes. And oftentimes, architects will recommend a contractor who they know and have worked well with before — someone they can depend on to manage the work, communicate with them when issues arise, and work well with on a personal level.

Relationships between architects and contractors can be tricky since both come to a project with different perspectives. But you need each other, and how seamlessly you work together can make or break a project. So seek out architects you work well with and maintain those relationships so you’ll be their go-to contractor for new jobs that come their way, and also so you have a list of preferred architects to suggest when a client asks you for recommendations.

6. When the Homeowner is the Designer

Some design-savvy homeowners may want to tackle small projects themselves, without the help of an interior designer. For those jobs, your industry knowledge as a builder will be invaluable, especially when questions about scheduling, permits, and other aspects of the job the homeowner hasn’t thought of come up.  

But trust your gut: if you get the feeling a potential new client who’s looking to be their own designer is in over their head, give it some serious consideration before taking them and their personal project on.

7. For a Straightforward Addition

While architects are needed for involved projects, contractors can often manage small or simple additions on their own. Additions to ranch houses may be especially feasible for GCs to tackle without an architect’s input because of their single-floor designs and more straightforward construction issues.

8. In Case of Flood, Fire, or Storm Damage

When unfortunate events like natural disasters hit homes, top-to-bottom repairs are often required. Contractors are needed to take on extensive to-do lists for projects like ripping out water-damaged carpets and flooring, installing new drywall, repairing electrical damage, repainting walls, and restoring exteriors damaged by wind, rain, fire, or fallen trees. 

9. To Resolve Safety Issues

Whenever the safety of a homeowner and their family is at risk, tell them to resist the urge to hire a handyman or attempt the work themselves. As a building professional, your informed oversight on every aspect of the project will ensure the issue is resolved with no mishaps or additional safety issues.

10. To Fix DIYs Gone Wrong

We’ve all heard the horror stories about homeowners who’ve bitten off more than they can chew on supposedly easy home projects, leading to tragicomic results. When DIYs turn into disasters, homeowners need a pro like you to come to their rescue. 

It can be tricky to assess a project in various states of failure and deal with a stressed-out homeowner to boot. But your client will be grateful when you’re able to step in and set their world straight again.

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.