Best build ever

All successful homebuilding and renovation projects ultimately come down to how clients and contractors interact. Get the people part right up front, then the fun stuff takes care of itself later on.

All successful homebuilding and renovation projects ultimately come down to how clients and contractors interact. Get the people part right up front, then the fun stuff takes care of itself later on.

The fact is, too few clients and contractors spend time setting up their relationship properly ahead of time, and the result is unnecessary hassles and hardships.

Here are three disaster-proofing guidelines that’ll virtually guaranteed your building dreams stay sweet.

Disaster-Proofing Step#1: Partner With the Right People — Work began shortly after Peter handed his contractor a $30,000 deposit on a large renovation job, then the contractor almost immediately proved to be technically incompetent, a bald-faced liar, and prone to yelling profanities at Peter on the front lawn of his house.

After that, things got bad.

Peter came home unexpectedly one day to find one of the workers sucking back a beer from his own fridge, while another “worker” snored comfortably in the basement.

In the end, Peter discovered that the contractor’s license had been revoked because of a mile-long string of poor jobs handled dishonestly.

Peter held the guy’s tools as collateral to get part of his deposit back, the police showed up and the whole thing went to court.

Lessons to Learn: Ask for at least five real client references.

Follow them up like your life depended on it. Peter never did talk to any previous clients and that was his downfall.

Which contractors were on budget? Which were on time?

Ask permission to come and inspect the quality of workmanship. Don’t commit to buying thousands of dollars worth of work with no more care than you’d invest in selecting a new shirt.

Disaster-Proofing Step#2: Decide Who Pays for What — A friend of mine shook hands with a contractor to build a retirement home.

The contractor offered to pay all material suppliers from his end, to make things easier.

All went well until the contractor’s first invoice came in. It included a much-higher-than-expected figure for materials, a figure that also happened to be a very round number.

When questioned about the actual material costs and asked to produce original invoices from the lumberyard, the contractor took offense.

He refused to produce any original invoices in order to “protect his suppliers”. He was asked again, he refused again.

Was the contractor being honest and offended, or did he have something to cover up? Who knows. In the end, the mild-mannered client simply paid the large, detail-free invoices.

To this day he still wonders exactly what happened.

Lessons to Learn: Every building job needs to have specific financial and technical details spelled out ahead of time on paper. Is the job based on a binding contract, with total price specified beforehand? Time and materials? Who pays for what? What documentation is expected to keep everyone honest?

Disaster-Proofing Step#3: Set milestones and procedures, then live up to them — Not all building disasters are caused by lousy contractors. Clients can be at fault, too. That’s why both contractors and clients need to commit to a structure that keeps things honest and fair.

Roger and Wilma contracted to have a small new home built.

The contractor began work immediately, but probably wished he’d walked away.

Roger is one of those nightmare clients — a man who expects the world, expected it yesterday and expects a 40 per cent discount.

Without a payment schedule and change-order procedures in writing, Roger had the upper hand. He withheld thousands of dollars of payment for months, until the contractor was forced to bend over backwards meeting outrageous expectations.

To this day, Roger and Wilma still bad-talk that contractor every chance they get, even though they were the bad guys.

Lessons to Learn: Don’t ask for any change of plans, regardless of how seemingly small, without offering to pay extra for it. Meet the financial milestones you set ahead of time, and don’t micro-manage your contractor.

Rein in your enthusiasm at the beginning of your job, take the time to explore and discuss all those potentially volatile issues that often go unspoken, then treat the other guy as you like to be treated.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at

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