Since I am in the remodeling business, I often find myself listening to what I think of as “Scary Remodeling Stories”. I have heard some truly horrifying tales, and I feel for the people who have experienced bad contractors.
Quite often though, I can clearly see that what happened to a homeowner wasn’t all that serious or out of the ordinary; it’s just that the homeowner’s expectations were so different from the reality of a construction job.
I certainly believe that it is the responsibility of the contractor to communicate realistic expectations to the homeowner during a remodeling project. This should be happening all through the planning stages and continuously during construction. I also believe that homeowners in the early stages of a project are so excited about finally doing the project they have been dreaming of that they may not hear what the contractor is telling them.
One topic that almost always comes up as a source of frustration on the part of the homeowner is scheduling. This is, unfortunately, one of the topics where the contractor often is to blame for creating unrealistic expectations.
When the homeowner asks “how long will my job take” the contractor knows they want to hear the shortest possible time period, and will offer the low end of the time estimate he’s already made for himself, in order to get the job. We call that the “blue sky” estimate, the one where everything goes right, materials are delivered on time, and no one ever misses work because they are sick. Most contractors would admit it rarely happens that way, so even though the time estimate they give isn’t exactly wrong, it’s just not too likely.
When reality gets involved, suddenly people’s trucks break down, sinks arrive damaged, and it rains for 2 weeks straight. The contractor feels bad, but really can’t do anything to change the situation so doesn’t see the need to contact the customer. The customer comes home from work at 6 to see nothing done and then can’t reach the contractor so late in the day. Everyone is working from inaccurate assumptions—the contractor figured the customer knows what’s going on and the customer figures the contractor is trying to put one over on them. Both are wrong, but you can see why they think the way they do.
So what’s the solution? Sounds simple, but it’s just communication. I think as contractors, because we have seen hundreds of job sites and know what to expect, the burden of communicating expectations is on us. Most of my customers have never done any remodeling before, so I can’t expect them to know that they should remove all pictures on the walls in rooms we aren’t even working in. I can’t expect them to know what kind of work we can do when it is raining and what must be postponed.
I do think that homeowners can be part of the solution by listening closely and asking questions when discussing their project. No one really enjoys reading a contract, but it is the responsibility of anyone signing a contract for remodeling services to be sure they have read and understand every word in that contract. If the contractor provides any new customer/welcome package info, again, it’s the responsibility of the homeowner to familiarize themselves with all the information contained within it.
The way I see it is that remodeling is a team sport. Everyone, including the homeowner, has a role to play, and each person’s actions affect everyone else. Teams are most successful when the members communicate their expectations to each other.