Contractors Need to be Teachers Too

Originally posted 2011-11-14 09:00:29.

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As I was looking through my Google Reader feeds at the end of last week, I ran across a great post by my friend Andrea Goldman (@andreagoldman) at her Massachusetts Builders Blog.  Her blog is a great resource for Massachusetts home builders and their attorneys.  In her post, she points out something that contractors (whether primarily commercial construction or residential construction) should not forget: it is up to you, the construction professional, to set expectations and to educate the owner as to how the project will run.

Andrea focuses on residential home builders and projects because she, like I, has seen an uptick in residential construction issues recently.  The combination of the easy money of a few years ago and the sudden downturn in the residential housing market has caused some homeowners (and unfortunately a few contractors) to cut corners and seek to run jobs themselves in a way that may or may not be conducive to a well run project.

To save costs, homeowners seek to self perform work or supply materials to a job and thus remove that portion of the scope of work from the contract.  As a residential contractor in particular, you need to see that allowing a homeowner to control his or her costs this way is fraught with disaster.  Delays, questions about scope of responsibility, and squeezed profit margins (not to mention the frustration of subcontractors and your own people having to work around a homeowners brother in law painting when he can fit it in) can only lead to disputes on the back end.  If a homeowner starts to try and pull your scope from you, take it as a red flag that this could end up a troubled project.

Even in commercial construction where the owners are supposedly more sophisticated and aware of the construction process, expectation setting is key.  As the construction professional, you must have your contract and scope of work drafted in a manner that leaves as little doubt as possible as to what is and (importantly) what is not included in the contract.  A well drafted contract is the first step in the necessary education and expectation setting process.  Your local construction attorney can assist you with making sure that your contract includes what it needs to in order to protect you from disputes that may arise from the inevitable and hopefully minor glitches that will occur on a construction project.

The next step that a contractor needs to take, particularly in this economy, is to discuss the progress of the project with all involved from the owner to the architect and the subcontractors.  Communication of this information outside of the bare contract documents can only smooth the process.  An owner that understands the process will be less troublesome than one that doesn’t.  Having a written change order provision in the contract is a must.  Following that provision after explaining it to the owner will make your life as a builder much less complicated.

Education, communication and solid contract drafting on the front end will lead to many fewer frustrations and disputes during and after construction.

As always, I welcome your comments below.  Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Construction Law Musings.

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8 Responses to Contractors Need to be Teachers Too
  1. Tony Scott
    November 15, 2011 | 1:18 PM

    You are definitely right. The builder must always protect himself with the provisions contained in the contract that is why there must always be a document to make everything clear and not be troublesome in the end.
    Tony Scott recently posted..MSDSonline Offers EH&S Professionals Free Webinar Series on Upcoming Adoption of GHS by OSHAMy Profile

  2. Christopher G. Hill
    Twitter:
    November 15, 2011 | 1:36 PM

    Thanks for checking in Tony. Documentation and expectations are the key.
    Christopher G. Hill recently posted..Be Careful in Contracting and BusinessMy Profile

  3. [...] most homeowners are not sophisticated in the ways of construction (and really shouldn’t be) expectations are key and keeping your nose clean as a contractor is key.  Courts in some instances will lean toward the [...]

  4. Another Reason to be Careful Before Walking
    December 5, 2011 | 10:14 PM

    [...] most homeowners are not sophisticated in the ways of construction (and really shouldn’t be) expectations are key and keeping your nose clean as a contractor is key.  Courts in some instances will lean toward the [...]

  5. [...] from a poor explanation of the costs and benefits of green building to the simple failure to draft a solid contract with a well defined scope of work can lead to claims and conflicts that can only make attorneys [...]

  6. Vicki Bischoff
    February 18, 2012 | 4:56 PM

    I’m so happy to find your blog. You’re providing a great service, not just for Massachusetts contractors and homeowners but those that seek construction work and fall easy prey to the “Help-You-Build” websites that aren’t telling of the expensive and emotionally devastating consequences when relationships go south. Clear and constant written and face to face communication between homeowners and their contractors will always create a final result that will add more value for the investments (financial & time)made.

  7. [...] good construction contract sets expectations, educates those that do not necessarily know exactly what you as a contractor plan to do or the process you’ll use to accomplish the goals, and importantly sets forth how disputes [...]

  8. […] to be dealing with the difficult combination of an owner with little or no experience relating to how a construction project is supposed to work and an owner that is emotionally invested in the project because it is their […]

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About Musings

I am a construction lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, a LEED AP, and have been nominated by my peers to Virginia's Legal Elite in Construction Law on multiple occasions. I provide advice and assistance with mechanic's liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.

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