By Jonathan B. Fishbeck
Ask almost anyone who has managed a construction project and they’ll recount a long list of frustrating events, from permit issues to weather and delivery delays. Oftentimes the villain of this horror story is a contractor who did shoddy work, didn’t complete the job, or had an attitude that made working with them highly unpleasant – sometimes all the above. Questions about missed deadlines or other problems are often met with vague answers or go ignored altogether. When it comes to high-end projects, cost impacts are amplified and can be very costly.
This is bad enough when you’re the homeowner and far worse when you’re the property manager and caught between the negligent contractor and an unhappy owner(s). You may even find yourself wrangling with local jurisdiction and prickly neighbors complaining about noise and the backhoe sitting for months. Here are some ways you can nip problems in the bud, minimize frustration and avoid litigation with a property and project management platform designed for construction projects.
Spend Time Planning. Give yourself the opportunity to plan your project out properly. Getting the right design team, such as an architect and engineer, is the first step; make sure you do your due diligence upfront and find the right people. Good advice from day one can make a world of difference once your project gets under construction. We believe that any project is 70% preparation and 30% execution. Proper planning helps to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above by addressing potential issues in advance, leading to a better result. If you can afford an owner’s representative, this will help you with all unknowns and protect your interests. This step will save you the most time and money.
Be Picky About the Contractor. One would think this is a no-brainer, and yet for many it is neglected at the project manager’s peril. When choosing the right person to do the work, don’t just rely on one person’s recommendation, as their positive experience may have involved a smaller, simpler job or occurred when the contractor wasn’t that busy. Be sure to check with at least a few clients who worked with the contractor on similar jobs, and ask about the quality of their work as well as the responsiveness to texts or calls, time management skills and approach to addressing issues. The best thing is to visit a past project they did and see it with your own eyes.
Build a Relationship. Take the time to get to know your contractor early in the process – even if it’s just making small talk about their families or favorite types of projects. First, it will just make the experience more pleasant overall. Second, even the most irresponsible or unprofessional people are less likely to “ghost” someone they have a genuine rapport. Also, when you do have a problem, approach them with respect rather than penalizing them for your past experiences. Most contractors, including the difficult ones, are not intending to be so; in fact, they are likely under a great deal of stress trying to juggle other projects. A little understanding on your part may go a long way.
Start with a preconstruction agreement. Don’t jump right into construction. Many contractors spend a lot of time estimating larger, high-end projects and cannot afford to do this for free. A pre-construction agreement is a simple 1 to 2-page agreement to pay for their time to estimate and schedule the project. If they can’t do that well, then chances are they can’t execute the project once construction starts. This limits your liability and protects you in the end. Plus you own the work they do, so if they don’t work out you have all the documentation when looking for the right contractor. This helps to really build a strong working relationship.
Put a System in Place. Set the project up for success by using digital tools that facilitate organization and communication. An estate management platform for a construction project like EstateSpace allows you to manage the entire project from your smartphone, including blueprints, photos of the progress, and work schedules that you upload and share with your contractor and others involved with the project. Everyone can then make updates, as well as chat about the work using the secure messaging feature. Is a delivery going to be late? Is the contractor going to be short-staffed on a particular day? They can let you know in real time so you are not left wondering what is going in, which is the most maddening thing of all.
Every construction project will have some element of frustration, and while you can’t anticipate or eliminate everything that can go wrong, you do have some control over the extent to which it hijacks your life. When it comes to construction projects, a little extra effort – and using the right tools – at the outset can help you choose the right team, build a healthy working relationship, and set the strong boundaries needed for a streamlined and more efficient process.
About the Author
Jonathan B Fishbeck is the Founder and CEO of EstateSpace, providing individuals and family offices a platform to simplify estate management for more owners. EstateSpace is a secure online platform that helps individuals, business and family offices simplify how they manage physical assets, streamline communication and standardize information. Jonathan has decades of experience as a general contractor and owner representative.