What happens when you have selected the plans, negotiated the deal, and are either just starting the construction, months into the construction, or trying to finish, and you feel total frustration with your contractor, or worse yet, have actually become intimidated by your contractor?
Unfortunately this is a position that some contractors will attempt to maneuver you in. There are contractors that will utilize their ability to support intimidating circumstances, especially in the field, and manipulate these circumstances in ways that are very positive for the builder and intimidating for the client. If a builder succeeds in the process of intimidation, they will be in a position to maneuver the entire project, in a direction that will be convenient and financially beneficial to themselves.
This is not a situation that the owner can allow to occur!
The owner’s position on a construction project, whether it is a new home, an addition, or an easy renovation, is to control the project. Unless the owner has decided to hire a professional construction consultant or has decided to employ their architect in a fashion, that the architect is the leader of the project, the owner cannot allow the builder to intimidate them. As I have already indicated on many web-pages within this site, the hiring of a professional is the best solution to any problem with intimidation. It is extremely difficult for anyone, that does not have the experience of having completed several construction projects, to demonstrate the confidence and fortitude required to manage some of the more aggressive builders. This is the primary reason why, I highly recommend the use of a professional construction consultant or construction lawyer to assist the owner in the control and management of the construction project.
Listed below are a few basic suggestions, that should be understood and followed to ensure that the builder does not succeed in positioning themselves on a level that would allow them to intimidate the owner.
1.) If the project is not too far along, the contractual agreement between the contractor and the builder must be designed to eliminate the possibility of this intimidation.
How can the contract be designed to eliminate the ability to intimidate?
a.) There should be no payment up front, or a down payment included in the agreement. It is essential that the owner retains as much money as possible for the longest period of time. The contractor will push the other way and attempt to obtain as much money up front as possible, the owner and their lawyer, if involved must push back. There is no reason that a contractor on a large project, if financially solvent, should require any money, prior to the physical startup of the construction.
b.) The owner should engage a trained construction lawyer, that is cognizant of the type of construction project involved. Immediately, from the onset of the project, the owner’s lawyer should be the guiding force. If a construction lawyer is engaged in the project, all correspondence including emails and follow up to field conversations, must include the construction lawyer on the list of recipients of the correspondence. One of the keys to ensuring that the contractor clearly understands that the owner will not be intimidated, is the presence of the owner’s attorney on all correspondence.
c.) The payment terms for the contract should be every two weeks. This shows good faith on the owner’s part and allows an easier and more accurate financial control on the project . A two week payment schedule will extinguish some of the anxiety that the lack of any payment up front, or a down payment has created. If invoicing is required every two weeks, and payments are timely, there should be no reason to predict work completion by the contractor in an attempt to overbill the owner.
d.) There must be a connection between payments and the construction schedule. This is important and will allow the owner to control the schedule, by controlling the money. From the start of the project, a two week look ahead schedule should be required to facilitate an understanding of the two week payment schedule. If the contractor accomplishes their projection of completed work, based upon their submitted two week look ahead, and their two week invoices are based upon this completed two week schedule, there has been established a clear and accurate basis for all payments on the project.
The remaining suggestions and comments will assume that no professional construction consultant, nor professional architect has been hired to represent the owner, a down payment has been issued by the owner to the contractor, and none of the previously noted contractual issues have been included within the contract. Or some of the recommended contractual steps have been taken, yet the contractor continues to display an intimidating presence and management style.
2.) Select one individual to represent you, as the owner. Decide within the family, who that individual will be. In many instances, I have found that the female within a relationship is the most dominant party, when it comes to a construction project. The important aspect of this suggestion is the selection of only one representative from the owner. Do not allow the entire family to own the responsibility of communicating with the builder. The worst situation is the female of the relationship communicating all week with the builder, then on the weekends, the male intervenes. This is NOT the way to manage a project, where the owner is self represented. Pick the person, and remain diligent with that person as the primary spokesman for the owner. This is important!
3.) Communicate with emails. The need to properly and formally communicate with the builder as the owner’s representative, is mandatory. This is not a suggestion, this is a rule. The written email is a formal record that cannot be challenged. This is very important and must be continued from the first communication to the end of the project. With the ability of clearly documenting all aspects of the construction project and filing them away, electronically, for future reference, allows the owner to document all occurrences on the project. In many instances, the contractor will not have the diligence to document as formally and thoroughly. This will place the owner is a very powerful position which is the best defense for any intimidating situations with the contractor.
4.) Demand response from the contractor in emails. Do not allow the communication to deteriorate down to the verbal plateau. Contractors love to talk, and their ability to appear more knowledgeable than they really are can be extremely intimidating to the owner. The verbal, in the field environment, is not where you want decisions, instructions, as well as formal contractual warnings or questions to be asked or answered. Emails leave a mark! This is what we want! Verbal conversations dissipate into the air and basically never occurred.
5.) Follow up all field communications, directions, conversations, scheduling issues, payment issues, etc. with a full detailed email. The owner must lead the team in communication and authority. If the face to face confrontations on the actual project are uncomfortable, then simply use email. If the builder is physically intimidating when you look at them face to face, email them. Always email, never just have a verbal conversation without an email! Remember you are the owner, you have the money, if it becomes uncomfortable, walk away!
6.) Be very careful and exact with the payments. It is essential that the contractor does not receive more money than the value of the work they have completed. This is very essential to the proper management, by the owner on the project. This is the reason that the contract should include payments to the contractor, every two weeks. In this case, the contractor can accurately bill the owner for the exact work that has been completed, and will not have to predict the amount of work that they will accomplish. If the billing occurred once a month, the contractor would attempt to predict work completion, that I guarantee, will not be accurate, it will be inflated. As the owner, you have the power of the money, and this money must be kept in your pocket, until it is clearly earned by the contractor!
7.) Immediately upon any issue occurring in the field, such as a superintendent not giving the owner the proper respect, or providing time for questioning, take care of this in an email. Document the first incident of any disrespect or annoying behavior by the contractor, towards you the owner. It is extremely important that the owner take total and complete control of the communications, both verbally and by email. This must occur upon the first signs of any type of disrespect or efforts by the contractor to intimidate.
8.) Demand that the contractor provide a two week look ahead schedule. What this will entail, is a detailed list of activities that will take place in the next two weeks. Demand that this be updated on a one week basis. In this manner, you will be able to track the progress on the job on a weekly basis, and determine if the work is moving along at a satisfactory rate. If determined that this is not the case, simply issue an email to the contractor indicating your disappointment as well as demanding a plan to get the project back on the original schedule. Remember you purchased not only a price, but a construction schedule that must be complied with.
9.) Make owner required decisions immediately. Do not allow the contractor to sense a hesitation, regarding decisions. Each owner made decision, must be followed up with an email, that is issued to the builder. If there is a color selection, make it the day that the builder questions you. Identify the question in an email and state the answer in an email back to the builder. Do not allow the contractor to use the lack of an immediate decision, as a reason for a project delay!
10.) Create your own job log for the project. Each day, develop a document that you fill out, as the owner, to indicate the progress on the project. This is very important. The jobsite daily log should include the weather, the number of men, the subcontractors, any material that was delivered to the project, any inspectors, architects, engineers, etc. that visited the site. Included within this website is a sample of the recommended daily job log, to be filled out by the owner on a construction project. Attempt to remain very consistent with your reporting. I have found that consistency is very highly respected in the court of law. If you have developed a habit of making out the report every evening at 8:00 PM, and include all of the information, repeatedly, any arbitration hearing or court appearance will be positively affected by this consistency. Documentation and consistency are two of the most important weapons that you have as the owner.
11.) Always conduct yourself in a respectful and dignified manner. Do not attempt to confront a belligerent contractor, supervisor, or anyone representing the builder on the project that is not showing respect or common decency. If you sense a belligerent attitude, simply walk away and write your email. This is important! Do not allow the builder to physically abuse you on the project.
There are some contractors that will attempt to basically bully the owner, once the contract has been signed. This management technique of bullying is not prevalent in the industry, especially as individuals become better acquainted with the construction process, by exposure to the internet and the many DIY channels on the television. However, these contractors do exist, and if you are unlucky to have selected one for your construction project, the ( 11 ) comments noted within this webpage will be of some assistance.
Unfortunately, if you have encountered one of the few contractors or builders, who still remain lodged in the dark ages, and feel that intimidation and a belligerent behavior is the proper method of managing a project, do not show any weaknesses. Show your strength and diligence, by remaining consistent with your written documentation of all project situations. If this proves ineffective and is not adequate to control the project in a manner that is satisfactory to you, the owner, the next step is to seek professional guidance and direction in the form of a professional construction consultant or construction lawyer.
The bottom line is to hold onto your money!
The distribution of your money, to a contactor that has become aggressive and belligerent, is not recommended, and will only succeed in furthering the negative issues that are being generated on the project.
GOOD LUCK / STAY CALM AND CONTROLLED / AND KEEP THE MONEY IN YOUR POCKET!