While working with a remodeling couple recently, the husband brought up the likelihood that his company would be working with a client who might turn out to be difficult. Here is some of the advice I gave.

  • Before the job begins, the husband in the remodeling team (let’s call him Joe-) should write a specific list of requirements for his clients (let’s call them the Smiths) regarding the job. THE MOST IMPORTANT thing is that Joe the remodeler should explain why the requirements are a benefit to the Smiths. The requirements list may reduce some frustration with these clients but will probably not eliminate the frustration altogether; after all, some people cannot be managed.
  • Joe should establish a clearly designated contact point person (either Mr. Smith or his wife) and make sure the role and the responsibilities are understood by that person.
  • Joe must recap the weekly meetings in note form and then email those notes to both Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He should begin each week’s meeting by reviewing the notes from the previous meeting, making sure that Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith have read and understood (and answered any questions) the notes. The Smiths should agree to those notes before the next weekly meeting begins. In addition, Joe’s production manager must go with Joe to the weekly meetings as a witness. This is important because high-powered lawyers with problematic wives are a recipe for trouble.
  • Change orders must be signed and paid for before any work begins.
  • Include a sentence in the contract defining “substantial completion.” The American Institute of Architects’ definition for substantial completion is something like this, “A project is considered substantially complete when it can be used for its defined purpose.”
  • Hinge the Smiths’ taking occupancy of their home with an agreed-upon punch list signed by both parties. Estimate the monetary value of the punch list, double it and deduct that value from the final payment. These monies would be paid once the punch list work has been completed.
  • Keep your remodeling company’s final draw payment down as low as possible, with 3% of the contract price being ideal.
  • Work on the completion list only after it is agreed to and signed by both homeowners and Joe’s company. Any work brought up after the agreed upon punch list is completed will be considered warranty items.
  • At the end of the job make sure that the remodeling company’s team performs a very thorough inspection of EVERYTHING-- i.e. light switches working, washing machine working, dishwasher working, doors opening and closing etc. Then do a thorough inspection with the homeowners. This is an important step as homeowners will always find things wrong once they are living in the house (human nature).
  • Provide the homeowners with a binder of instructions to include: 1) Appliance manuals, and 2) Care manuals dealing with linoleum, fittings, stainless steel, etc. These manuals have two effects: They reduce costs in the long run, and they make the customers feel that they were smart to hire the remodeling company.
  • Write a kind note at the end of the job (in addition to conducting an “exit” interview telling the homeowners how much you appreciate having worked with them. Tell them to call with any questions about their home anytime and encourage them to look to the remodeling company as “the answer” for any of their home issues.

You might ask why were Joe and his wife even considering working with the Smiths? They were friends and the company had done some work with them before that had gone more or less smoothly. The apprehension came up because this was a larger project and Mr. Smith was busier than ever.
Follow the practices that I suggested to Joe and his wife and the likelihood of you and your company being taken advantage of by a difficult client will be reduced substantially.