By Linda Case. The end of the job is the job." I heard this sentence from Paul Winans, Winans Construction, Oakland, Calif., recently, and it stopped me in my tracks. It perfectly summarizes one of the most difficult issues in remodeling: All profitable remodelers are critically dependent on referral leads and making loyalists of clients. Yet it's so easy to fritter away the client's trust and affection during the last 2% of the job, even though we may have been heroes for the first 98%.

Here's a question to ask yourself: Would your company handle punch lists more expeditiously if your draw schedule gave you 10% of the money on signing and 90% on completion of the punch list? If so, you'd need to create a system for finishing each job with flourish. There's no reason not to do that anyway.

Quality control at every phase

You can start by working to finish jobs so there are no punch lists. The concept of the punch list equates to this: "Heck, we've done the job. The client can use the space. There are just a few dangling loose ends. We'll get to them as soon as we can."

Photo: Mark Robert Halper

The subs who've forgotten some part of what they were supposed to do decide they'll handle it in the punch list. The carpenter figures he'll just add those knobs when he comes back to do the punch list. That one cracked tile can be replaced "when we come back." The concept of a punch list attracts work like a magnet. Instead of a punch list, create quality control inspections at each phase of the job. Train carpenters to your level of quality and be sure they step back regularly and look at the job. Be sure your production manager walks through the job with the carpenter, picking out anything that might be problematic later. A fresh set of eyes is more perceptive about what needs to be reworked. All re-work should be documented on paper, or electronically, with a copy left at the job and a copy in the file.

Notify all parties

This new Zero Defect Punch List system has to be communicated to your subcontractors as well. Your lead carpenter will be their quality control supervisor and discourage them from having leftover work at any phase of the job. If they need a part to finish, let them go get it, rather than leaving that piece of the job incomplete. Your carpenter will want to document these leftovers on paper, copy the sub, and file a copy.

Meet with clients regularly, too, and walk through the job getting their thoughts. Many concerns can be handled with explanations, but you'll also hear how one corner of the trim doesn't look right, et cetera. Again, document all legitimate concerns. Copy the lead, and drop a copy in the job file.

Wrap it up

By using regular quality control inspections, making sure subs fully finish each stage, and getting regular input from the client, you'll reduce those "loose ends" tremendously. Will you still want to have a final walk-through with the client? Of course. And you'll probably still have a few items to finish. Again, document each item on paper and list needed materials as well. Treat any items that remain as a small job of the highest priority. Schedule all parties to come on the same day and have your carpenter there to expedite and quality inspect. Your goal is to knock out the final items with the least inconvenience to the owner and with someone managing from your firm. This is how you turn affectionate clients into apostles.

--Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;