By Sal Alfano. By the time you read this, Labor Day will have come and gone. Like the sun setting behind your beach umbrella, Labor Day signals the end of summer and sounds the official call back to business. It's a time of year that can sneak up on a remodeling business, and if it arrives before you're ready, it can make things difficult. I'm not talking about seasonal changes in the weather, although these certainly can wreak havoc with your schedules. The kinds of problems I'm talking about are less obvious.

Busy Clients. For starters, all of the schedule complications that you couldn't see with your sunglasses on are all too clear in the more sharply angled September light. Gone is the leisurely pace of summer, and clients are busy -- at work, at school, and at home. That means they'll have less time to approve design changes or make product selections. Instead of being underfoot all day on the jobsite, you'll be lucky to see them for two minutes at the beginning or end of the day as they dash off from house to car or car to house. And when you do finally catch up to them, it may be impossible to get husbands and wives together at the same time for a meeting. Even if you do, they may not be able to give you their undivided attention.

To prevent delays and misunderstandings, you need to re-establish regular communications. Don't count on bumping into them at your kid's soccer match -- schedule weekly phone calls at pre-appointed times or arrange to leave notes or a question/answer log at a mutually agreed upon location at the site.

Disappearing subs. After Labor Day, subcontractors are harder to schedule, too. Sometimes they're just plain hard to get hold of at all. Partly, it's because subcontractors who extended their work hours during the summer start to cut back to a normal routine as the days grow shorter. Also, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and other trades start to get more calls directly from homeowners. This is almost always work that could have been done months earlier, but a lot of people put off maintenance decisions until the last minute -- and that means until after Labor Day. Remember, too, that because summer is the busiest time of year for subcontractors, they tend to take their vacations late. I can guarantee that one of your subs will be unreachable for two weeks sometime this fall. If by some strange coincidence your subs have already taken their vacations by Labor Day, you're still not home free until after hunting season, when a good portion of America's work force disappears for two weeks.

Approaching holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas, though still months away, also start to make themselves felt immediately after Labor Day in the form of project deadlines imposed by clients. Because it's so difficult to take a holiday deadline seriously when it's still so far in the future, many remodelers find themselves making unrealistic commitments to finish projects before one of these holidays. Even when this is feasible, it still generates a misunderstanding because remodelers tend to think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as two particular days on the calendar; clients, however, add two or three days in front of them. A project that's on time for the remodeler is two days late for the client.

Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief