Contractor Jason Parsons faced a dilemma: His client mistakenly ordered three sconces instead of pendants, and the oversight became apparent only after the lighting fixtures arrived late to the jobsite — just a few days before the final inspection.
Luckily, Parsons found similar-sized pendants at a local lighting store and installed them in time for the formal inspection as well as a post-production party. But the question remains: What can contractors do to prevent this predicament?
Recognize a possible opportunity
Many homeowners seek to purchase supplies for a remodeling job on their own because they want to avoid a contractor markup on material cost. Some clients just enjoy shopping for home products and increasing their control of a job, says Joseph Irons, president of Irons Brothers Construction in Shoreline, Washington.
“If that’s the case, allowing them to source products can give them the pleasure of shopping, as well as the satisfaction of dictating some of the finishes,” he says.
Permitting a homeowner to buy materials directly can also benefit the contractor by saving money (fewer supplies to procure) and time (fewer hours spent shopping with the client). But more important, if the homeowner purchases a product and an issue unrelated to installation arises, the contractor maintains no responsibility for rectifying the problem with the manufacturer.
“We only warranty product that we supply,” Irons says. “So if there’s a concern with the performance of something we installed but didn’t supply, the homeowner could end up paying more to remove it and replace it.”
Establish a common understanding
When both parties agree the homeowner will provide some or all of the materials for a job, the contractor must be clear upfront about the responsibilities, says Parsons, chief project designer for Design Build Pros, a consulting company in Red Bank, New Jersey, that works directly with homeowners planning a renovation.
“It is imperative that the contractor supplies a detailed list of what the client is required to buy, and when the materials will be needed for the project,” he says.
MAW Chicago, a custom builder and remodeler based in Palatine, Illinois, asks clients to sign a specific agreement along with their overall contract if they intend to purchase some of the supplies on their own.
“They must secure products in advance of need, and the items must be clearly marked as to what they are, where they go, and so on,” says Scott Sevon, managing partner in the firm. “The homeowners are responsible for any missing parts and may be billed by the trade partner for the additional labor.”
Before presenting a formal document to clients, however, MAW Chicago guides them through the process and requests cut sheets for all of the materials they plan to buy.
“That way, we can give them the pros and cons of each product and whether there would be extra cost for installation,” Sevon says.
Limit the product options
In some cases, the homeowner retains excess building materials from a previous renovation and desires to use them on the current job. As long as the items are the preferred products, remain functional, and appear onsite prior to the estimation of construction costs, Irons Brothers will consider using them.
“This allows us to ensure the right product is there before we have our budget and schedule in place,” Irons says. “It also ensures we know how to install the product the homeowner provides.”
In most cases, though, limiting the materials a client can supply to items that call for personal selection — lights, plumbing fixtures and appliances, for example — protects contractors from potential budget overruns and schedule setbacks.
“These products are easy to schedule a trip back to install if there is a delay, and it doesn’t really affect the critical path for our construction schedule,” Irons says.
When missing or inapplicable materials become evident, the contractor must find out how long it will take to secure the correct product, check if a suitable replacement is available, and determine whether the entire job needs to be put on hold until the right supplies arrive.
“If the material is incorrect due to an error in ordering by the homeowner, then the cost of replacement and potentially the wages for time lost should fall upon the homeowner,” Parsons says.
Build a communication channel
A number of clients will continue to express an interest in providing their own materials for a remodeling job. As long as contractors keep them engaged about the extra responsibility from the beginning, they can mitigate the pitfalls.
“When you have good specs and drawings, it can ensure everyone is on the same page, and you can fix any problems before they come up,” Irons says.
Although Parsons once averted disaster by quickly locating a few replacement lighting fixtures, he echoed a valuable lesson.
“The contractor should review orders to make sure he completely understands which materials are selected, and that they work with other selected materials,” he says. “The time to review these orders should be accounted for in overall project management when estimating the cost of the job.”
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