Of contractors, heroes, clowns and a way forward: The AIA 201 Conditions of the Contract, Procedures over Personalities is the key to a successful project

We have some great clients. Recently one spoke of his previous experience with a contractor for a house addition: 

“They were clowns.” He said.

“What?” I puzzled.

“Clowns. They didn’t have all have red noses but they didn’t follow directions. They did not follow the drawings. They disappeared for weeks. They did not schedule inspections. The inspector rejected some of their work. It was a nightmare.”

This is an extreme example but, unfortunately, not uncommon. In our culture of Chip and Joanna Gaines , there’s a beginning, a fake crisis and then it all comes together in the end. In 30 minutes they take a diamond in the rough, polish it, drop it gently, pick it back up and in the end, it’s gorgeous. But it’s hero worship, not reality. How do you fix that and make our culture of home improvement more realistic and better?

I recommend a wonderful book called F*ck Feelings  It is very clear that when explanations are NOT clearly spelled out in writing at the beginning, you have a 99% chance of misalignment. That’s why I have worked almost solely with the same contractor for over 15 years. We know each other’s roles and he embraces and enjoys what is contractually expected of him:

1) Design Intent is the shared goal of architect and contractor. We were both hired to realize the client’s vision.
2) Reporting and documenting in writing unexpected conditions. Yes, it has to be writing in an email. No texting.
3) Checking on dimensions after demolition when the request is spelled out on the drawings and reporting this in writing in email. Followup via email.
4) Making sure the subcontractors follow the drawings and the drawings are not under a dusty pile of stuff in the corner of the jobsite. Also, the inspectors notice this. Yes, when work is NOT done according to the drawings and there’s a month of dust on the approved site drawings, the building inspectors can be very tough and rightly so.
5) Having a regular meeting to discuss progress: Where are we? What changed? What do you need from the architect? the client?
6) Notifying the architect when the work is ready for rough inspections and checking in with the architect and the client to inform the scheduling. We have had new contractors drywall BEFORE the rough inspections were finished. The building inspector has the right to ask for the drywall to be removed. Not what was in the contract. 
7) The millworker is required to submit drawings and samples for approval. Moulding? Custom or from Home Depot? Which is appropriate? It does not have to be expensive to look good but it can get expensive of when things are not aligned and accurate. We recently went back and forth 5 times with a millworker or, as he called himslef, a kitchen cabinet maker. After the fifth attempt, he finally had all of the elevation heights correct. (They had not changed from the original drawings.) He gave us some great feedback on how to design the kitchen peninsula legs aligning them with his process. We updated them per his expertise and are grateful. The peninsula looks great. Client loves it! WIN! WIN! Upon our request he made the refrigerator cabinet width 1 1/2” x 2 matching the corner shelf width. Again, looks great. AWESOME! He never got back to us for final approval. Upon delivery, one of the cabinets was over 12” too long and the same with one of the refrigerator panels. Client rightly was puzzled. So was I. Kitchen cab make trimmed the panel and remade the cabinet. It looks great but there was a lengthy delay. An in-face site meeting would solved all of this and been a few hundred dollars worth of time. We pointed, not fingers, but to the process. Was it followed and completed? That’s all we expect. That’s how we do things.

So we have written these conditions into our contract, just like folding in the A201, and you the client should be aware of this pro-level expertise and how things work in reality rather than on reality TV. We want your project to be what is in the contract drawings and nothing less.

P.S. Please watch  This Old House instead because it is MUCH, MUCH better and it’s real. Also we really have been impressed with the contractor my sister spoke with on the West Coast. Their website is a wealth of good advice. Mat Pel Builders 

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