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Tips for Contractors: How to Keep Homeowners Happy Post-Harvey

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey has sent the construction industry in affected counties into a tailspin as construction professionals struggle to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, as builders and contractors attempt to regain equilibrium, many may find themselves dealing with major disputes with homeowners for the first time. Although the construction industry, as a whole, has rallied around our communities to assist many homeowners in times of great need, disputes will inevitably arise. We have kept track of many common causes of issues that arise and propose a few best practices contractors should consider, not just in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but in general. As always, we recommend that you consult with an experienced construction attorney prior to implementing new procedures.

1. Be an open book: during the interview/bid process ensure the customer feels comfortable asking questions regarding your background and experience. Provide references and encourage background checks and address any bad reviews with honesty. Professionalism and candor are the key to making a great first impression.

2. Provide detailed specifications: the more detailed the proposal (plans and drawings) the less likely misunderstandings and confusion will arise regarding the scope of work. Also, make sure all change orders are documented in writing and signed by the homeowner.

3. Be realistic about the timeline and cost: if you anticipate delays due to a lack of available manpower, communicate this to the customer as soon as possible. Also, let the customer know if you expect the cost of certain materials to increase due to recent demand.

4. Maintain a clean work space: homeowners understand and expect a certain level of dirt and debris during the construction process; however, it is important to keep the work area as clean and safe as possible.

5. Be mindful of energy consumption: make sure to turn off lights and air-conditioning when not in use.

6. Communicate with the customer prior to requesting a draw from the bank or insurance company: nothing frustrates a homeowner more than finding out a contractor has requested a draw prior to completing the corresponding work or, even worse, requesting a final draw prior to substantial completion and a final walkthrough. Make sure your customer understands the draw schedule.

7. Get it in writing: homeowners are often in a hurry to regain normalcy and begin construction work after a natural disaster. However, it is crucial to take a step back and make sure a written contract is executed by both contractors and homeowners prior to the commencement of work.

8. Hire competent subcontractors: a contractor's reputation is only as good as the subcontractors he or she utilizes. Make sure to use dependable, ethical, and experienced subcontractors for all projects. You may be tempted to "work with what you have" when there is a labor shortage, but that may cost you a great deal in the future. Obtain necessary lien waivers and include indemnity clause/hold harmless clauses in your subcontracts.

Final thoughts, a home is much more than an investment tool for many people; homeowners are also invested emotionally, which can lead to strong feelings when their construction project does not go as planned. That is why constant written communication is recommended. A clear contract that adequately outlines the terms and scope of work is the number one tool for preventing misunderstandings and managing customer expectations. If you need assistance implementing new procedures and contract documents, we are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation.

This article is intended as a general educational overview of the subject matter and is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of recent jurisprudence, nor a substitute for legal advice for a specific legal matter. If you have a legal issue, please consult an attorney.

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