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Ground Rules

by David Lupberger


Question: Every day on the job, my lead carpenter takes time to meet with homeowners to answer any questions. I they're in no rush, they will spend 60 to 90 minutes talking to him about their job. I want my lead carpenter to be helpful, but they are taking too much of his time and he has a job to do. How do I limit this access?

Answer: This is an all too common problem that happens when a homeowner has paid thousands of dollars to have some project done on their home. They feel this "accessibility" is what they are paying for. There is a delicate balancing of priorities required here.

I once had a homeowner who would come home from work early once or twice a week, and then spend one or two hours reviewing his job with my carpenter. When I saw this was hurting his production, I told him to tell the homeowner that he had a job to do and a schedule to follow, and to bring up his questions at our weekly homeowner progress meeting.

The homeowner's response to my lead carpenter's statement was very blunt. He said, "I'm the one who is paying the bills on this job. One of the reasons I hired your company was for this kind of service. I expect you to spend this time with me. This is what I'm paying for!"

My lead carpenter didn't know how to respond. He didn't want to disappoint the homeowner and didn't want to disappoint me. What made it worse for him is that he was trying to do the best job he could and wanted to answer all the homeowner's concerns. This is a no-win situation where the person on site gets stuck in the middle, and it happens all too often.

When he told me about the homeowner's response and asked me what to do, I had to take responsibility for not setting up the job properly. Let me explain what I mean. A very big part of our job as remodelers is to manage people's expectations. Most homeowners have not lived through a major remodeling project and have no real idea of what this "invasion" into their homes will be like.

As a professional remodeler, it's my job to help them understand this process and then guide them through this experience with few surprises as possible. At the same time, I need to make sure that in addition to managing each homeowner, I need to manage my business so jobs stay on schedule and I'm meeting the budget numbers I have in every estimate. This can be a very delicate balancing act.

What I got from this experience enabled me to change the way I start every job. Now, as part of every preconstruction conference, I lay out a set of "ground rules" that both the homeowner and I agree on as to what "rules" will be in place on their job every day. I have actually created a "ground rules" contract that lists each of these rules, and there is a place where both the homeowner and I sign this contract. This contract allows both of us to be very clear about our expectations and needs. Because I want to provide good service, and I don't want my lead carpenter interrupted on a regular basis, I now do the following:

I have a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between the homeowner, lead carpenter and me. We review everyone's questions at this time. I also place a job book on-site where homeowners can list any questions, comments or complaints. We promise to respond to any comment or question in that book within 24 hours. I'm also very clear about our working hours. Our jobsite work hours are from 7:30 a.m until 4:00 p.m. If a homeowner has questions they want to ask the lead carpenter, they can now speak to him between 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning and 3:45 to 4:00 in the afternoon. This is the time he is available for day-to-day questions. Any additional time can be scheduled with me or can take place during our weekly meeting. If a homeowner is unhappy with this, we can hash it out at the preconstruction meeting before any work has begun.

But, to date, no one has been unhappy with this rule. At the preconstruction conference, I make clear my commitment to stay on schedule, and homeowners know they can see me when it is important or call me regarding a specific concern. My lead carpenter gets to do his job, I stay on a schedule, and the homeowner gets his concerns met - all by establishing some clear ground rules and having everyone agree to them before the project starts. If you have ground rules and specific job procedures you follow on every job, you can do the same thing.

Reprinted with the permission of Qualified Remodeler

To contact David Lupberger directly, call him at (301)570-9756. You may also send your comments and/or questions to David at his personal email..

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