Planning, Contracting, and Execution

Pictured with Victoria Downing, Owner-President of Remodeler's Advantage, a nationally renowned professional remodeling education and mentoring group. Victoria is passionate about professional planning, contracting, and execution of remodeling projects.

Pictured with Victoria Downing, Owner-President of Remodeler's Advantage, a nationally renowned professional remodeling education and mentoring group. Victoria is passionate about professional planning, contracting, and execution of remodeling projects.

Never has planning, contracting, and job execution been so widely published. The U.S. is reportedly in a qualified labor shortage, and things don't look any brighter for some time. The local phenomena that I am witnessing is ironic at all levels. The building related economy is booming in terms of homeowners wanting to remodel and invest in their homes and the labor hasn't recovered from the last down turn. Many other cultural and socio-economic occurrences have greatly diminished our former multi-generation (father to son) labor intensive construction teams. This was predicted in many economic studies and trade shows in the preceding years and we are slap dab in the middle of it now. I recently attended a national conference and listened to the common theme of qualified labor shortage issues in economic "up turns" from the CEO of Porch.com, Mike Homes, of HGTV, and the Chief Architect of the EPA. To tie all of this together, I will relate a current project that I am trying to pull together behind an errant builder that is shattering the dreams and expectations of the owners and of their confidence in professional contractors and tradesmen, if not physically endangering them for an unsafe site. Two years ago, the mantra of the Remodeling Magazine's Big 50 Conference in DC was, "execute or be executed." This mantra, and how it is affected by the current labor shortage, is directly affected by clear planning, contracting, and finally, in the execution and completion of a healthy remodel project. Modern building science, the International Building Code Conference, local building requirements by inspections departments (police powers for enforcement), and a plethora of other licensing requirements should normally spell things out for homeowners and contractors, but they seemingly don't. The project mentioned above is the 3rd major structural goof up that I have been involved in where significant construction was endeavored upon by either terribly trained carpenters, bad planning, or just plain disregard to established design principles and building codes. We are engaging with a licensed structural engineer and communicating with our local building officials to come up with the best practices procedures to properly resolve the current framing and installation status, but a comment from Jim Dick, of Alpha Lumber Company yesterday really hit home. As a semi-retired Master Carpenter with decades of experience, Jim said the poor quality of workmanship that he saw on site "cut to his soul." One of the unfortunate consequences of the qualified labor rut, or shortage, is that some homeowners fall prey to the less qualified contractors or tradesman, the lure of the lowest price, or the sense of urgency disrupted the deliberate selection, planning, and contracting process . Another element contributing to the breakdown of many remodeling relationships is the absence of legitimate planning documents and substantive contracts. Emergency repairs for leaky roofs or a burst water main is one thing, but opening up a roof or moving load bearing walls within a structure is another. We responded to an emotional plea for help from an homeowner several years ago in Mountain Brook, AL and were shocked to discover the house was on the verge of collapsing after a carpentry crew had undermined footings and removed vital load bearing walls. In this case, no plans were being followed on the job, the job hadn't been properly permitted (key), and there wasn't a written contract spelling out the scope of work, warranty terms, etc. The police were finally needed to chase off the hackers when they were stalking the owner for pay. This was a very bad scene to get involved in. Our current project is nowhere near as desperate as the former, but I use it as an illustration of how some of these ill thought out projects can turn out. I am very hopeful that we can turn things around and leave a more pleasant memory for the homeowners as we did for the Cherry Street project. The script is really very easy to follow, but it does require patience, an open dialogue, and documentation. Healthy projects almost always begin with a good plan. The more sophisticated a design, the more influence by a professional designer, architect, or engineer will be needed. Not only will detailed plans be needed by local building officials, but they establish a standard to be evaluated from and for safety parameters to be satisfied. The project plans will also be used for scheduling, payment procedures, and a myriad of other logistical details. Contracting is practically impossible, if not impractical, without good plans and specifications. I personally prefer to study, price, and conduct numerous face to face planning meetings with my clients and trades to preclude any confusion once a project commences. This takes us to the "execution" element in this blog. You can't execute anything in a timely manner without proper planning and contracting. It defies all common sense and winds up hurting homeowners and breaking good contractors and tradesman from delayed payments. If a contractor is to execute a timely and professional project and expect to be properly compensated for their efforts, adequate plans and specifications are needed to fully understand, budget for, and mobilize for the work. Certainly there are unknowns from time to time, and provisions for those instances should be clearly covered in any good written agreement. Other change orders are a cake walk if they are are lined out in the master agreement. In summary, healthy projects demand thoughtful planning, contracting, and execution. The Greater Birmingham Homebuilder's Association, Remodeling Magazine, and Remodeler's Advantage provide excellent tips for finding qualified contractors, as well as good word of mouth referrals. The bottom line though, is that the homeowner will have to make a one on one transaction with their chosen contractor. Be patient, plan, contract, and expect timely execution.