Customer Communication: Its All in the Details

Posted by Michael Leonard on May 13, 2019 6:50:00 AM

contractor and homeowner communication

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You land a large job to renovate a home that promises to be a massive money maker and make your bottom line for the year go from red to black. You receive your signed proposal, and as the work begins you realize that the customer is going to be difficult. They change their mind constantly, have unrealistic expectations on timing, and - most importantly - they think that you are doing X but in reality, you are delivering Y. You’ve already sunk too much into the job to cut bait and you worry about bad reviews on Yelp, HomeAdvisor, etc. - so you soldier on. But to no avail. The homeowners have convinced themselves that you are trying to rake them over the coals, and refuse to pay for any change orders and are even mentioning legal action.

We’ve all encountered these types of customers, and what it comes down to is a lack of communication. Clear communication at the outset of every project should be at the top of your priority list if you want to succeed in this industry. As a contractor, I know that replacing the siding is just that — replacing just the siding. If I encounter damaged sheathing beneath the existing siding then that is a separate cost. A homeowner may look at it differently and assume that the siding replacement would include any peripheral work necessary to complete the job.

How do you avoid such a scenario? Be detailed. Your contract should list what you are doing in bullet format – down to the smallest item. Set clear expectations by listing all the work to be performed. Also mention what is not included but may be required (such as that damaged sheathing), and outline the process for addressing these unanticipated issues as they arise.

Here are some examples of good and bad detail.

Bad Detail

Install new siding.

A one-line item such as this leaves so much open to interpretation. What kind of siding is being installed? Does this include everything that will be needed to go from old siding to new siding? What components are included/excluded? Is the contractor expecting the homeowner to do any prep work such as removing the old siding?

Good Detail

REPLACE SIDING - Fiber Cement Shake

  • Remove existing siding to the sheathing
  • Replace sheathing if damaged (damaged sheathing will be replaced @ an additional $4/sq ft.)
  • Furnish and install air vapor barrier over entire wall
  • Furnish and install membrane flashing at window and door openings
  • Furnish and install aluminum flashing at window and door heads
  • Furnish and install Fiber Cement shake siding. Color: Evening Blue

With this level of detail, there is no question as to what is being done. Your customer will appreciate this clear explanation of the work, and it will help mitigate any confusion as the project progresses.

Bad Detail

Paint wall

Again, this is confusing and leaves out too much information. Will the walls be prepped in any way? How many coats of paint? What color?

Good Detail

PAINTING - Block Wall

  • Scrape existing block wall to remove all loose and peeling paint
  • Fill and repair damaged areas if needed (additional costs based on time and materials)
  • Pressure wash to remove all dust and debris
  • Prime all prepped surfaces with block fill primer
  • Apply one coat of finish paint to exposed block. Color: Satin White

Clear communication through comprehensive job detail ensures that both the contractor and the homeowner are on the same page, and helps avoid any unpleasant situations as a project moves forward. And, as an added bonus, details help justify the price and give grounds for change orders, which in our business are important revenue opportunities (btw, you can check out our blog article about change orders here). 

Topics: exterior remodeling, change orders, project management, subcontractors, contracts, siding, communication

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