Communication is Critical on Residential Projects
In addition to skilled craftsmanship and experience, the success of any residential construction job depends greatly on communication. Contractors, subcontractors and clients must all be on the same page in order to meet budget, timeline and quality expectations. Although every project is unique, there are some best practices that every contractor can follow to ensure good communication throughout the job.
Set the Tone During Prequalification
Communication starts the moment you first interact with a potential client, and the tone you set during your first interaction will carry through the entire project. Prequalify customers to determine whether they are the right fit for your company. Listen to their wants and needs, ask clarifying questions and get an idea of their expectations for the project. This is also a time to set expectations about the work you do, especially if the expectations may not align with what the customer has outlined.
Pro tip: Use a checklist or questionnaire during prospective client interviews to gather and share information consistently.
Define Goals and Unify the Team
When a construction project starts, the first step is to clearly define the goals. Get a deep understanding of what the client wants, not just in terms of the end results, but also regarding the process. For example, your team needs to know if the client plans to live in a home that is being renovated or if they have certain expectations about the completion date. This is the time to discuss the budget and what it includes, when you expect the first hammer to swing, and the project timeline.
Pro tip: Set aside ample time for a formal, face-to-face kickoff meeting with the clients and key members of the project team.
Set Realistic Expectations
Unmet expectations are the most common reasons for friction on a construction project. This can often be avoided through clear communication, particularly at the beginning of the process. When setting goals with the client, respond to any expectations that might not be realistic and explain why: a recent increase in material prices, a shortage of subcontractor labor, an impractical budget for the scope of work, and so forth. The more information you can share to create realistic expectations, the smoother the entire project will be.
Pro tip: Create a detailed timeline, including subcontractor work, and share it with the client. Frequently reference the timeline throughout the process and discuss any changes that arise due to unexpected circumstances.
Stay Transparent During Construction
It’s not uncommon for contractors to put their heads down during construction to focus on the work at hand, but staying on top of communication throughout this time is critical. Decisions that are delayed for a day or two can affect the entire project timeline and information that isn’t shared early can impact later work.
For example, a designer’s decision to modify the kitchen cabinetry design can affect the millwork order, create ceiling height issues and so on. As long as these types of details are openly shared with the team in a timely manner, subsequent challenges can be addressed before they arise. Send daily reports, ideally with pictures, to keep clients and designers updated about the project’s progress.
Pro tip: Take advantage of modern technology and use video meetings to get stakeholders — designers, subcontractors and clients — on the same page quickly and make real-time decisions together.
Change Your Approach to Change Orders
It’s rare for a project to have zero change orders, and every contractor knows that change orders can be a major pain point for clients. However, when handled well, a change order doesn’t have to be a negative experience. The key is for the client to have a clear understanding of the change order before they receive it.
This helps reduce any panic clients might feel about getting extra charges and might even make them feel good about it because they know why it’s happening and that the success of the project depends on it. Talk to the client in detail about the reason for the change order, send it to them, and then follow up with another call to answer any additional questions they might have.
Pro tip: This is another opportunity to leverage technology. Take videos of the work that’s under discussion so the client has a visual example to reference if you are not able to discuss the changes in person.
Continue Communicating After Completion
The end of your construction project is just the beginning of a new living space for your clients and communication shouldn’t come to an abrupt stop. Walk through the space together to discuss how the project goals were met and provide any relevant operation manuals or instructions. Be available to respond to questions about the work or to fix minor problems that didn’t make the punch list. Ask for feedback about the process to help you continually improve.
Pro tip: Set a calendar reminder to check in with clients after one year of occupancy. It’s first-class service, you might learn some valuable lessons, and it could also result in future referrals.
Skillful Communication Benefits Everybody
Strong communication contributes to the overall success of a project, leads to happier clients, and is often conducive to a better bottom line. Being proactive instead of reactive allows you to solve problems before they come up, which keeps project budgets and timelines on track.
There is no single prescribed method for communication during a residential construction project, but these best practices are a good starting point. Develop an approach that works for you and your team, implement it consistently and always look for ways to improve.
David Dynega, CEO of Detail Renovations in Great Neck, N.Y., has specialized in high-end luxury market remodels in New York City, particularly Manhattan and some key areas of Brooklyn, since forming his construction and design company in 2002. For information on his company, please visit www.detailrenovations.com.