How to Handle Micro-Managing Homeowners

August 9th, 2013

Controlling business puppet conceptI assume that some of the contractors out there are already nodding their heads.  The Internet has done a lot of good in the world, but in certain ways, it has not benefited home remodelers.  The access to information allows anyone to research products and methods in construction, and unfortunately, a certain percentage of the public concludes that they have developed a level of expertise that trumps that of their contractor’s.

I have heard numerous complaints from home improvement contractors who now deal with homeowners who want to buy their own materials (they can get a better deal, they want something unique), have their contractors use different methods, or finish a task within an unreasonable amount of time. I am sure that the customers mean well, but interference from their clients can be a real problem for contractors and at its worst, derail a project or result in litigation.

How can a construction professional avoid getting stuck with micro-managing (albeit well-meaning) homeowners?

  1. Pre-screen your customers.  Most of my clients tell me that they saw red flags prior to signing a contract, but did not pay attention to them.  You are the expert; if the client starts out by telling you how to run the job or insisting that he order his own materials and supplies, take notice.
  2. Set expectations.  You are running the project.  Although a homeowner may believe that she can get a cheaper price, most contractors have ongoing relationships with suppliers that allow them to buy at a discount (which they can then mark up) and control the schedule for delivery so it does not delay a project.  If something arrives damaged, these relationships can enable the contractor to replace the item on an expedited basis.
  3. Draft a good contract.  Let the homeowner know that you will be taking a markup on your materials and supplies.  Issue a disclaimer for any owner-supplied items.  Do not guarantee performance of green materials.  Charge extra if the product requires special installation methods.  Let the homeowner know that improper installation can invalidate the warranty.
  4. Write in the contract that you control the means and methods of the work.  Make it clear that the homeowner can only enter the construction site if he/she is escorted by one of the workers.  Have the owner commit in advance to the fact that you are the expert and must make sure that work will be up to code and pass inspection.
  5.  Have a clause in your contract that allows you to terminate if the homeowner refuses to make decisions in a timely fashion, causes unreasonable delay or refuses to cooperate with you.

Renovating or building a home should be a positive experience for both parties, but as all builders know, there are aspects of it that are stressful.  Don’t let your client add to your stress level by allowing them to invade your territory.

-Andrea Goldman

Massachusetts Construction Lawyer


3 Responses to “How to Handle Micro-Managing Homeowners”

  1. georgecaz says:

    My main issue is how can you be sure if something is installed/constructed properly if you don’t see it done yourself. For example if you are doing a total bathroom reno and have to redo the floor and walls. Once the joists/subfloor are all covered up, what good is an inspection going to do if the critical elements of the reno are hidden below the finished floor?

  2. joelrosen says:

    In most projects, the contractor will need a building permit. This ordinarily requires the contractor to call the building inspector to sign off on various phases of the work before it is “closed up.” If the inspector doesn’t come, however, the contractor may proceed.

  3. Trixie says:

    In response to georgecaz’s comment and question. If you think about it… do you ask to be kept awake during surgery to be sure the doctor does it right? Do you stand in the restaurant kitchen to make sure they’re cooking it right? When you hire a licensed contractor, and insist on the necessary permits, that’s enough .Unless you’re a contractor yourself, you won’t know any more than a professional and/or inspector.

    Micro-managing is one of the most costly, unproductive, and inflammatory, things a homeowner can do. You are hiring a contractor, not an employee. That means you cannot direct another’s work at that level. They are being paid to complete projects, according to code, using a design and materials you have requested.

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