I know, the title of this post sounds trite. Who doesn’t communicate? Don’t the subs and general on the project always communicate? Wouldn’t a remodeler be sure to stay up on job progress with a homeowner? In other words, why bother with this post? Everyone knows that without communication, nothing can get done.
Well, because it is necessary, that’s why.
As a construction attorney, I can’t name all of the project related claims, both residential and commercial, that could have been headed off if detailed and clear communication of expectations, obstacles and progress had been present throughout the project. Many of these disputes were over poorly communicated or managed expectations that should have been better communicated at the start. In most of these cases, in trying to piece together what happened after the fact, I saw a lot of “back and forth” with very little clarity relating to the underlying issues. It was only later, when a homeowner failed to pay the electrician or a subcontractor walked from a job because it wasn’t paid or given that one last extension, when the “misunderstanding” came to light and the pieces are put together by the lawyers (with the litigation related expense) that the true picture came to light.
Also, if you keep up with the proper communication, I have found that most parties on construction projects will work with you during the bumps and will be happy with you when things continue forward as planned. This better attitude toward you leads to faster and more hassle free payment of your payment applications and draws. Getting paid promptly makes you happier and more profitable. Being more profitable and happier leads to happier customers and more business. Repeat these steps as necessary.
What are some key points that you, as a construction contractor (residential or commercial) need to keep in mind on this front? I can think of a few:
1. The contract must be clear from the beginning. Remember, the contract is the law for your project. Assure yourself that the person or company with whom you are contracting not only reads and signs, but understands, the contract. Just because you are working with a commercial owner does not mean that it understands the contract.
2. Be sure to actually follow the contract provisions when working at the project. The contract is nothing but words if you and your customer don’t follow the letter of the contract. That written change order provision is there for a reason, follow it.
3. If the Owner or other customer must make a decision by a certain time for your work to get done on time and on budget, make sure they make that decision. This timing advice applies to you as well. Nothing kills a relationship (and potentially leads to misunderstandings) like delays.
4. Even where the contract or general conditions don’t require weekly meetings with the owner, be sure to communicate your progress anyway. This gives assurance to the owner that things are on track and if they aren’t at least that you’re on top of it. This is particularly true in residential construction where your customer may be having his or her first contact with major construction.
5. Finally (though I could go on), get as much of your communication in writing as possible. This avoids recall issues with what happens. Nothing makes a lawyer’s heart soar like a good, well organized, set of written communications and documents.
These are only a few of the items that I have picked up on over the years and that I share at risk of putting my construction litigation (though not my advising) practice on the shelf. I’d love to hear others that come to mind after reading this. If you think of one, be sure to comment.
As always, I welcome your comments. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Construction Law Musings.
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