photo of residential construction site

In a perfect world, a residential construction or remodeling project would go off without a hitch. The contractor gets paid, the homeowner is happy and everything works out. Unfortunately, though, sometimes things go wrong. Often, these clashes are due to misunderstandings rather than actual issues. 

Here are some of the most common misunderstandings between residential contractors and homeowners and how they can be avoided. A lot of issues can be prevented with a bit of planning and clear communication.

1. Contractual disputes

It’s essential to read and understand a contract before you sign it, regardless of which side of the transaction you’re on. For the average person who doesn’t understand legalese, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed. Contractual disputes can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans, especially if the homeowner expects something that isn’t covered by the contract and was not agreed to before the job began.

For example, a contract may include a payment schedule or itemized details for material costs or timelines. A kitchen remodel may take anywhere from three to five months, so the agreement may detail a six-month timeline to compensate for unforeseen delays. 

Learn moreConstruction Delays: Common Causes for Delay and How to Minimize the Fallout

A homeowner who isn’t familiar with the ins and outs of contract law may read this to mean they’ll be eating takeout for the next half year because they won’t have access to their kitchen —  which could trigger a dispute. 

Both parties need to completely understand everything before they sign, or there is the risk of confusion. 

The best way to avoid this problem is to carefully review the contract before both parties sign it. Bringing in a third-party contract lawyer to review the details in an unbiased manner can be beneficial for both homeowner and contractor. 

2. Poor workmanship

The last thing anyone in the construction industry wants to deal with is poor workmanship. The homeowner gets frustrated, and a history of shoddy or half-completed jobs will color your reputation and follow you around like a bad smell. It can also lead to expensive trips to court if the client decides to pursue legal action.  

Your reputation is perhaps the most important thing you can build as a business owner. You can spend as much as you like on advertising, but if local word-of-mouth says you do poor work, your business will start to slow down or even stop entirely. 

Equally negative is the potential for damage to other parts of the home once a project is complete. A bathroom remodel shouldn’t result in burst pipes and water damage if you’re doing your job correctly. 

It isn’t always easy to avoid grumpy customers, but you can ensure you do the best job possible to provide a good service for your clients and protect your company from any backlash. Make sure you’re bringing in skilled professionals who know their jobs well or build a team of new employees eager to learn, ones that you can shape and mold into your dream team.

3. Scheduling conflicts

We live in a busy world. People are constantly on the go, and creating a schedule that meshes with your clients can be challenging, especially for interior remodeling projects where you need a resident to let you in at the beginning of the day. 

Depending on the neighborhood and the proximity of nearby houses, you may have to time your workday around noise ordinances or neighbors’ schedules, as well. A lack of details, missing dependencies or a communication breakdown can cause scheduling conflicts that can cost time and money. 

Another challenge you may encounter is going over your planned schedule or running out of time to complete a project. Timelines are estimates, but if you don’t reiterate that fact to your client, you may find them demanding that a job be completed on a precise date, regardless of how much work is left to complete the project. 

The easiest way to avoid these misunderstandings is to set down strict ground rules when it comes to scheduling. You can afford to be a little flexible, but don’t put yourself in a position where changing to suit your client’s needs will impact the rest of your projects.

Download construction scheduling templates: Free Construction Schedule Templates in Excel, Google Sheets & PDF

4. Problems with permits

Who’s responsible for collecting all the necessary permits before you can begin a project? In some areas, the homeowner must handle this, while in others, the duty falls to the contractor. Homeowners may not even be aware of the permits they need, even if they’re the ones that must secure them. 

Small projects, like repainting a kitchen or adding new cabinets, won’t usually require a permit. However, large ones, like adding a wall to create a dining nook or knocking one down to create a more open space, will require the necessary paperwork. 

Whichever the case, you need to figure out and secure the permits before work begins or risk facing steep fines from local code enforcement and construction boards. 

Avoid this problem by communicating your and the construction board’s needs to your clients. Make sure everyone is on the same page. You may even want to include the details in your contract so everyone is aware of their responsibilities and there is no room for any misunderstandings.

5. Payment challenges

The last thing any contractor wants to deal with when working on a residential project is failed or missing payments. 

There are a number of reasons a homeowner might fail to make a payment. Maybe they ran out of money, or perhaps they overestimated the costs and spent more than they had budgeted for the project. This can throw a wrench into the works, making it impossible to complete the project. 

This is often a problem for homeowners who take out a home improvement loan or refinance their current mortgage to improve their property. They may have never had that much money at once in their lives, and the temptation to spend it on things like new cars and pricy vacations instead of saving it for the remodeling project is great.

There are several ways to prevent misunderstandings where payments are concerned. Obtaining partial installments upfront before construction begins can help keep things moving. Communicating with homeowners about their responsibilities can also help keep everyone on the same page. You also need to consider establishing a zero-tolerance policy for missed payments. If people know you’ll keep working even if they don’t pay, it can come back to bite you.

6. Expectation vs. reality

You need to be careful that your client’s eyes aren’t bigger than their stomachs — or in the case of remodeling projects, that their dreams aren’t bigger than their budget. 

People often have big goals when it comes to remodeling projects, but not all of them are based in reality. An elaborate landscape outside the home might sound like the perfect way to wrap up a project, but if you don’t have all the tools necessary to build the perfect lawn, it’s not something the homeowner should expect of you.

The homeowner may not understand the difference between a remodel and a renovation. The two terms are often used interchangeably. However, renovating means restoring something to its previous state, while remodeling is creating something new. An unenlightened homeowner may state they’re looking for a bathroom remodel when all they need is some repairs. Dropping in a tub liner and restoring the tile to its previous glory isn’t a remodel. 

Check your client’s expectations and ensure that everything they want you to do is within your capabilities. Don’t let them try to pressure or bully you into projects that might be outside your purview. Any homeowners that attempt that sort of behavior aren’t ones you likely want to work with in the first place. You don’t necessarily need to shoot down all their ideas, but make sure you balance their expectations with your reality. Stick with what you know.

Avoid misunderstanding with clear communication

When it comes down to it, we’re only human — and so are our clients. There will occasionally be misunderstandings. It’s just part of working in the industry and with the public. However, you should not let these issues affect how others view your company.

What you can do is take steps to reduce the impact these communication breakdowns have on your projects. The last thing you want is to gain a bad reputation through something that could have easily been prevented. Doing what you can to avoid problems can help things move more smoothly and keep everyone involved on the same page. 

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