Of all the frustrating costly things that can be involved in a construction project, change orders are by far the most problematic. While some change orders can’t be avoided, as the project reveals a necessary change in plans to reach completion, an unfortunate and problematic number of last-minute changes come from the client themselves. They realize three months into a build that they’d rather have a closed deck than an open verandah. That they absolutely must have marble instead of granite or that the bathroom simply must have a walk-in shower instead of a jacuzzi tub.
Many clients don’t even realize how much trouble these last-minute requests cause because they only see a house in two states, construction and complete. They don’t see the months of forward planning, special ordering of supplies and appliances, or whether or not you already have rooms and fixtures squared away when the change is made. This means that the less your clients want to change and the more firm your policies are on changes, the more profits you can walk away with.
1) A Long Consultation with Your Clients
The first and best way to prevent last-minute changes from your client is to make sure they are completely 100% happy with the design before you even break ground. Make it a clear requirement for hiring your team that the customer understands what they want and is willing to work within a set of decision-making deadlines to reduce or even eliminate the risk costly indecision. You might even consider some visualization software to help clients understand more clearly what the house they’re asking for will look like.
2) Ground Rules and Deadlines
Once a client has agreed to make final decisions and stick to the construction schedule as strictly as you will, set up a few ground rules about how home construction can and should work. Especially if you’re working with one-time home builders looking to create their own dream homes, remember that you are the expert here and have some freedom in defining how the job should be done so that it is done right.
Make sure your rules cover which decisions should be made absolutely up front and what things can be changed. You may want to define decision deadlines, that is stages at which decisions become permanent. For instance, they can re-arrange minor wall and door placements until the frame goes up, can rethink outlet location until the frame is wired, and so on. How early you need to order supplies should also be a decision deadline.
3) Final Decisions
Some decisions need to be final when they are made because you have to order the materials or because how you build is determined by the choices made. In these cases, be incredibly clear with your client when they give their answer that the decision is final and there will be no way to take it back after a certain point.
4) Separate Projects are Separate
Another major issue that causes last minute ‘change’ requests is when the client asks for more than they initially bargained for. Let’s say they like how the house is coming along but now they want a pool, a matching guest cabin in the back, or a greenhouse built onto their porch. These are not minor changes like carpet color or light fixtures, these are entirely separate projects. Protect your reputation and profits by drawing a line between what you were hired to build and complete additional projects.
5) Additional Fees for Costly Changes
Finally, sometimes a client changes their mind and they don’t care what it takes to make the change or how late in the construction the project is. Just in case this happens, make sure your contract is very clear about costly last-minute changes. If the client really wants to defy final decisions and deadlines, let them know that it comes out of their pocket, not yours, because you did everything in your power to prevent the setback.