Oh no….a change order. Now what?

As our project enters the second month of construction, and we continue to “walk in our customer’s shoes,” I am once again reminded of another element that our customers must endure with a construction project; the often misunderstood, change order.  As a general contractor you make every attempt to assure that your bid is accurate, and that your subcontractors have completed their homework.  However, remodeling can be notorious for surprises, some small and minute, while others have a way of creating an elevated stress level.  Either way, the change order is a segment of the construction process that most of the time gets a bad reputation for a doing a good job.

What is it:
By definition, a change order is a legal document that protects the customer and the general contractor when there is a change to the original contract.  The contract is the original, or in legal verbiage, the governing document for the project; any changes from the terms of that document, must be mutually agreed upon.  That agreement is summarized in the terms of a change order.

The Negatives:
The biggest worry with a change order is the costs associated with it.  Homeowners have read about the nightmares associated with a change.  The perception is that the general contractor will victimize his/her customer and take advantage of the situation to add to the bottom line of the project.  While I must admit, unfortunately, this type of misdirected project management still exists in our industry, most of the worries on the consumer’s end of things are just urban myths.

The Positives:
The change order allows both parties to “reset” their plans and objectives.  If a contractor finds serious mold or rot issues; now is the time to address it, instead of hiding it from the customer and just burying it in the job.  Furthermore, if the customer changes his or her mind about aspects of a segment of the plan, the change order again promises the opportunity to revisit a concern.  As an example if a homeowner opts to upgrade the counter-tops of their new kitchen to granite, the change order protects both parties from a financial aspect, and allows the general contractor the contingency plan to proactively assure that all structural aspects are not compromised.

Each aspect of our remodel project has helped redefine the continued need for over-communication between the general contractor and the customer.  The shoes we have walked in through this process are a reminder of the potential negative perceptions that our customers can have with a project of this magnitude.  As a professional contractor we must keep these negative perceptions of a change order in mind, and plan accordingly.  Otherwise, I can assure you, the journey will be painful one.