Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Lessons learned from Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde

Canadian Contractor

A touchy Dilemma Contest produces excellent crisis prevention suggestions

Our most recent Contractor Dilemma Contest concerned the challenges of placating the client’s wife who is upset by the disruption of their family’s home during a major basement renovation. (Read the details)

The Dilemma Contest question was specific — “What do you do now?”
However, another question remained outside the contest specifics — “What could be done in advance to prevent similar problems and complaints in the first place?”

Lots of great thoughts were submitted from the many proposals received. Let’s take a look and learn.


Reading the teas leaves ahead of time.
Sometimes a silent wife who lets the husband do all the talking with the contractor can be a warning sign. Is the wife even onboard from the outset? As Suzanne writes, “Being caught in the middle of a domestic dynamic such as this often requires Tylenol. Silent partners can be of the unhappiest variation.” The reason for the silence can often be about project commitment. James relates this to his business, saying, “These are situations that happen all too regularly in my business installing golf simulators, where one spouse is a golf fanatic but the other couldn’t care less and secretly resents the expense or loss of free space in the home.” As Peter suggests that in this specific situation, “I do not think that Sue has a problem with Jimmy Drum or his crew — I think that Sue has a problem with the whole project in general and her husband in particular. She’s just taking it out on the contractor. Indeed, she may have this attitude in the hope of having the entire project scuttled. Who knows?”

Talk it out
Detailed discussions in advance with both the husband and wife are certainly important, especially when the wife stays at home when work is underway while the husband is away at his job. Michel says, “The first thing I do before turning on a tool at a new job site, I go through an expectation list with the owners. “ Michel’s expectation list is wide-ranging, and includes: portable versus homeowner bathrooms; material staging areas; no-go places in the home; worker break areas; use of driveways; smoking rules; foul language; recommended preps by the homeowner such as the removal of wall hangings and breakables; and potentially higher extra electricity and heating costs. “Some of these measures might seem over the top, but I find that giving the homeowners clear expectations of the renovation before it starts helps avoid any of the problems listed in [the Dilemma].”

Getting it down in writing
Maybe a more detailed contract is the answer. Shaun certainly thinks so. “If he was a good contractor, [Jimmy Drum] would’ve covered all these items in his initial presentation, and priced his job according to the ‘worst case’ customer. “ For example, Kayne explained that his company has a 15-page contract that includes issues of noise, bathrooms, disturbances such as dust and dirt — even a cost factor for the transportation or location of tools.

Go forward or not?
Observations made during a pre-project discussion will allow the contractor to make important assessments. As Suzanne says, “Do you want to risk round two with this duo? Do you trust them to stick to their word and agreement?” Then there’s the workplace safety angle that should be considered in terms of compromises and solutions. As Jax points outs, “These workers are people, not Sue’s prisoners, and the employer needs to take WCB safety rights into consideration… Anything that could be a WCB or code violation would not be an option.”

Bob neatly summarizes his approach to projects like this, explaining that his contracts identify what is included in the scope of work and what isn’t, and goes over this in a meeting that includes both husband and wife. He then confirms whether or not the scope covered everything.  “I would get a commitment statement from both of them or we wouldn’t proceed,” Bob writes.  “I would also ask them for a signature on my quote.  My scope is detailed, the materials are detailed, the prep is detailed, the cleanup is detailed.  So, with a detailed signed agreement that has a clause that says, “Please review the quote and all details.”

These are great ideas that could save you problems in the future!

Thank you to everyone who sent a proposal to us. Sharing ideas like this helps everyone raise the bar for our industry!

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