List of loose ends helps get job done right


January 08, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

There's never a problem telling when a renovation project begins -- it's that first swing of the crowbar as the old begins to give way to the new.

But sometimes, when you're working with a contractor, it's surprisingly difficult to tell when a project ends.

Both parties are anxious -- the homeowner to have life back in order and the new facilities in use, and the contractor to move on to the next job. The problem is that renovation, by its very nature, is an untidy process. There are always surprises that alter the plan or widen the scope of the work -- the termite-damaged joist ends that have to be replaced, the shaky plaster ceiling that collapses from the pounding of work above. Supplies don't arrive on time, tools break, the weather turns nasty. And despite the best of intentions on both sides, disputes will arise.

Randy recalls homeowners who grew attached to having the contractor around, as a sort of on-site maintenance man, and who were reluctant to sign off on the job because the contractor would go away. And there was another client who insisted on having her kitchen wall cabinets adjusted three times before she was satisfied. And the contractor who left a client with a non-working furnace, and couldn't seem to find the time to get back and fix it.

But there's a mechanism that, properly used, offers a way for both contractor and homeowner to part company with mutual satisfaction.

It's the "punch list," a list of items that, when they are finished, all parties agree constitute completion of the contract.

That word "contract" is important. The punch list is based on the contract, and it's yet another argument for taking the time and trouble to negotiate a good, clear contract to begin with.

If the contract is not specific on some point, the homeowner and the contractor could easily disagree on what a finished job is. The phrase "repair or replace as necessary" is particularly open to misunderstanding. The contractor may see it as doing just what's absolutely necessary to do the task, while the homeowners think a little more finesse is absolutely "necessary" for their happiness.

Homeowners might want to start keeping a list about three-quarters of the way through a job of items they want to make sure are taken care of. As completion approaches, the list should go down to a manageable 20 or so items.

It's important to remember that the punch list is not a list of everything the homeowner would like done around the house, and it's not the time to decide a closet in that upstairs bath would be nice. Items on the punch list must be items specified in the contract. And if there are changes, like that closet, they will require separate negotiation -- at the least, a change order, signed by both parties, at the most a new bid. The punch list covers only those items already accounted for in the price of the contract.

Appropriate items for a punch list are things the contractor hasn't finished or things that may have become damaged in the course of the work. For instance:

* A broken window.

* A cigarette burn in the carpet.

* A forgotten piece of trim -- like that 12-inch strip of baseboard between the sink and the door in the powder room.

* A missing backsplash over a vanity.

* A divot or hole in new drywall or a bad seam that shows up after painting.

* A missed spot on a newly painted wall or piece of trim.

Details -- that's what the punch list should contain. It's a wrapping up of all the loose ends. And when everything on the list is completed, the contractor should get a final check and a handshake. And the homeowners should get a new space they love -- and a little less noise and dust in the morning.

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