Hammering home point: keep good renovation files


January 15, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

It's too bad that one of the most important parts of any project is also the most boring.

A little less tedium in the process might persuade people embarking on a rehab or renovation to keep better records of every purchase, agreement and transaction.

Good record-keeping can let you know exactly where you stand financially as work progresses, and that knowledge can help eliminate that panicky conviction that you're headed straight for the poor house. It also smoothes the way between homeowner and suppliers or subcontractors (such as electricians or plumbers) or between homeowner and general contractor.

Your local office-supply supermarket should offer plenty of files, folders, tags and other devices that will make keeping records fairly easy. You might consider establishing a separate folder for each area being worked on, and separate folders for subcontractors.

Good records should include anything and everything pertaining the job. Homeowners' files might start with pictures cut from magazines showing a look they like, with paint chips and counter-top samples, with brochures on fixtures or lighting. Eventually it should include copies of estimates and proposals, copies of receipts for items ordered or purchased by the homeowner, a copy of the contract, copies of change orders and correspondence. It should also include a balance sheet -- even if it's just a simple column of numbers -- listing every expenditure and where it went.

When you write a check, write on the check what it's being spent for, and write the check number and purpose on the balance sheet.

It's especially important to keep good records of allowances -- those items a sub or contractor hasn't chosen, but has allowed a certain price for in the contract. Bathroom fixtures and lighting fixtures often fall in this category. It's up to the homeowner to select items based on the allowances.

That doesn't mean you have to keep looking until you find a toilet that costs exactly $139 and a vanity base and sink that cost $245 and faucets that cost $180. If you find a toilet on sale for $119, you can add $20 the the price of the vanity or faucets. Or chalk it up to savings. The homeowner needn't be responsible for actually buying the items; the contractor may use the homeowner's list to collect them. But it's important that both homeowner and contractor note the actual purchase price for their records.

Randy recalls a super-organized client who gave him a two-page typewritten list of all the items to be purchased for her project, listing both the actual price and the allowance price from the contract. She also listed where she'd found each item -- a level of detail that earned her a spot in the Client Hall of Fame.

There's another reason for being specific in listing items with allowances, especially when it involves appliances and other large items: The contractor may be able to get a better price. That would leave more in the allowance for other items, or it could be subtracted as a saving for the homeowner.

Throughout the job, the contractor will also be keeping records, probably starting with the notes taken during the initial conversation with a prospective client and eventually including copies of proposals, contract, receipts, change orders and correspondence.

Good record-keeping can make it easier to negotiate disputes -- items, prices and payments should be easily documented.

It's important to distinguish between pre- and post-contract elements. Every aspect of the project should be specified in the contract; it should be there, in writing, for reference.

But sometimes early notes, remembered discussions, advice and suggestions don't get translated into contract language. And if an item didn't make it into the contract, it's not an agreement.

That's why it's a good idea for homeowners to spend some time reading the contract before they sign it. It can be a shock later, to find out there's no allowance for a new toilet in the powder room, or no provision for crown molding in the dining room. The contract is a powerful form of documentation for both client and contractor.

And every now and then, in the course of a job, homeowners should sit down and compare notes with subs or the general contractor. Agreeing about the money can prevent disputes and hurt feelings down the line.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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