Working With Your Subcontractors
Working with the subcontractors
is one of the most challenging experiences
in home building - especially in Owner Building. There
is a delicate balance between remaining in control and keeping
them happily on the job.
are some of the most independent people in the world.
If you live
in an area where residential construction is booming, watch out!
won’t take much for
a sub to tell you to “stick
it in your ear,” and walk off the job.
Sure you can back-charge
him and find another subcontractor. But it will be a hassle and an almost
certain delay. It will probably end up costing you money.
Much of this kind of trouble can be avoided
by carefully choosing your subcontractors and then treating them with respect.
Some subs always seem to have a chip on their shoulder. You may
sense this during your initial interviews.
Also, ask about attitude
when checking their references. You do not want a sub that is
not sensitive to your desires as the owner builder.
Them With Respect
subcontractors are independent businessmen - treat them as such.
also remember, it’s your house. You’re paying the
bills. In the end, your will must prevail.
Using The Subcontractor Forms
When you are ready to build and have decided
on the subcontractors you will use, it’s time to execute the Subcontractor
Agreements. Start with the Subcontractor
everything in writing
. . . especially
exactly what will be done (Scope of Work), and who will provide
execute the Subcontractor
form asserts that the subcontractor is an independent business
person and is NOT your employee.
This is important for tax and
Review The home blueprints
Owner builders will want to go over the Plans and Specifications with the
subcontractors again. Make sure they understand perfectly what you are expecting
him to do.
Carelessness at this point will lead to misunderstandings,
delay, and extra expense.
Getting Them On The Job
When you are ready to actually
begin construction, you should contact all of your subcontractors and let
them know approximately when you will require their services.
As the time draws nearer, you can give them a specific date.
I like to begin
about a month out. I'll `call
a subcontractor and say something like, "I think we'll be ready for you
on the job about such-an-such date. That gets you on his schedule
well in advance.
And if he can't fit that time frame to his schedule,
it gives you plenty of time to find a substitute.
of the reasons you find more than one subcontractor for each
job when you are putting your Cost Estimate together!
If something happens to delay construction,
be sure to notify your subcontractors of the delay. One thing you don't
want to do is have subs show up before you are ready for them.
Once that happens, it tends to be a little harder to get them
back when you need them.
I call back a week out to confirm
where we are on the house and exactly when he'll be needed.
Again there's a little wiggle room for you if his schedule
has gotten jammed up and he can't accommodate your schedule.
I call two days out, one day out, and early the morning he
is scheduled to be on the job - just to make absolutely
sure he's going to show up. There's nothing more frustrating
than sitting on a job site waiting for two or three hours
for a subcontractor who isn't going to show up!
The First Day On The Job
When the appointed time arrives, meet
each subcontractor on the job site. Have a copy of the Home Blueprints,
as well as your Agreement with
the sub. Again go over what is expected and resolve any questions.
Be sure the subcontractors understand
that no extra work is authorized or
will be paid for unless an Additional
Work/Change Order is executed.
Spend as much time as you can with the
subcontractors that first day to see that they, in fact, do understand
what is to be done and to clear up any unexpected questions.
you have to leave, make sure the subcontractors have a way of reaching you
or your representative (husband, wife, etc.). Don’t think
that you have to be there every minute. You don’t.
just a good policy to be there the first day to help get them
started. But it’s also a
good idea to check back frequently to make sure something
has not gone awry.
Dealing With Unacceptable Work
Perhaps the most challenging tasks in home building is dealing with unacceptable work. Do not hesitate
to point out unacceptable work and request that it be corrected. Subcontractors deal with this every day.
Some subcontractors are a lot like children. They will try to get away with
as much as you will let them.
Others are very proud of their work
and will try hard to do it right. Even these latter types will
make mistakes. Its OK to sympathize with subcontractors who must spend
extra time and effort correcting a mistake.
But remember, if they
had done the job properly the first time, they wouldn’t be
faced with making the correction. Do you want to live with their
mistakes for the next thirty years? Be firm. Insist on acceptable
On the other hand,
be fair. If extra work is
required, or something has to be re-worked because you forgot
to tell a subcontractor just what you wanted, be prepared to pay for the
If you have a serious disagreement with a subcontractor, you may have to
terminate your agreement with him and find someone else to complete the
In such a case you should withhold a
part of the payment due for work completed-to-date, at least
until you have found a replacement, and have a firm commitment
on what it will take to complete the job.
Under your original
agreement, you are not committed to spend more than the
original agreed upon amount.
As we mentioned before, it is
often necessary to spend some money to correct poor work
when a subcontractor is terminated, before the job can be finished.
Do not let a sub intimidate you with threats of a lien against
A lien is like a suit in which the property is named to secure
the amount owed. If your bases are covered, you can get the lien
Liens are normally filed by subcontractors
or suppliers who have not been paid. If you are withholding
payment because of incomplete or unsatisfactory work, and
a lien has been filed against your home building project,
call your attorney.
You’ll notice in the Subcontractor
Agreement, the third paragraph of the “fine print” states
that the subcontractors will clean up
after themselves. Some subcontractors
will only do this if you make them aware that you are dead serious
about this requirement, and that they will be back-charged if
should be required to leave the home “broom clean.” When
a subcontractor leaves a mess, either you have to clean it up, or pay
someone else to do it, or the next subcontractor will have to work in
You can believe that this will not make
the second subcontractor very happy. You should specify one particular
area to stockpile trash until it can be hauled, burned, or buried.
Before You Pay subcontractors
In most cases you will pay the subcontractors
on the job site. Before paying a subcontractor, carefully review the Subcontractor
Agreement and any Additional
Work/Change Orders concerning the
subcontractor. Then get him to sign a Lien Waiver. Your lender will probably
require it. If your lender doesn't furnish you one, use
If you're working with an attorney on your Home Building Project,
make sure he takes a look and approves the form.
Then inspect the subcontractor’s work
very carefully to determine if the sub has satisfactorily completed
all of the work agreed upon. Never pay a subcontractors for half-finished
work unless you have agreed to do so before the job began.
Here Is A Typical home building Situation
The framing subcontractor approaches you on Friday afternoon. He claims to be 90% finished.
He’ll come back
on Saturday morning and finish up. “It’ll only take
a couple of hours.” Can
you pay him Friday so that he can pay his men?
Being the good-hearted owner builder that you are,
you agree. You even wisely hold back a little of his fee as insurance.
Guess what happens. The subcontractor doesn’t show up on Saturday
When you finally get hold of him on Monday
night you find out that his truck broke down on Saturday and
that he had an opportunity for a big job, which in order to
get, he had to be there on Monday. He says he’ll come
back the next Saturday and finish up your job.
If you believe
that, there’s some
ocean front property in Denver we would like to talk to you about!
So when you finally get another framing sub to come in to finish
up the work, you find out that the previous one has left a mess.
only have you been delayed a week, and are going to have to
pay a premium to get someone to complete the work, but you are
also faced with paying to straighten out the first one’s
This kind of thing goes on all the time. You are not responsible
your subcontractor’s payroll. You don’t owe him until
the work is completed. Be understanding but tough. Don’t
Subcontractors are the life blood of any home
building project. As an Owner Builder, the subcontractor can be
your best friend. He has a great deal of experience about residential
construction in your area.
knows code requirements (to get his work approved for payment!).
good subcontractor can help you make timely decisions on the
Don't scrimp here. Spend the time and effort
to find good subcontractors.
Check them out
thoroughly. Treat them with respect. Be prepared to be flexible.
Remember, the subcontractor is an independent businessman. He
is often juggling several jobs.
He can't always control everything
that affects his schedule. It won't kill you to lose a day
or two occasionally out of your well-crafted, very tight construction
from Working With Subcontractors
For more on Working With Subcontractors,
see Lesson Thirteen of our online course
Successful Home Contracting.
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