Understanding Contracts

Understanding Contracts

Understanding Contracts


Why are contracts so important? The contract is the legal document  between a contractor and a client that spells out the terms of the agreement for a construction project. Contracts detail the responsibilities of the

contractor and what they will be providing the client.

Are there different kinds of contracts? Contracts may be a cost plus or

a fixed sum. A cost plus contract will vary according to any changes made

during the progress of the project but the administration costs and profit

margin will be agreed upon in advance. In either case contracts should be

tied to the specifications and the plans.

How do change orders relate to contracts? Change orders affect the

scope of work and the costs. How change orders are handled should be

agreed upon before the work is initiated. In general, work above and

beyond the contract amount is not done before a change order is signed. In

the field small changes may need to be initiated immediately to expedite

the completion of the project.

What else do you need to know? The contract should also spell out

the date by which the contract price must be accepted and details such as

responsibilities for insurance. A well thought out and executed contract is


Understanding Specifications


Understanding Specifications

Understanding specifications is vital for the homeowner. Plans show the overall scope of the project including  items like wall layout, elevations, window schedules, door schedules, and what kind of flooring (carpet, tile, wood) is being used.  The specifications go into more detail. An example might be a line item called Wood Flooring with the following information:  Armstrong 3 inch engineered hardwood plank in natural cherry, product number EPP3108. With detailed specifications there is no room for error,  you know exactly what you’re getting.

The specifications should be specific to the various rooms in a remodeling or building project like  kitchen, master bath, living room, and dining room. The individual rooms will each have a number of items listed like flooring, fixtures, cabinets, paint colors  and trim. Since understanding  specifications is so important, homeowners might request that a contractor provide specifications in  a format that is easy for them to understand.  In my opinion a specifications book that lists the rooms and includes a detailed description of items like plumbing fixtures, their individual model numbers and pictures are best. These books can be printed or provided in digital form as a PDF file. Understanding specifications will help you realize your dream.


Understanding Plans

PlansUnderstanding Plans

   Understanding plans is nothing short of knowing  the value of your remodeling project.  I think it’s fair to say that very few clients really understand the scope and complexity that plans represent. That’s why it is important for your  contractor to conduct a thorough plans review session with you before a project actually begins. The plans are also intricately connected to the specifications that accompany them. Every subcontractor who bids on a project where plans are necessary should include the line “As per Plans and Specifications” on their proposal

Understanding your plans and reading all the schedules, notes, and criteria contained on them will decrease the likelihood of unanticipated costs associated with change orders.  A complete set of plans includes a “Demolition Plan, a “Renovation Plan”, an “Electrical” Plan, a “Flooring Plan”, and a schedule of windows and doors if applicable. Other informational items about hardware, casing, baseboards, cabinets and shelving should be recorded in the plans, as well as the specifications. Taking the time to carefully review renovation plans,  will definitely save you money and headaches during the renovation process.

Understanding plans is critical to a successful, well planned project!

Evaluating Recommendation

Evaluating Recommendations

Picking a contractor is the most important decision you’ll make during your remodeling process. There are many factors to consider and none may be more important than getting recommendations and evaluating them. What do we mean by this? Every contractor can find someone who will write them a great reference. Many contractors get letters of recommendation over the years and the good ones strive to be better each time they do a project.  While these recommendations may be valid at the time they were written, letters of references for projects that are recent or even in process give you the up to date information It’s entirely possible that a recommendation for a contractor written a year ago or less might be totally irrelevant today. If you really want to know how a contra ctor is administering and pricing a project it’s best to ask someone who has the experience fresh in mind. Unfortunately some contractors tell people what they want to hear and not what they need to know, resulting in inaccurate bids, changes orders and ultimately a more expensive project. Do your homework upfront and you’ll have a much better remodeling experience and a quality, reasonably priced project.

Choosing a Design Professional

McDonaldKitchenAn effective design professional (draftsman or architect) is skillful in their trade, listens to their clients, and works to create a beautiful, functional and sustainable project  that realizes the homeowner’s  vision and works within their budget .

In my experience, choosing a contractor who works with such a professional yields a better outcome for everyone.  The contractor will make sure that the plans reflect the entire scope of the project and that the designer creates a set of plans that sub-contractors can read and understand.  When sub-contractors have a clear picture of what they’re bidding on, the price will invariably be more competitive.  This relationship also assures  the client that the design professional will be readily available in case any changes occur.

Even the smallest project has lots of variables that must be understood and addressed up front to assure the client’s satisfaction.  Homeowners are often told what they want to hear,  instead of what they need to know.  Recently we were called to complete a project when the client became alarmed with the experience level of the contractor.  If the project had been completed as drawn, the client’s vision would have not realized.

Recently I was with my cabinet company at an upscale condo on Longboat Key’s waterfront. The owner mentioned a unit that was under construction which had captured her imagination. I suggested that we visit the project. While it was an impressive design, I  noticed that the upper kitchen cabinets were only thirty (30) inches tall. We had completed a similar  project in the past year and knew that there was room for forty two (42) inch tall upper cabinets. This would have replaced much of the cabinet space that was lost when walls were removed to open the design.

Another thing I noticed was that the beautiful glass backsplash had electrical outlets and switches. However, there are now plug strips available that can be recessed in a valence under the upper cabinets. These allow the design of a beautiful glass or other tile backsplash to be uninterrupted by plugs and switches.

These are just a few of the small, but significant design touches that clients receive when they work with an experienced contractor and a skilled design professional.




It’s hard to overstate the importance of communications in a building project. By nature even the smallest remodeling project has so many details that a lack of communication can quickly lead to stress and disappointment.  While plans and specifications are critical to any project many are incomplete, are not reviewed and not properly executed. Just think of the details in a kitchen remodel. The color and make of cabinets, the arrangement of drawers and doors,  the proper sizing and placement of appliances, the color and thickness of tops, seams, edge details, plumbing fixtures, and lighting detail.  Add tile color, size, and orientation of tile on floors and backsplash, paint color, wall and ceiling texture and the need for clear communications becomes critical. When absent, frustration and additional expense to the homeowner is inevitable. If a homeowner isn’t careful what appeared to be a low price bid might actually be higher than a well thought out proposal.  The additional cost and uncertainty is bad enough, but going through all the time and effort and ending up with a product that doesn’t meet with your expectations is even worse. Clear communications, which may require a little more of your time and attention up front, will pay dividends for years to come.

Cost Versus Value


When making a decision to remodel, you want to get the highest return for the money you spend.  We often hear about “cost versus value” but “value” is a subjective term.
If you are a homeowner and have only enough money to do one project think about where you spend time. Livingroom? Bedroom?  Bathroom? Kitchen? For example, if you enjoy your kitchen, look around and ask yourself some question: are the appliances still in good working order or are they starting to break down? Are the cabinets outdated and showing signs of wear? Would it be more comfortable for you if your countertops were higher?  Remodeling your kitchen might be what creates the most “value” for you.
However, if you are an investor with an eye to reselling in the near future, your idea of value is about what will appeal to your future buyer. In addition to looking at what needs replacement or repair, think about the potential age of your buyer. Do door spaces need to be wider?  Would an easily accessible shower be more user friendly than a tub? These are some of the considerations when putting more money into an investment property.
So whether you are a homeowner or an investor and want to get the most from your time, energy and money have your project done right the first time. While it is tempting to try to do it yourself, or work with someone whose “office” is out of the back of their truck, the value you get for the seemingly lower “cost” may not be the bargain you thought you were getting.

Next Topic: Choosing a design professional

Let’s Talk Remodeling

A detailed bathroom planWelcome to our blog series on remodeling. Whether you work with us or another contractor we want you to have the information you’ll need to make a smart, informed decision. There are many hidden pitfalls in the process of remodeling that could result in you actually paying more for less. Do your homework and you’ll have a successful outcome that will be a pleasure for years to come.

Follow us as we cover topics like cost versus value, picking a design professional, getting and evaluating recommendations for contractors, understanding plans, and reading specifications. We’ll help you understand the importance of making sure the specifications dovetail with project plans and your expectations. Other critical issues like insurance, permits, and workers compensation (often overlooked by clients) will be covered in detail here and in depth on our web site.
We’ll help you understand why decisions you will make up front will determine the quality and longevity of the finished product. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that homeowners verify the experience and financial stability of their contractor and the reliability of the subcontractors they’ll employ on their project.


The right contractor will go the extra mile for his clients, providing customized drawings that help them understand what the final product will look like.

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