Posted in Managing Expectations, Planning, Surviving A Remodel, Water Damage

Verify everything in writing

At the scene of an auto accident,
the one thing for certain is that there will be numerous versions of what lead up to the accident.

At the scene of an accident, every witness and every party involved in the accident has their own version of what took place. What is perceived as each persons truth will never really agree with the next persons story. Explaining what happened varies: speed of travel, weather, amount of cars on the road, color and type of cars involved all are subject to interpretation. The accident happens so fast, that everyones recollection will be weighted based on what they were doing at the time of the accident.

Don’t let your remodel become a scene of an accident.

A home improvement project can become an accident without proper documentation. I got a call today from my sister complaining about a home improvement project that is nearly completed. There was mold and water damage in the kitchen. The insurance company had a specialist come in to handle the mold remediation and repair the cabinetry. One of the workers promised, “a verbal promise”, that he would install all new roll out trays in the pantry.

Listening to this story, my red flag alert went off.

Does a a verbal agreement between an employee of a company constitute a valid

contract change order? No. Anything discussed verbally, requires a written change order detailing additional time, materials and labor that will be added to the project cost.
Should a company honor a verbal agreement? It becomes a problem at this point. There is the interpretation argument of what was promised versus what was in the contract.

The issue is, that this employee’s promise of roll outs was never written into the contract originally and a change order adding the roll outs was never submitted for her to sign off after that discussion of roll outs. An employee of the company can promise an item all he wants, but the homeowner must ask for this in writing so that there is no “he said/she said” dispute.

Imagine you were to explain your story in court, you are before the judge and you explain, “Your Honor, he told me he would install new roll outs for me. How was I supposed to know this was not in my contract , I was under the impression it was included based on what the salesperson said.” It is a homeowners responsibility to know what they are signing for, what they are buying, and if not, they need to ask questions and have it explained if they are unclear about anything. Whenever your sales person starts explaining what they will do in a contract, have them take the time to show you where this is in your contract. Signing a contract, no matter how much paperwork you have to read, and no matter how tedious it is to read, you cannot ignore this step and plead ignorance later.

Get it in writing.

Now that it is time for the project to end, she is asking for the roll outs installed based on a verbal promise made by an employee of the company. The owner of the company is saying this wasn’t billed into the contract and he will not do it. So the employee who made the promise is now denying he said that, the owner is not willing to supply the roll outs, and my sister is going to demand they be installed because they were discussed and requested originally. The whole reason she went with this company was he was the least expensive and the sales man said he would install roll outs where others who bid the project did not include them in the cost. The problem is that roll outs are not written anywhere in the contract. She is insisting it is the companies obligation to make good on that employees promise. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Get all promises in writing.

So who is right and who is wrong?

There is a customer belief that they would receive roll out trays because of a verbal promise. The problem is there is no documentation of roll outs in the contract. You can’t go on the assumption that a verbal agreement will be honored. Most likely, they were never included in the original charges. If the owner was willing to make amends for his employee promising items he had no authority to do without charging for it, he could split the cost or reduce the cost of the roll outs and install them to keep the customer satisfied. My sister is right to be upset, the employee was wrong, but all this could have been avoided if she checked her contract and got the change order in writing. If it sounds like I am taking sides with the owner of the company, I really do not want to, but my sister should have made sure to get the sales person’s verbal agreement in writing that it was included, she would be in a better position to ensure that work gets done. Saying she trusted the sales person is not good enough.

Put your wish list in writing and compare it to your written quote.
Question anything that is vague.


I put a bid on a project where the client had a cap on what she wanted to spend on her kitchen remodel. (Who doesn’t? Every one has a budget). We crunched the numbers and came up with a plan that accomplished what she wanted in her project with a few exceptions. We could not honor the whole wish list without breaking her budget; but we provided a very nice complete project for the budget.

To keep the project on budget, the wish list items that didn’t make it into the project were relocating the water heater and going tankless; adding an exterior door into the kitchen plan; adding a desk; adding a glaze to the cabinets; changing the door style to a more expensive door; adding custom cabinetry; adding more cabinetry and molding in general.

What I discovered was that the client was not willing to compromise on excluding anything from her wish list. Incidentally, she was not willing to expand her budget to include the wish list work.


The wish list made it’s way back into the plan.


In the end, the client added her whole wish list back into the project.

This was all detailed by me in writing with a change order form detailing the costs and additions to the project.

Drawings were resubmitted for approval, and explanations of where the additional charges were added. This was all explained to the client in detail, and was approved by the client and signed off. Now that all of this was approved in the last meeting, the cabinet purchase order was painstakingly reviewed and submitted to the factory for order processing.

After all of this, the client had a change of heart, admits she does not understand why these changes were not included in the original estimate and cannot justify spending the extra money on her wish list items. One aspect of this is that she could be getting more estimates from others who will down play the construction costs, underbid items only to throw change orders at her later, throw doubt into her mind. Someone can always do it cheaper. One thing I know is that I never have to apologize for quality.

Adding more construction and adding more materials costs more. If anything was not included in the original quote, it can not be assumed to be included.

What I know for sure is that my original budget friendly design gave her a great design for the budget. It was a perfectly doable project. It just could not include the fancier details.

The reality is that getting everything on your wish list will cost more.
If you are willing to add more details, be prepared it will cost more.

Managing a client’s expectations is probably the most challenging aspect of my job. Normally, my time with a client during a design meeting and a contract signing is very thorough and can last on average for two hours to make sure both husband and wife are very clear on what they are buying.

In managing your own expectations, write it down exactly what it is you want in your project, convey that to your contractor or designer. Then write down a separate list on what items you are willing to compromise if it won’t work with your budget. There has to be some give and take in what can be accomplished for the money.

In an auto accident, there is no time to think of all the details leading up to the accident. In a construction project, you have the opportunity to review and make sure you are clear about all the details in the project. Don’t rush the details. Read your estimate, read your contract. Have details explained if you don’t understand them. Taking the time now, prevents the problem later of dealing with the disappointment of what you thought was included, when it wasn’t.

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Author:

Laurie Burke, connected to the design and construction industry since 1996. A seasoned residential kitchen and bath design specialist , Laurie has designed thousands of kitchens & baths as well as other cabinetry projects requiring technical precision in design drafting utilizing state of the art 2020 software for creating accurate plans and elevations. Through on- going product knowledge training and a desire to always stay current with an evolving marketplace, Laurie Burke maintains a strong command of knowing the appropriate Fit & Finish materials required for a residential remodel to meet the budget, the timeline of a project and a client's need for a finished product that meets their satisfaction. Kitchen Designer by trade, foodie, techie, weekend traveler for fun. For more information contact me at burkeKBdesign@gmail.com http://laurieburke.houzz.com

8 thoughts on “Verify everything in writing

  1. Oh yes!! I have said for years…managing my client’s expectations is the single most important part of my job! Glad to know others feel the same way! Cheryl

    Like

  2. Oh yes!! I have said for years…managing my client’s expectations is the single most important part of my job! Glad to know others feel the same way! Cheryl

    Like

  3. Yes, disclosure and managing expectations is an ongoing task.

    I can never assume anything. The details cannot be discussed enough. Perception and reality can be two different things.

    Clients see the gorgeous kitchens in magazines and expect to get the same. I wish that these magazines would reveal the actual costs of how much these kitchens can be, so that the dream kitchens had a price tag. Unrealistic budgets can lead to disappointment when the budget does not match the reality of what you get for the money.

    Like

  4. Yes, disclosure and managing expectations is an ongoing task. I can never assume anything. The details cannot be discussed enough. Perception and reality can be two different things. Clients see the gorgeous kitchens in magazines and expect to get the same. I wish that these magazines would reveal the actual costs of how much these kitchens can be, so that the dream kitchens had a price tag. Unrealistic budgets can lead to disappointment when the budget does not match the reality of what you get for the money.

    Like

  5. Great post – this is something that young designers could do really well to take note of. Unless something is in writing, it can not be taken as definite, and is open to dispute. This is true of virtually all business – you have to cover your own back by making sure the client knows exactly what they’re getting!

    Brilliant post, love the blog!

    Like

  6. Great post – this is something that young designers could do really well to take note of. Unless something is in writing, it can not be taken as definite, and is open to dispute. This is true of virtually all business – you have to cover your own back by making sure the client knows exactly what they’re getting!Brilliant post, love the blog!

    Like

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