Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

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Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

by Samantha Sannella

The first step in any good partnership is to select at least three contractors/suppliers who can meet your requirements based on several criteria, including:

  • They should have relevant experience and expertise in what you are trying to accomplish so look for a portfolio of projects. Good vendors can provide photos and reference letters. Also check to see if they are licensed and insured and if they use certified products and installation methodologies.
  • They should have a process in place that you can understand and follow. If you are unfamiliar with their technical terms, ask them to explain or use the power of the internet to educate yourself.
  • They should be able to provide references for successful projects that are similar to your own. Keep in mind that it is nice to hear good things about the contractor, but always ask where mistakes were made and how they rectified them. How your vendor resolves issues is an important part of the relationship. Customer service is key.
  • The lowest price isn’t necessarily the one that you should choose. Consider a cost benefit analysis to weigh the cost of the project against the potential quality outcome. My motto is, “The bitter taste of poor quality remains much longer than the sweet taste of a low price.”

Define the Commitments

You should receive a project plan that defines the scope, estimate and schedule for their work. You also need to come to a mutual agreement as to what each side will deliver to the other. You will increase your project’s chance of success by defining your commitments and the contractor’s commitments.

Ask for a written estimate of all materials and labour up front before any agreement is in place. This should be delineated by phase. For example, I have seen many estimates where the contractor or vendor quotes a lump sum for the bottom line without providing the details. If a contractor cannot provide details in a written format, you are increasing your risk that something will go awry.

Maintain Consistent Communication

Do not get caught waiting for a “magical result” several weeks or months in the future. Instead, actively communicate and work with your contractor through reports and inspections of the work completed.

To manage the contractor, you need to maintain contact with them. Demand regular status reports or meetings that describe their accomplishments to date, what work is still in progress, and what has not been started. These should be measured in work hours, days or weeks, something that you can convert into a dollar amount. Do not accept percentages as units of measurement. A project can be 90 per cent done for months or even years. I know many people who have jobs that stopped at 90 percent.

Final Inspection

Final inspection is an important part of the job. When negotiating the contract, always hold back 10 or 15 per cent of the total cost until the job is 100 per cent complete. This will provide incentive for the vendor to finish all the work in a manner satisfactory to the owner.

Professional architects and interior designers inspect the contractor’s work in a formal process called a deficiency list or punch list and are responsible for approving invoices to the clients as work progresses. It’s a tedious but useful process as you make a list of all deficiencies — it requires a keen visual inspection to note even the smallest details, such as a crooked light switch plate on a northwest wall, or the lack of caulking at the corner of a sink.

Your goal should be to obtain the best possible quality construction for the most reasonable price. At the completion of a satisfactory job, you should offer the vendor the ability to photograph the work as well as offer them a letter of reference for their file.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.


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