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Real Estate

Experts: Keep construction addendums in check to ensure home projects stay on time, budget

| Saturday, July 25, 2015, 8:09 p.m.

It's just a piece of paper, often only one sheet, and different companies write it up different ways. Yet when needed, the change order could prove the only thing that stands between you and hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of misunderstanding — or worse, unauthorized work that inflates the price of a project.

This addendum to the original contract ensures the service provider and customer are on the same page and that both sign the dotted line before making any changes to a job in progress.

“You need to have a written record of the project,” says Robert Criner, founder of Criner Remodeling in Newport News, Va. “It keeps the job running smooth, and there aren't any surprises for anybody.” Criner is vice chairman of the NAHB Remodelers, which represents the interests of the National Association of Homebuilders' remodeling industry members.

For a construction or remodeling job — a common place for the change order — it details that project-already-underway switch in tile styles you asked for in the bathroom or outlines additional work a contractor needs to do after finding rot under the floor. The written agreement should communicate changes to job scope, how those changes impact cost, when you're expected to pay (if it adds to the price tag) and any changes to the project completion date, since modifications often push that deadline back, Criner says.

He prefers to call them “change requests” since they're optional. That's another reason to get changes in writing first, experts say, so you can review the details.

Highly rated contractors say most change orders are needed because of customers' suggested tweaks once the project has started. Unforeseen issues can legitimately result in change orders on the contractor's side, too, but experts caution consumers to be wary of an endless stream of paperwork.

“Unfortunately, there are contractors out there that rely on change orders to make their margins,” says Charlie Griffey, owner of Griffey Remodeling in Columbus, Ohio. “When you hear about people low-balling their estimates, it comes down to how detailed is their proposal and scale of work?”

Before approving any project, you should expect a thorough proposal that outlines what you'll see in the space — the new divider wall and paint color — as well as what you won't, such as the pre-formed base put in before a shower install to prevent leaks.

“It's not unusual for us to have a six-page proposal on even a bathroom remodel,” says Griffey, adding that that helps keep change orders to a minimum. “If it's not a detailed proposal or scope of work, there's always going to be change orders.”

In addition, service providers say homeowners should steer clear of making changes late in a project, as they can alter a contractor's schedule on other jobs.

“That can affect the customer and contractor relationship,” says Jason LaPay, president and owner of J&B Affordable Design and Remodeling in New Kensington.

Ultimately, he and others say, good communication nurtures that relationship — in person, and in writing.

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