The Homeowner Notebook

In the design and planning phases for most projects, you are typically involved in a series of meetings with your clients. To make sure communications are clear, I recommend the homeowner notebook.

The homeowner notebook helps you achieve clearer communication with your customer by maximizing their involvement. It provides them with documentation for the entire process. With the homeowner notebook, they will have a written record of every decision and expense. This will settle many arguments before they start and give your clients an amazing peace of mind. When questions or issues arise, they know that there is one place to which they can turn that has every name, every phone number, every expense, and every communication related to their project laid out chronologically.

Provide your clients with a nice three-ring binder with dividers that create eight sections for these various documents. They may end up creating other sections for their own convenience, but they will probably need the following:

  1. Planning/design meeting minutes or summaries: Take notes during each of your planning meetings. At the end of each meeting, have them review these notes with you to ensure that you both agree what’s to happen next and who’s responsible for what. Make notes on carbonless memo forms — found at most stationery or office supply stores — and give them a copy.
  2. Preliminary estimates: In my years as a remodeler, I’ve found that as plans evolve beyond the preliminary estimate toward a final design, less involved clients tend to fixate on the initial preliminary estimate because it was usually lower in cost. Though they’ve added features and amenities during the design process, they remember the initial estimate because they want to remember it. If your clients have your preliminary estimates in their notebook, along with revisions, they’ll always be able to see what was added to raise the price. As a result, the cost issue stays impersonal — as it must.
  3. Preliminary design schedules: This section will contain the evolving record of agreements and milestones related to the design process. It can document responsibilities and commitments for getting things done as well as decision deadlines.
  4. A signed copy of the construction contract: This section should contain every part of your contract with the homeowner including proposal, general conditions, specifications and construction schedule.
  5. Progress meeting summaries: As with your initial planning meetings, take notes at every progress meeting after the project begins and provide the homeowner with a copy.
  6. Change orders: Because change orders are so important and potentially controversial, they should be documented separately in this section. Make sure everything is dated and there is consensus over what has been ordered. Make sure you and your clients have identical copies of change orders, detailing what work is being done and what it will cost.
  7. Home construction and product warranties: Make sure you make copies of all warranties applicable to your project. Review them all with your client before the project is finished.
  8. Miscellaneous documents and pictures: Supply a section for information that doesn’t fall into the other sections. A nice addition to add here is digital pictures that you have taken during the course of their project. This provides your clients with a nice visual diary of their project on a weekly basis.

This notebook will keep communication clear and cause you and your clients to deal with potential issues before they become a source of disagreement. Done properly and carefully, weekly meeting notes are a great tool to document progress and assign responsibility. Develop the practice of providing homeowners with short letters summarizing the events of every meeting, and any discrepancy or omission can be dealt with immediately. As a result, upsets will virtually disappear from your business.

One final point, when the job is all finished and everyone has gone, this notebook will become a construction diary that your clients can revisit. Every time your clients see this notebook, they will think of you. If placed in a decorative leather notebook, this becomes a memento of a well-executed experience.