Miscommunication can cost you money

There are a few mistakes that we design/builders make on a regular basis. It’s not that we intend to make them; it’s just that in our zeal to accommodate the homeowner we undervalue our services and sometimes even jeopardize our ability to get the job in the first place.

Among the most common mistakes is to leave the homeowner meeting — or any meeting — without a clear understanding of what is going to happen next. Each of your homeowners should know what they are responsible for doing, as well as what the contractor and/or designer is going to do. What comes next should always be definitively and clearly stated.

Another common mistake that designers and builders make is to let themselves become unpaid consultants. For the builder, this can mean giving advice during the initial meeting, before any contract has been struck. The first few meetings with homeowners involves a delicate balance of how much information to provide and what to hold back. The biggest thing to remember is that your expertise and skills are valuable assets that should not be picked apart without due compensation. 

The same holds true for designers and architects. They run the risk of having their intellectual property used without consideration when they leave their sketches behind on the homeowner’s coffee table. While visualization is encouraged when communicating potential design, you do not want to provide enough information for others to finish off your work. 

For example, the designer may jot down a drawing of a potential design for the homeowner. We know that some folks will take that idea and shop it around for other builders who may be “cheaper” than the design/builder. One way to avoid this dilemma without completely abandoning sketching is to use the margins of your meeting agenda or your letterhead for any drawings you make. This will not prevent the homeowner from taking your design elsewhere; however, it does at least put others on notice that it is your work.

Some of the most expensive mistakes that are made by design/builders are assumptions. Even the most basic bit of information should be recorded, measured and transferred so misunderstandings do not get out of hand … and out of pocket. Although you may have done hundreds of similar projects, each homeowner is unique and deserves treatment as such. 

For example, don’t assume that the homeowner wants standard windows. Maybe they have double-hung windows and they want casements. Maybe the kitchen could handle a vaulted ceiling? Just asking the questions helps clarify where the project is going and avoids misunderstandings. Qualify the “No’s” and always write them down so you have a reference of when decisions are made and by whom.

The worst mistakes we make are the ones that cost us money and business. Verification and clarity of intent may seem like basic concepts, but in the day-to-day business operations they can slip down on our priority list. By consistently using the same operating procedures for all projects, we can reduce the risk of making costly mistakes. This means all team members should be adhering to the same methods of recording project information. 

All it takes to fall into the miscommunication abyss is for one well-intentioned carpenter to OK a homeowner request without consulting with the boss. Remember, keeping the details in mind (and on paper) can help us avoid costly miscommunications.