Remodeling Change Orders — The LAST Thing You Want!

Remodeling change orders may be included automatically with low estimates.

Caution: The lowest estimate often comes with change orders.

Remodeling Change Orders. You’re surprised, and feel betrayed.  Just when everything seemed to be going well, your contractor says, “We’ve run into a problem,” or, “If you want it, you’re going to have to pay more.” There are (sometimes) valid reasons for Change Orders, but most of the time, they can be avoided. You do not want to feel like your home is being held hostage. Here are five ways to avoid Change Orders:

How to Avoid Remodeling Change Orders

Remodeling Change Orders during a building or remodeling project should be an exception, not the rule. Here are ways that you can avoid them:

1. ASK QUESTIONS before any  work starts. If you’re getting ready to start a remodeling project, verify the following information with your contractor:

  • Are the existing building components sufficient? Are any upgrades necessary?
    • Foundation and framing
    • Electrical
    • Plumbing
    • Insulation
    • HVAC
    • Exterior fiinishes (i.e., roofing, siding, etc.)
  • Are there problems which need to be addressed before or during the project?
    • Vermin infestation
    • Dry rot
    • Leaks
    • Insufficient framing or structural support
    • Lead paint or pipes
    • Asbestos insulation, tiles, texture, etc.
    • Radon in the soil
  • How much will the upgrades or fixes add to the project?

It’s very important to obtain a written estimate for anything which is outside of the agreed scope of the work. You need to make an informed decision about how you want to proceed. If you decide to include the additional work in your project, the contractor needs to provide you with a written addendum to your contract, or provide you with a new contract which includes the additional work (see guidelines below). Any and all additional work should be covered by the same warranty, unless there’s an agreement for special warranty terms, which should be spelled out in detail, in writing.

2. GET DETAILED PLANS AND SPECIFICATIONS. Plans and specifications should include every decision you make regarding your project. Do not put off making decisions until your project is underway!

The “Might As Well” and “While You’re (I’m) Here” Traps

3. NO CHANGES OR SUBSTITUTIONS BY YOU. Do not make changes to the scope of your project, or substitute products after work has begun. This will definitely open the Remodeling Change Order Door, whether or not it’s justified!

4. NO CHANGES OR SUBSTITUTIONS BY ANYONE ELSE. Do NOT allow anyone to suggest changes to you AFTER work has begun. Unfortunately, this is often used as a way to get more of your money, called “upselling”. Before agreeing to include any changes, get a detail of the change — and the additional charge — in writing (see guidelines below).

5. “FREE” ISN’T FREE. Do not expect contractors to provide free work on other rooms, or work that’s not included in the contract. It’s okay to ask if they’ll include the additional service, as long as you agree in writing how much you’ll be paying, when the additional service will be completed, and whether the additional charge(s) will be added to your contract payments or paid separately. IF Remodeling Change Orders Do Occur, they should be in writing, with the following information:

  • Date of the change order
  • Detailed description of the additional work
    • Who will be doing the work
    • What the work will include
    • What the work will not include
    • When the work will be done
    • Why the additional work is requested or required
    • How many hours it will take to complete the work
    • Whether the additional work is to be included in the contract, or to be paid in addition to the contract separately
    • Special warranty (as agreed)
  • The total of the change order
  • Signature of the person submitting the change order
  • Signature of the homeowner(s)
  • Date of acceptance of the Change Order
  • Sign-off by the contractor (and date) when the Change Order is paid

Keep a copy of the Remodeling Change Order with your contract (and other project-related documents) in a secure file. Years ago, a contractor added $2,500 to a progress payment. When the homeowners asked what it was for, he replied, “It’s for the beam we had to change, remember?” Yes, they remembered, but he forgot that the homeowners had approved and paid a written change order for $1,500, the amount he quoted before he did the required work.

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