Building Bridges: Tips for Communicating Effectively with Your Builder

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Introduction

Setting out on a quality home-building project is an amazing adventure, but it is also a difficult one. So much can go wrong that the stakes seem both much higher and much more personal than those of, say, a large public building project. And in my opinion, the single most important factor in achieving a successful outcome is your relationship with your contractor. 

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Everything else being equal, the client whose “communications path” is clear—not just from the start, but throughout the entire project—will have the fewest number of problems.

Why Communication is Key in Quality Home Construction

The core of a successful home construction project is effective communication between the homeowner and the builder. When we talk about communication, we mean not only the words that we speak but also the actions that we take, the willingness to listen, and the ability to understand — in other words, the way we perceive and interact with one another. Homeowners should work with builders to ensure they are on the same page right from the start by openly discussing their vision, the budget and timeline they have in mind, and the specific expectations they have for the project. But why is this so important? Because when expectations are not aligned, something often goes wrong in the construction process. And when that happens, it’s bad for everyone: the builder and the homeowner and, by extension, the paying homeowner and the next homeowner, too.

Tips for Effective Communication with Your Builder

  • It’s a good idea to start communicating with your builder even while you’re still in the planning phase. At that point, it’s pretty hard to communicate “too much.” Your builder needs to understand both your goals and what you have in mind for aesthetic appeal. They can, in turn, help you here by showing you examples of what they’ve done in the past that might be similar to what you’re aiming for. What is really great about a collaborative project like this is when the client or future homeowners bring the builder something unexpected.
  • Make sure to be clear and precise in your communication. Stay away from overly general language and provide all the specifications you can. Elaborate on your design preferences. Don’t just say, “I prefer traditional finishes”; say, “I would like cherry wood with a medium brown stain and some decorative distressing.” Use colors, design details, and descriptive nouns and adjectives to build a clear picture so that when the person you’re communicating with hears or reads your words, they can’t envision anything else.
  • There is an old saying that claims “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
  • The clear interpretation is that a verbal description pales in comparison to an accurate illustration. When building a custom home, I take every opportunity to show my builders the exact images that I want burned into their minds. I want the images of my home to seemingly rise like zombies from the murky swamp of the builder’s imagination and come to life with the accuracy of a Seurat painting.
  • Keep a record of everything. Make sure you’re recording the specifics of every conversation—between you and your builder, and between your builder and anyone else. Record every single decision and agreement in clear and unambiguous language. And when we say “record everything,” we mean take notes on everything.
  • Create a Clear Line of Communication: Arrange consistent sessions or points of contact with your builder to talk about how things are going, any problems that have arisen, and anything else that may have changed in your absence—a project update or change order, for example.
  • Ensure Respect and Professionalism: Keep a good and respectful manner in your interactions with your contractor and their workers. Maintain a positive but assertive attitude toward them, especially if any problems arise. Remember, the two of you are trying to complete a difficult and time-consuming task (your renovation) in a friendly manner.
  • Don’t hesitate to inquire. If something is unclear, it’s best to seek clarification rather than suffer the consequences of not knowing.
  • Construction projects often present challenges that catch the team off guard. When these appear, it’s necessary not only to be flexible but adaptable, too. After all, one rarely copes by being rigid when dealing with unexpected developments.
  • Swiftly address worries. Promptly make certain to address any concerns you may have about the work being done. Don’t put off taking the matter up with your builder.
  • It’s essential to maintain a positive, collaborative atmosphere throughout your project, and one great way to do that is to acknowledge and celebrate the milestones along the way—usually at some sort of team meeting—where you can reward the people who have helped you hit those milestones.

Additional Tips for Effective Communication

  • Making Use of Technology Using project management software, online collaboration tools, or basic means like email and text messages can make it much easier to stay in touch with your builder during a construction project.
  • Pay Close Attention Be sure to listen attentively to what your builder has to say. Don’t just hear the words; pay attention to the tone and body language, too. Try to be open to their suggestions and expertise; remember, you’ve hired them for a reason.
  • Trust Your Gut Instinct Many people say they can’t hear their instincts speaking to them. But if you do feel uncomfortable or harbor doubts about the way your builder is communicating—or lack thereof—don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion.

Conclusion

The most essential aspect of a good, favorable home building experience is effective communication. Following are several means of attaining and maintaining good communication between the owner and the builder. Open and honest communication is the key. Both parties need to participate fully in the process, and that means everyone on both sides must be proactive. It is a way for the builder and the owner to establish a relationship based on trust and to establish the owner’s expectations upfront. By speaking explicitly and clearly and by inviting communication both ways, the owner can help assure the best possible result.

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