Small Job, Smart Practice: Pre-Construction Meetings for Exterior Contractors

Is it worth the time and trouble to hold a pre-construction meeting on small jobs? You bet. Here's why.

February 23, 2015

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Design/build contractors know all about a pre-construction meeting. Where would they be without that? Design (or sales), production, and sometimes even the company owner, sit with the client a short time before building starts and run through selections and specifications, the schedule and scope, and all the small details (Dumpster and port-a-potty placement, etc.). Without a common understanding and agreement on these, anything gone awry could turn the homeowner’s excitement into irritability.

But what about contractors who work on the outside of the home? In that business—roofing, siding, windows, decks—the pre-construction meeting is far from standard. Much more typically, once the contract has been signed, home improvement companies alert homeowners with a text or phone call to let them know when the crew is arriving. The check is collected. End of story.

Exceptions to the Rule

If exterior contractors don’t bother with a pre-construction meeting it’s because jobs are small—typically less than $15,000—and fast (a matter of days, or sometimes only one day). In addition, crews are usually not inside the house (exception: windows). But exterior companies that have built that extra step into their process, complete with checklists and signoff, find that it more than pays for itself.

In keeping with the comparative simplicity of a window or roofing job, with a short list of components, the pre-construction meeting is usually a simple get-together that includes the homeowner and whoever in production is overseeing the job to run through 1) staging, specifications, and scope of work, 2) what will happen when production starts, and 3) measures that homeowners (and the crew) need to take to remove any obstacles to a seamless install.

For instance, standard operating procedure at Fick Bros. Roofing & Exterior Remodeling Co., a Baltimore company in business for 60 years, has a foreman meeting with the homeowner two to three days before tear-off. “The pre-construction meeting is designed to have your project run smoothly and completed on schedule and within budget,” is how the company explains it in its "Before Installation" brochure, which is mailed out and also dispatched as a PDF attachment via e-mail.

At that meeting, the foreman spends up to an hour running through a pre-construction meeting checklist of 30 items, one of four separate company-generated, customer-signed documents that go in the job folder. That, says Jeffrey Fick, the company’s vice president of marketing and sales, ensures homeowners know what kind of roof they’re getting and are aware of the noise and inconvenience that may result. The homeowner acknowledges that understanding with a signature. This way mistakes—in ordering, scope of work, or just a contract typo—get caught up front. Fick says experience teaches that “it’s a lot harder to explain a mistake to the customer when half the windows are torn out or the roof’s off.”

Mistakes, Misunderstandings, and Confusion

At Fick Bros., pre-construction is the job foreman’s responsibility. At Energy Swing Windows & Doors, in Murrysville, Pa., scheduling that meeting falls to production manager Jeff Blank, who makes it part of a re-measure call—going over openings and inspecting the site after contract signing. He carefully verifies the order with sales reps, then meets with homeowners to go over the products, how they’ll be installed, and what a typical day is like during the installation.

The meeting serves several purposes. “When Jeff goes out,” president Steve Rennekamp says, “we’re establishing the fact that we’re looking out for [the homeowner’s] interests. It gives us a whole lot of trust and credibility. You’re building a relationship and a reputation. And it eliminates mistakes, misunderstandings, and confusion.”

Driving With Your Eyes Closed

One of the biggest misunderstandings that can arise takes place when salespeople promise customers something—removing and replacing rotted wood around a windowsill, for instance—then fail to price it out or include it in the scope of work. Add to that the fact that homeowners often talk with more than one contractor for a roofing, siding, or window job, and the promises and suggestions of all those contractors become part of what they think might or will happen.

The pre-construction meeting both clarifies for production exactly what will happen on the job and sets that expectation for the homeowner, says Charles Gindele, president of Renewal by Andersen of Orange County, where pre-construction meetings have been a standard since, many years ago, a company crew replaced a roof at the wrong address.

“I couldn’t imagine doing without it,” Gindele says. “Not having a pre-construction meeting would be like driving with your eyes closed. Or contracting with your eyes closed.”

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