We’ve been building decks and porches in North Georgia now for more than 20 years and have seen so many changes over the years. I honestly can’t imagine starting the business again today in this now tighter legal environment. It was so much simpler back when we started. Even in the metro Atlanta area, few contractors needed to get building permits to work. Further, contracts (with homeowners) were a rather new and novel idea.
That’s not true today. Building permits and contracts are requirements…both legally or by necessity. Because Tailor Decks has always strived to do jobs ‘right’, I long considered the legal side as another annoying ‘to-do’. But I’ve come to better understand and appreciate the purpose of these things. They’re to protect everyone involved – the homeowner, the contractor, and the municipality. When differences of opinion happen, permits and contracts serve to guide the relationships to successful completion. Again, since we have always considered good communication to be paramount, fortunately we haven’t run into legal issues much.
Whereas permits and contracts used to take up a small amount of our time years ago (up to 5% at most), today we have to manage the processes so that they don’t exceed 15% or more. This time not only includes paperwork, but the driving back and forth to local permit offices, etc. Over the years, it has become a habit and is ok, but we would rather be spending time on the finished product over the legal considerations.
I must admit that I used to think little of contracts, but today consider them to be an important part of the relationship. A contract outlines the scope of work to be performed by the contractor and what the contractor expects from the purchaser. When I meet with the purchaser, there are so many different items discussed along with so many options, that they simply must be put to paper and agreed to. In this way, a contract acts as a guide. Further, the more descriptive contracts are, the smoother I’ve found that the projects run (similar to good communication in general). If a disagreement were to arise, then the contract is always there to fall back onto.
Our contract today is about 8 pages long and pretty descriptive. It outlines the scope of work, the warranty, and addresses all unexpected items that may come up, along with the cost involved and payment schedule. I still find myself adding items to our contract today as I learn from project to project. When talking to some fellow deck contractors recently who have been in the construction industry longer then I have, they all seemed to believe that the longer a contract is, the more the purchaser perceives the builder to be professional. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that making sure that both sides communicate via paperwork with some detail is important.