Top 5 Reasons for Residential Construction Delays
People searching for general contractors should understand that not all construction management was created equal. With the hectic pace at which homes are selling, production home builders and even some custom home builders often resort to filling positions based on need, as opposed to qualification. Many builders want to start managers at lower salaries in order to control costs and increase profits, which compounds the issue, due to a severe lack of highly experienced, competent construction management available. Many “Project Managers”, or “Superintendents”, simply are not qualified to be doing what they have been hired to do. The builders know this too, but their need and unwillingness to “pay up” to get qualified help result in hiring people that may be able to talk the talk, while painfully stumbling through an attempt to walk the walk. You will commonly find former building inspectors, flooring salesmen, window installers, framers, and other tradesmen of various backgrounds, along with former contractors, and even general contractors in these positions. Some of those may sound fine on the surface and are not the problem per se, however, it is important to ask whether they have ever been successful in their former roles. Have they ever run a business or contracting company? Or did they just clock in and only have to worry about a few remedial tasks each day to collect a check? If they did run a business, was it successful? If they were a building official in a former life, were they highly regarded within their former department? In many cases, the answers to these questions are not what a client would like to hear, and before you know it, their “Project Manager” or “Superintendent”, is backtracking and making excuses for miscommunications, oversights, and errors that are causing significant delays, which often come with additional costs. The builders simply take the angry phone calls and turn the page while they sign contracts as fast as they can to overcome the bleeding expenses of stalled projects, replacing materials, poor quality, and angry homeowners. Those issues are just the cost of doing business, in many homebuilders’ minds, while their clients pay the price.
People looking for home builders should inquire as to how many projects their site manager will have on their plate as well. Many production home builders will pile 15-16 projects on each manager, compounding the problem 10 fold. Underqualified managers don’t always know a problem when they see one. They also can’t see 2,3,4,10 steps down the road to head off problems before they have an effect on the schedule. Then you add an overly heavy workload, and even the smallest of problems go unchecked, as the manager simply can’t get to all their sites each week. These problems result in materials being delivered in unacceptable locations. Material deliveries that are incomplete, or incorrect, only to be found, and sometimes incorrectly installed by a subcontractor who showed up to work, and made assumptions based on the lack of direction. Other issues include orders not be placed with the lead times taken into proper consideration, work being ordered when the job isn’t ready, dry runs, resulting in extra trip charges from subcontractors, and extra frustration for the homeowners who simply watch the miscommunications and errors pile up around their site.
Good, quality, construction management requires more than competitive compensation. Quality custom home builders know that the cost of doing business is not a failure while trying to cover the losses with more and more projects. It’s paying at the top of the market, creating a positive working environment with all the resources available, and controlling the workload on its employees. That is the cost of doing business for the high-end custom home builder that customers are looking for today.
This issue often ties right back into problem #1, but is not limited to just construction managers. Miscommunications can come from any direction in production home building, as well as custom home building. It can often begin in sales, where, if a client neglects to ask all the questions, a less than scrupulous salesman can knowingly let a customer believe they are getting things that they are not, just by guiding the conversations in a direction that allows for assumptions, in order to get contracts signed as fast as possible.
It is imperative that people searching for custom home builders DO THEIR HOMEWORK! Be specific. Find out exactly what is included, and what is not. What does this have to do with the schedule? Everything. If a homebuilder’s client believes that the price they were quoted comes with a back porch, but it doesn’t end up in the contract, guess what? They don’t get a porch, without a change order, and additional costs. Regardless of any verbal conversations, or “handshake” deals, they may have made with the salesman. Many home builders advertise custom homes on their website, but do not include things like painting, porches and patios, Jobsite cleanup, heating the home, appliances, even something as simple as a step from the garage into the house, is NOT INCLUDED. Finding these things out after contracts are signed is common, and a huge source of frustration, and delay, while the client, and contractor try to figure out what to do about these missing items.
Poor communication or incorrect assessment of a situation from underqualified, overworked management will add to any issues coming out of the sales department, and create delays that can add weeks, and even months, to already longer than usual building timelines. Honest mistakes can happen in any company, and properly trained staff can identify, and effectively communicate to the necessary parties what the best options are, and how to go about finding a solution that mitigates any impacts on the schedule. Keeping subcontractors, homeowners, vendors, and senior management apprised of the situation at all times allow for the best possible outcomes in custom home building schedules.
Custom home builders and buyers know the housing market in the Pacific Northwest today is as busy as its ever been. Subcontractors have more work than they can handle, and less talent to draw from than ever. There has been a shortage of skilled labor in the custom home building industry for years, as young people have steered away from the trades, and towards more white-collar careers. This has put a strain on custom home builders, and our timelines. Getting into a subcontractor’s schedule is not easy these days. You have to earn their respect, and trust, along with throwing in a few pizzas for work well done, from time to time. Lead times for scheduling a subcontractor usually range from 6 to 8 weeks out. Failing to meet, or keep those schedules often ends up with days or weeks of delays, at each failure. On the other hand, even the most accomplished, prepared, and competent construction manager will face delays without much warning at times, and all that can be done is to adjust, and adapt to the new reality of the schedule as fast as possible.
A quality construction manager will acquire the information, process it, and disseminate it to all the affected parties immediately, in order to avoid as much damage to the schedule as possible. It is not uncommon for even the best custom home builders to show up to a site, only to find that a subcontractor has not started, or is not finished, as scheduled.
The subcontractors are often “tagging” several jobs at once, working for a day or part of a day at one site, then moving to another, in an attempt to keep several general contractors happy at the same time. These tactics can be frustrating, but quality custom homebuilders can, at times overcome this by ensuring that their schedules are solid and that the pay is fair, and on time, along with a little pizza sometimes.
Lesser home builders exacerbate the situation by holding down prices, paying less for work, and being unable to effectively manage their schedules, which causes problems for the subcontractor, and by proxy, the other general contractors that the subcontractor works for. It is for this reason that quality custom homebuilders shouldn’t use the same subcontractors that production home builders use, if possible. They can’t keep their houses in order, and it spills over into the neighbor’s yard because of it.
Material shortages and manufacturing delays in the Pacific Northwest homebuilding industry have never been more common than they are right now. Covid 19 lockdowns, international instability, fuel cost increases, forest fires, and even beetles have all combined to create a perfect storm of not only cost increases, but also flat out shortages, and delays. These delays and shortages do not discriminate between top-rated home builders and the run-of-the-mill production builder. However, a top-rated, high-end custom home builder handles these challenges much more efficiently, mitigating their effects, as much as possible.
A top-rated home builder understands that flexibility is king, in this market, and as such, has the financial flexibility built into their contracts, as well as daily communication with vendors, in order to provide options for their clients, instead of devastating delays, and budgetary destruction. As needed, the construction management team of a top-rated custom home builder provides the client with their options, any associated cost differences, and lays out the effects to the timeline (if any), of each of those options to the client, so they may make the best possible decision for their custom home building project. Knowledge of options, and the ability to procure those items with minimal impact on the schedule, and the budget are the only defense a top-rated builder has against a market riddled with material shortages and manufacturing delays.
Most homebuyers expect a top-rated custom home builder to provide them with a custom home that is turn-key, and move-in ready. When interviewing homebuilders, homebuyers should make sure that everything they expect, is included in the price, and contract that they are considering in order to avoid changing orders. Change orders are additions, or changes to the original plan, and contract, and can result in exorbitant cost increases, along with significant delays. The closer a project can stay to what is originally planned, the better. Quality custom home builders are better equipped to handle these challenges, as their clients’ demands are often greater than production homebuilders’ customer’s demands. It is not uncommon for a custom homebuyer to decide to change lighting locations, or even extend a patio cover, add a sidewalk, or a myriad of other things midstream of a home building project. Although material changes or structural changes should be avoided at all costs, some high-end custom home customers just want what they want, and are not concerned about the costs, or delays. It is much easier for a custom home builder to deal with this, based on the flexibility that they are used to having to provide for their homebuyers.
If timeline and budget are important to the homebuyer, then change orders should be avoided, and contracts should be complete with everything they need to be included. The homebuyer needs to vet the home builder extensively by getting line-by-line descriptions of what they are getting, including sizes, colors, make, model, brands, etc., and what they are not getting, as in job site cleanup, porches, patios, steps, decks, and the like, so they can have them included in the contract, see the price, and not have any surprises causing delays and frustration later on.
By following these tips, you can help ensure that your new construction project stays on track, and on budget. Working with a reputable contractor, and being prepared for surprises will go a long way in ensuring a successful project.
Go team Diggs!
-Contributions by Kevin McSherry