Managing Your Home Addition

Learn how to make the project go smoothly, from keeping a journal to doing daily walk-throughs

Two men and a woman looking a a blueprint.

Contractor Goes Over Plans

You've hired your team, approved your plans and selected the bulk of your appliances, fixtures and finishes. Now you can just stand back and watch the progress, right? Wrong. Your job will come out best if you're an active participant in the process, keeping regular tabs on the work, catching problems as they happen and making decisions quickly. Here are five rules of thumb for smart project management:

#1 - Establish the Ground Rules. On the very first day of the job, walk through the project with the contractor—and the foreman, if your job will have one. Talk about the details of the job, such as where the dumpster and portapotty will go, what hours the crew will be working, where you'll hide the spare key, and whether smoking is allowed inside the house. This establishes open communication channels, and you should repeat this walk-through at least weekly if not daily throughout the project, says Curt Schultz, a Realtor-architect-builder in Pasadena, Calif.

#2 - Keep Your Eyes Open. Whether or not you're living in the house during construction, you or your spouse need to visit the jobsite each and every day while work is going on. This is your opportunity to get to know the crew a little bit, so learn everyone's names and bring a round of coffee and doughnuts or run out for sandwiches a couple of times to establish good rapport. Compliment the crew for their good work, assuming they deserve it. Also, come back after hours, when nobody is around to look things over closely. Problems caught early are much easier to fix, which is good for everyone. Check model numbers of delivered appliances against the specs in your files. Make sure light switches get installed where they're supposed to go. Measure door and window openings and compare them to the plans.

#3 - Keep a Project Journal. Use a three-ring binder to store documents, such as the contractor's bid and invoices, spec sheets for your appliances and other details you'll want at your fingertips. Also, keep a handwritten journal where you can jot down questions, concerns and thoughts for future conversations with your contractor. This ensures you won't forget anything—and also helps you to gather your (non-emergency) notes into occasional multi-purpose chats or walk-through sessions rather than peppering the contractor with repeated calls. Take notes about those conversations too just in case you ever need to refer back to something that was promised or discussed.

#4 - Phrase Concerns as Questions. Although there's nothing wrong with mentioning little things to the crew on site, any significant issues should get raised with your contractor. And even if something seems terribly wrong, always start by giving him and his crew the benefit of the doubt. This is a matter of tone and language. Just asking questions instead of making statements can go a long way toward seeming less accusatory and can give your contractor the opportunity to clear up what very well might be a minor misunderstanding without ruffling feathers.

#5 - Think Fast. Seeing your addition in real time is totally different than looking at two-dimensional plans. So, as the project takes shape, you're undoubtedly going to want to make changes, perhaps switching the tile here or adding a built-in cabinet there. These can be big decisions, but try to make them in a timely fashion because you can otherwise slow down the project and throw off the contractor's time schedule with his subcontractors.

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