It was 1999 when the reality that homeowners don’t look at their own homes was illustrated to me in a potential dispute with a client.
The crew had just finished the roof on the small townhome and were sweeping off the loose shingle granules and cleaning up. I had arrived to ensure the client was satisfied and to collect the final payment.
“How do you like the way the new roof looks, ma’am?” I asked.
“Well it looks real nice, but you guys messed up one piece.” She replied.
Surprised, I queried, “What piece is that?” as I walked backwards into the street to get a better view of the front of the townhome.
She followed me into the street and pointed to the roof, “that part right there. It’s all crooked. It was NOT like that before, so YOU guys did it.”
It was then that I realized something, but rather than react I wanted to be clear about what exactly she was referring to. So I called up to the foreman on the roof, Adrian Banks. “Adrian, would you walk over and point to the flashing on the firewall for me?”
Adrian looked at me quizzically. I knew what he was thinking but I didn’t want him to let the cat out of the bag by saying anything.
“Just humor me for a second!” I yelled up to him, smiling (to put him at ease that I wasn’t accusing him of anything).
Adrian did just that and walked over and pointed to the flashing on the firewall.
“Ma’am, is what Adrian’s pointing to what you’re concerned about not being the same as it was before we started the roof?”
“Yes,” she said, “it’s all crooked now and I know it wasn’t like that before!”
As gently as I could, so as not to hurt her feelings, I explained, “Well, ma’am, that’s not your roof. That’s your neighbor’s roof. We didn’t work on your neighbor’s roof. This is your roof over here where the guys are cleaning up.”
She was embarrassed, there was no way around that part as she admitted, “Well, I guess it was like that before, then.”
I had one thing in my favor during this exchange. It’s an ugly truth that contractors know about your home that you may not believe. The truth is that you rarely spend much time looking at the outside of your home…or even the inside for that matter. We are so familiar with the homes we live in we do not look at them with a discriminating eye, we do not see how they’ve weathered or aged over the years. We do not see where the maintenance is needed.
So, when a third party is invited to come and inspect or to give an estimate of repairs or a proposal for improvements, what they see as a contractor may be very different than what we see. The low cost of modern digital photography has all but eliminated the disputes contractors used to have with owners about “how it was before,” as contractors can take many documentation photos for no cost before the job is ever started.
I often share my pictures that I’ve taken of the client’s home with them in our discussion of what needs to be done on the property. All too often they are shocked at the things that I am showing them even though I can walk them right to the area and show them in person. I’ve had several occasions where the homeowner didn’t realize I was showing them pictures of their house! This speaks directly to the fact that we are so familiar with our own homes, living there day after day, that we don’t SEE the reality of what is actually going on right under our noses as they age and wear.
The bigger issue that arises from this fact however is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations lead to friction and trouble. If the owner is contracting a project with an inaccurate view of the current condition of the property, it may be possible that their expectations of the finished project may be inaccurate. This is one of the reasons that it is so critical for the contractor to take the time to write a detailed scope of work in their agreement and discuss it with the owner to ensure that the picture in the contractor’s head is the same as the picture in the owner’s head of what is included in the agreement and almost as important, what is NOT included