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Remember that old game in elementary school:  broken telephone?  The teacher would whisper a word into the first person’s ear.  As the group sat in a circle, each person would then whisper it into the next person’s ear.  Finally, the word had passed full circle, and the last person had to say what they heard.  What may have started out as “school,” might become “mule,” or “table” might become “maybe.”  That silly game had far more relevance to real-world communication than any of us ever realized.

Sometimes, a renovation project is a great example of a real-world broken telephone game!  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  So, first things first:  no one can read your mind.  Whatever you think is “obvious,” your contractor has probably seen 5 different people want done in 5 different ways.

Ok, so with that in mind (pun intended), how can you best communicate with the trades who are working on your house or rental property?  Here’s our Top 6 tips.

  1. Keep it short. They don’t need the whole big story, and probably don’t have time for that these days.
  2. Write it down, somewhere that a tradesperson can refer to it tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. Text, email, white board.
  3. The more organized you can be, the better. For example, one list of plumbing fixtures is better than 10 separate emails for each item.
  4. Be specific: the main bath gets the 8” square tile on the floor, but the ensuite gets the 6” hexagon tile for that floor.  Reminders are ok.
  5. Ask questions. Assume nothing.
  6. Be clear about any timing issues. For example, “the ceiling needs to be completed before the flooring guy will come in.  Can you get it done in 2 weeks?”

One extra note.  If you hire a general contractor, let him/her do their job.  They should be in charge of the trades.  You, as the homeowner or investor, should be communicating directly with the contractor.  At the very least, make sure the contractor is cc’d on all communications with a specific supplier or tradesperson.  There is ideally a “chain of command” on a jobsite with a contractor.  He/she will probably be the only one who knows which trade is lined up in which order, and which product is currently delayed.  Just because a drywaller says “yes, no problem, the plumber can come tomorrow, I’ll be done,” doesn’t mean that the plumber can magically appear—or worse, that all the plumbing fixtures have arrived into this city.  Also, anything that involves the final invoice, especially change orders, needs to go through the contractor.  Typically, the subtrades do NOT have the authority to approve changes in prices or scope of work.  Unless, of course, you are acting as the project manager for your job site.

If you hired a contractor and a designer, then you will need to double check – A LOT!  The designer should be in charge of picking all the pretty stuff, maybe even sourcing it—unless you hire a designer who is also a project manager (those are rare).  A designer may provide some drawings, and might even work directly with a cabinet maker or other specialty.  Designers can add tremendous value to larger projects – but each person in the mix also adds another potential for miscommunication.  The contractor will be on site:  valiantly attempting to turn the vision into reality!  May I just say that pictures are a fabulous way to communicate the ideas in your head?!!  Colours help too.

Back to the worker bees on site.  Being polite, friendly and asking questions goes a long way these days.  All of the trades already know that you hate the dust, noise and strangers in your house or property.  Pretty much everyone does.  When we respect our trades for the job they were hired to do, it goes a long way!  And fyi, the cleaner isn’t coming until the end—although most people will prefer to do their own cleaning.   A tidy job site is ideal; a clean construction zone is unlikely.  If your busy schedule allows for coffees in winter, and cool beverages in summer—that’s just a bonus.  This little $5 gesture shows that you recognize that working in extreme heat or cold isn’t the most enjoyable thing.

If you’re still reading, then it’s time for an insider tip.  That expert from last year (roofer, tiler, electrician, framer, etc…) is always worth calling again.  But this is business.  Sometimes tradespeople fall off the wagon (aka resume a substance abuse problem).  Sometimes they get divorced, or lose someone close to them.  Sometimes they develop physical or mental health issues that were not apparent in 2020, or 2021.  As a business we are always friendly with our tradespeople, but if they are not or cannot perform to a certain standard, they might need to be removed from a jobsite.  Usually, a contractor will be aware of the drama long before the investor or homeowner; but if you are the project manager, you may need to release a tradesperson from time to time.  And if you see something concerning EVER, please let your general contractor know.  I think we have all worked with people who do a Jekyll and Hyde routine, depending on if the boss is around or not.  Safety and quality are a high priority on any job site; timely communications around these topics are usually much appreciated.

Miscommunication can be frustrating, but it can also be expensive.  Ensuring that your ideas are communicated clearly is everyone’s job, and it’s not always an easy one!  When in doubt, clarify, validate and triple check!