Write out all change orders!

Beware of word-of-mouth changes in a construction contract! A construction contract, even on a remodeling job, is based on plans and specifications that were prepared by a design office. It violates the contract agreement for anyone to amend it without the written authorization of the owner.

Simply, oral changes are the gentle bulls of the building business which can turn out to be mean ones.

A written change order, including a construction-timed exemption, is a sure protection to everyone involved on the job.

Expertly prepared plans and specifications minimize a need for changes during construction. Still, many owners may want to make changes, additions, or deletions during the construction phase.

Further, the architect, or even the builder himself, may also suggest changes as the work goes on -- changes that could be an advantage to the owner in form, function, or economy. The building inspector, too, may insist on changes to bring a project in conformity with existing codes or local ordinances.

Whether triggered by the owner, architect, builder, or inspector, all changes to the approved plans and specifications should be in writing to as to avoid any misunderstandings and legal pitfalls in the future.

It is easy for an owner to agree with, or ask for, a change in the work on the spot. the unsuspecting owner and the naive builder then proceed with the oral changes and perhaps a dozen or two other revisions in the project. Later, the owner discovers that these oral changes have accumulated into substantial extra charges from the builder.

The confrontation then becomes a financial shock to the owner who is asked to pay for the changes of time and material.

Alas, if only those changes had first been priced out and then authorized in writing.

A small change of itself may be inconsequential, but it can, and often does, upset another portion of the work in a major way.

Signed change orders which have been priced out befrem the work begins are especially important in remodeling. Invisible conditions, perhaps hidden in the existing structure, will surely surface. These additions or changes must be resolved before the work is done in order to preserve a good working relationship among the principals, not to mention the impact of any change in the cost of the project.

Owners should expect the remodeling job to cost more than the original estimate, anyhow. It is not unusual for reconstruction to cost at least half as much again, or even double, the original estimate.

The contractor prices the extra time and materials of the change. The architect prepares the change-order from for the owner's approval or rejection. It's that simple. Of course, if the change is required by code or by structural , mechanical, or electrical necessities, the owner may have to authorize the change whether he likes it or not.

Minor changes which involve neither cost nor credit should also be authorized in writing. Even small revisions in a project, if unsigned, can place an owner on the horns of an unsuspected dilemma later on.

If a contractor is naive enough to accept an oral change in a project, then you, the owner, must insist on reducing it to writing -- not only for your own protection, but for his as well.

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