The Art of the Punch List

Yesterday I had a phone call from my mother.

This isn’t irregular as we’re known to talk to each other every other day.

I can’t help it.  When she calls….

You answer. Sometimes.

Anyway, she’s in the process of cleaning up what is left of my grandparent’s estate in order to put the house on the market.  New paint, new carpet, and a few other miscellany in order to make the house more presentable.  Honestly I’d rather it have been a gut remodel and a new blog post called #ProjectVerdant but the goal is to move the house, not play Jeff Lewis and go all hog wild.

The premise behind the phone call was that the selected contractor has been less than capable with regards to his finishing skills and she needed to vent a little.  Not like I haven’t heard these vents before, though usually it is me doing the venting.  Needless to say I gave her a few tips for handling the close out and thought I’d share my tips for a successful punch list with you dear readers.

Be prepared because I’m kinda blunt. But you already knew that.

1. “Punch List” is not code word for “Beat the hell out of the contractor”.  Not every task is the result of being lazy or being less than capable.  Sometimes other trades get in the way.  Sometimes things get overlooked.  Sometimes it’s the end of the day and a 12 hours on a summer construction site means he just wants a beer.  Either way, start from neutral.

2. Ask Questions DURING Construction.  If something doesn’t look right – say a receptacle is too far to one side – ask.  It is easier to fix something while the trades are on site rather than after the fact.  Side note: This goes for changes in the field as well.  If you’re contemplating moving a light fixture or adding a receptacle, tell us designers when the mood strikes rather than later.  I can make your change orders feel better if I don’t have to call the electrician out a second time.

3. Blue Painter’s Tape.  Take a walk through the project after the trades have left and use your tape liberally.  Mars in paint, issues with texture, hardware upside down.  Mark it. For some reason, the mark of the Blue Painter’s Tape has become the international code for “problem here”.

4. Make a List (and yes, check it twice!). Normally your designer is doing this but if you’re handling your own remodel, a very detailed list goes a very long way.  Be as specific as possible.  Ie: “Closet door handles mounted upside down”, “peeling paint at windowsill in master bedroom”, or my new personal favorite “painter sprayed over cobwebs in living room”.  Provide a resolution where possible. I understand you may not know what the resolution might not be but note your expectations.  There is nothing worse than two parties with two different sets of expectations.

5. Check your Attitude. I know, blunt right?  But seriously, the punch list is not the time for name calling or just being overall rude.  Manners count.  Say please, thank you.  Watch your body language. Put your contractor at ease rather than making him take the defensive.

6. Set a Timeframe for Completion.  Again, expectations are key.  But make it a discussion.  It’s quite often that your contractor is juggling other projects and as much as he’s going to try to make you his most important client, he has to make the other clients feel the same way.  Is it imperative that the outlet cover be installed no later than tomorrow or can it wait until week’s end?  Make a date for a final walk through and stick to it.

7. Don’t Step on Your Designer’s Toes.  If you’re working with a designer or architect, let them take the upper hand.  Communicate your concerns to your designer first before jumping the gun.  Oftentimes, we’ve spotted the issue already and have taken the necessary steps to ensure that it’s being taken care of.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten calls from trades because of hot headed overbearing clients.  They’re not fun and just make the process more difficult.

8. And lastly – You Get What You Pay For.  I can not stress enough just how imperative it is to select your contractor and tradesmen on quality as well as price.  All too often projects are horribly hinged on price alone and in the end, quality suffers.  If you chose your contractor based solely on price, you can not expect perfection in the end.

Who knew remodeling had to be so damned hard? HA!

So instead of trying to handle your remodel on your own….

Just give me a ring instead.

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7 thoughts on “The Art of the Punch List

  1. You can easily create a punch list on your iPhone and share immediately with the contractor and the designer. Check out our app PunchLists available in the App Store:

  2. Mom says:

    boy you said that one right. SOMETIMES YOU ANSWER! 🙂

  3. We just have a contract on my grandmother’s house (though we opted not to do any updates) and I have been involved (as the hired gun) on other estate sales…I know how difficult (if there is more than one heir) and emotional it can be. Great post on how to use punch lists and *underline* walk thrus! (in this and other cases) to take some of the emotions out of the process. Very good and practical tips here Brandon. And I don’t think you were too blunt. Just right. The biggest point — there is always a punch list. cheers.

    • dcoopsd says:

      You actually brought up one particularly good point there – there is and always will be a punch list of some sort. To often I think clients forget this fact and expect it to be fully perfect by that first date of completion. There are so many details involved in even the smallest of construction projects that it’s quite possible there might be a missing screw or a mar in the paint or ….

      And the good news about my mother’s phone call? The house sold today. Woohoo!

  4. Great post, and quite timely for me as we have just moved out to start our remodel. My question is about timing–when is is appropriate to start the punch lists? I want the contractor to know that we are paying attention, but I have no desire to introduce the PITA factor. What do you recommend?

    PS–congrats on the sale of the home : )

    • dcoopsd says:

      That’s definitely a hard one. You definitely have to trust that your contractor is doing his job and that you’re not micromanaging his efforts. But on the other hand you definitely don’t want him to miss key points along the way. If you don’t already, get to know your plans and at key points along the way (for example – after rough in of electrical) walk the job site with the contractor. If something appears askew then ask questions. Save the big punch list for the end though if there are things you’re afraid of forgetting, make note of it during the job walks.

      I think there is an answer in there somewhere….

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