Updated: Jan 23, 2020

As we all know, it is often unwise to proceed with important life decisions based solely on assumptions. The same is true for home renovation projects, yet, having been employed in the field for nearly two decades, it is something I hear about far too often. Homeowners ‘assume’ that the job will be completed on time. Contractors assume that they will be compensated upon finishing the work. Homeowners assume that the vision of their renovation that exists in their head is the same vision that the builder has. The list goes on and on, ad infinitum.

Fortunately, there are some simple fixes to the issues surrounding incorrect assumptions. Like many other qualified professionals in a wide variety of fields, I have been using these methods for years, for my own personal benefit as a contractor but also for the benefit of the homeowners who hire me.

First and foremost, it is essential to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and get things down in writing. What better way to avoid assumptions than to have everything documented, agreed upon and signed by both parties? Now, I’m not saying that you need to get lawyers involved or get your contracts notarized or anything of that nature – just a simple document pertaining to the works that are to be completed, the money that is to be exchanged, the projected completion date, things of this nature.

One common thing I hear from homeowners is that they don’t need to document things because they trust their builder, which I find baffling as the two are not related. I try to only work for people I consider trustworthy, and I’d like to think that the feeling is mutual. But I still document things, and the reason is simple: everybody stays on the same page.

Let’s say I am discussing a possible deck extension with a homeowner and trust is not an issue – I’ve done work for her before and the trust extends both ways. Now say, hypothetically, that I pitch her four different visions for her new extended deck. She may say “Richard, I like the third idea the best, but would it be possible to incorporate the wrap around element from the second deck? And can we use the same type wood varnish you used last time when you did work for me? And, I’m not sure if you noticed, by my neighbor down the street has a great staircase – can we incorporate something like that?”

Now, we could proceed directly from this conversation. I could assume that when she says the third deck, she actually meant the third deck (and wasn’t referring to the second deck by mistake). I could assume that she is talking about the neighbor in the blue house to the east’s staircase and not that of the red house to the west, because that’s the staircase I found most impressive. She could assume that I remember exactly, word for word, the contents of my informal pitch to her. Or assume the type of varnish used years ago is still on the market. Maybe it would all work out. But it becomes exponentially easier when we take our discussion and put it to paper, ensuring that we are on the same page.

On top of the work itself, it is also common for people to assume that the job will be completed on time. Or to assume that the payment discussed will match the invoice. Or to assume that the contractor will assume responsibility for any errors made. Unfortunately, though many of these things appear to be common sense, it is often necessary to get them in writing.

Take assumptions out of the equation and it becomes easier to ensure that you work is completed exactly as you want it.