The Inside Outside Guys: Setting expectations between owner, contractor

By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein

DETROIT, July 7, 2022 ~ Decades ago, a friend who was an avid outdoorsman met the girl of his dreams. That Fall, he skipped deer camp for the first time in his life to spend more time with her.

The following year, the new wife of this friend was devastated upon learning he was off to spend a week with his buddies up north stalking white-tailed trophies. Didn’t he love her anymore?

His mistake? He hadn’t set realistic expectations for their journey together.

This is frequently the issue when contractors undertake a project for a homeowner.

Like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, the owner is excited to finally be moving toward the fulfillment of that years-long dream, perhaps a new kitchen, while the contractor is motivated by a new client and a new challenge.

Unless expectations are properly set beforehand, this relationship can quickly degrade and leave both parties frustrated and unsatisfied.

An acquaintance who built riding stables and arenas as a specialty shared a story about a job he had undertaken for a couple.

From day one, they assured him that he had “promised” various details and amenities on the project that he knew he had never discussed or intended to provide.

It finally occurred to him that the couple was attributing conversations to him that they had experienced with other professionals that had bid the work during the prior year.

The relationship had quickly soured and became a constant battle of compromise in his efforts to please them without going broke on the job.

The solution to this dilemma is to properly cast expectations in writing before the job starts.

Many owners and contractors alike cringe at the notion of a lengthy written contract. But the reality is that it takes a lengthy writing to properly convey the details of a project.

Custom home builders, creating one-off projects, will obligate the parties to spend several hours together going over the contract word for word to make certain everyone understands what is to be expected.

What items should be included in such a document?

As we have talked about in the past, in addition to all costs and payment schedules, detailed plans and written specifications are required. You should be able to look at the drawings, read the specifications, and know exactly what you are getting, just as the trades people on the job should be able to follow the same documents as a “road map” to proper installation.

Any questions regarding “what” or “how” should be answered by the documents.

Contractors are well advised to also include written warranty guidelines and procedures as part of the original contract as well as performance specifications.

Performance Specifications, PS, should address everything from what constitutes “plumb” and “level” and “true” to acceptable gaps in a miter joint or countertop or even to the standard of finish intended for the new drywall.

As an example, the PS may state that “the drywall will be finished such that no blemishes will be readily visible to the naked eye under natural lighting conditions from a distance of 6 feet or more.

This is needed for the situation where an owner claims poor workmanship by showing irregularities highlighted by a halogen lamp placed up against the surface of the drywall.

Acceptable joints in the trim may be defined by language that states “all trim joints will be closed to within 1/32 of an inch across the entire exposed surface of the joints.” Applying metrics to each specification allows all parties ready confirmation that the qualitative objective was met or exceeded.

These specifications serve as part of the written warranty and allow the contractor first right to repair or replace at their discretion.

Additionally, these same standards serve as the benchmark with installing subcontractors and employees. Everyone is put on written notice as to the “sold” standard of acceptable performance.

Even for smaller jobs like a driveway replacement, such documentation will occupy some paper and digital ink, but be well worth the effort the first time a question by an owner is answered by a quick reference to the documents all parties had prior reviewed and signed.

It will also reinforce the notion that “if it isn’t in writing, it is not included.”

For the contractor, regardless of their trade specialty, the specifications only have to be created one time and can be used in every written agreement. For the homeowner the benefit is having a written promise of realistic expectations.

Properly written, conveyed and utilized, such documentation can prolong the honeymoon and lead to more satisfied clients and stronger referrals. A win-win for all parties.

This is the type of experience and professionalism you can enjoy with the professionals you will find at

For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at

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