Ask the Architect

Why isn’t it going the way we planned?


Q. My contractor started my job and promised to complete the work in two months. They also promised that work would continue, every day, because I didn’t want a “no-show.” That lasted about two days, then they said the concrete guy was behind, then the carpenter was delayed. Now I’ve been waiting three weeks for the carpenter. Is this typical? What would you do? I wish I could get my money back and start over with someone else. Ugh!

A. You mean you wanted your project to be just like the ones on TV, where everyone shows up right on time, the work gets done ahead of schedule, and the whole job seems like a joy, with the workmen singing “Whistle while you work” while you watch, sipping a cool drink, from your hammock. Ah, reality!

All the stages of a project take a lot of planning and effort to go smoothly. The hardest part of construction is when there are good intentions, ignoring Murphy’s Law, and then Klein’s Law takes over. What’s Klein’s Law? Klein believed that Murphy was an optimist.

You have reasonable expectations to want, in writing, a businessperson to commit to a schedule and follow through. I once heard a business coach put it this way: “If you want to be successful, you have to do three things consistently. Do what you said you’d do, when you said you’d do it, for the price you said you could.” That, unfortunately, is easier said than done.

I can’t fault your contractor, completely, for the dilemma. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Unless your contractor has all the various trades working together under their exclusive employ, it’s hard to get subcontractors, with their own businesses, to be consistently on time, on budget, and to do what they said they’d do. It just is. One reason is that the cost of insurances and taxes for employees makes it more effective to use subcontractor services only when you need them, but like every businessperson knows, you can’t dance at two weddings at the same time, and people overbook their services, meaning it’s impossible to keep commitments.

Your contractor is probably just as frustrated, because he has to make payroll and has to keep taking on jobs if the ones his subs aren’t showing up for aren’t producing income. That’s the unfortunate reality, especially in a better economy, like now. So unless you put it in writing that there will be penalties for late delivery of the work and bonuses for finishing ahead of time, you have to be insistent. It always comes down to money. Better-paying jobs get the most attention. The possibility of a penalty (a loss of contractor income), or other damages seems to be the other motivator. I can’t fault them for a death in the family or if their truck breaks down, unless it happens several times a week. Good luck!

© 2017 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.