Making Points with Call-Backs

You finished the job last week. This week you get a call from the owner:

The floor squeaks -- or a door or windows doesn’t close quite right -- or there’s a wet spot on the ceiling -- or a pipe in the basement is leaking.

If you’ve been in construction for a while, you could add more examples to my list. So what should you do when you get a call-back? I’ve got a suggestion -- a suggestion that could save both your reputation and some grief.

Most contractors take responsibility for obvious defects in materials and workmanship. That’s an easy choice. It’s the law in most states. It’s also what your clients expect. We live in an economy where vendors make refunds on merchandise that doesn’t live up to expectations. That’s simply good business. Contractors don’t have to make refunds. But they have the same obligation to meet expectations

Call-backs vs. Warranties
The essence of a call-back is that something isn’t working as expected. In that light, a call-back is an extension of the construction process. Many call-backs are items that could have been discovered with a more thorough final inspection.

The essence of a warranty claim is the right to collect money damages. That’s not where you want to be. Call-backs aren’t about money. The owner just wants your crew to check the problem and make it right. That’s perfectly reasonable. You did the work and probably know best what’s needed. Your cost of making repairs is likely much less than hiring another contractor to do the work. And there are other advantages. Doing the right thing earns the owner’s confidence. That builds your reputation. It’s also an opportunity to sell more work.

Set Limits in the Contract
But it’s reasonable to set limits. For example, you’re not liable for call-backs forever. The call-back period could be 30 days or 60 days. On a larger job, the call-back period could be the time between substantial completion (when you write the punch list) and final completion (when the punch list has been worked off).
If the first call-back doesn’t correct the problem, will you make a second call-back on the same problem? If so, does a new call-back period begin running after the second call-back?
Other generally accepted rules on call-backs:
  • An owner who doesn’t give notice of a defect within the call-back period waives the right to repair or replacement.
  • You have the right to test and inspect any claimed defect during the call-back period.
  • You have the right to an opinion from an independent expert before beginning repairs.
  • The call-back period starts early on any part of the work an owner occupies early.
  • Exclude from call-back protection anything covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
If your contracts don’t cover call-backs and specify reasonable call-back limits, you’ve set the stage for a serious dispute. The best way to protect yourself: Construction Contract Writer. The trial version is free.

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