Miscommunication can take many forms during a remodeling project. With all the jargon flying around, it’s easy for your contractor to say one thing and for you to hear another.

Got an architect or designer in the mix? That’s one more player in the old game of telephone.

Then, of course, there's the potential trouble on the homefront—disagreements with your partner—which only intensifies during the pressure-cooker setting of a home remodel.

In fact, a 2016 survey from Houzz found that 41 percent of people who remodeled with a partner found the experience frustrating. Five percent even considered breaking up.  

I knew all of this going into the renovation of my brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, which I share with my wife and two kids. Even with that "expertise," there have been a few communication breakdowns—and we’re only a third of the way through the project!

But I’ve managed to avoid any major blowups by adhering to the following rules.

Look for Team Chemistry

You hear horror stories about tensions between architects and general contractors who sometimes have competing agendas (design vs. budget, for example). I knew that going in, so when we were interviewing contractors, I listened closely to the interactions between them and our architect.

There was strong rapport from the beginning between our architect and the contractor we ended up choosing, and that set the tone for the entire project. The respectful problem-solving approach they each brought to the renovation has been fun to watch—and very reassuring.

Get Everything in Writing

Any sentence that begins with “But you said . . . ” is bound to cause trouble during a renovation.

Whether the words spring from selective memory or a genuine misunderstanding, verbal agreements don’t provide a reliable or accurate record. You need to have a written contract that spells out the full scope of the project, a start and completion date, and a full breakdown of materials, including who’s responsible for ordering them.

“I thought you were handling that” is another one of those red-flag phrases written agreements are designed to avoid.

Maintain Constant Contact

Homeowner involvement is essential for remodeling success. Determine upfront how the members of your team like to communicate. Although we moved out of the brownstone, I’m in contact with my contractor and architect by phone or text most days, and we have a weekly walk-through on the job site.

Ideally, both my wife and I are present for the walk-throughs, though there was a week where I had to miss one (mea culpa), and that led to our biggest miscommunication (and yes, argument).

We worked through the issue, but the lesson is that problems arise when the entire team isn’t present for major design discussions.

Beware of Contractor Speak

As in any profession, general contractors speak in their own language. Even if they’re not trying to pull a fast one (though that does happen), it’s easy for the lingo to lead to miscommunication.

For example, they might include “allowances” in the contract, which are basically open-ended amounts for products and materials that could end up stretching your budget beyond what you'd planned.

Or add-ons to the original scope of work with the not-so-intuitive name "change orders." In the excitement of the project, you might not realize that every new change order you agree to means another line in the budget.

Then you have all of the technical terms on a job site, from laminated veneer lumber to blown-in insulation to CAT 6 cable. When one of these terms comes up and you don’t know what it means, you have to put aside any shyness or machismo and ask for an explanation.

Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for stuff you may not want or need.         

Take Special Care With Personal Relationships

Bruce Irving, a renovation consultant based in Cambridge, Mass., put it best when he likened a remodeling project to a “blank canvas upon which any unresolved issues in your relationship will be painted.”

Without psychoanalyzing myself here, I thought about that after the above-mentioned argument with my wife following the missed walk-through. That helped reopen the lines of communication before any real damage was done.

There are still weeks to go in the project, but I'm confident that the solid communication the entire team has established will carry us through to the finish line.

Progress reports. Check back as we move through the "systems phase" of the project, including the selection and installation of a new heating and cooling system.

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Getting the Team on the Same Page