Help Clients Make Selections, Not Change Orders

Could reducing project change orders be as easy as selecting four key finishes before the plans are finalized? The answer is yes.

The selections for these four finishes—plumbing, appliances, lighting and cabinets—are the culprits that cause the most change orders and design revisions for projects. Typically, clients are sent off to showrooms to make these selections only after the plans are drawn, the budget is finalized, and the contract is signed. The floorplan and project budget are determined using a general idea of the type of finish-out the client desires without knowing the specifics of these selection details. Flooring and countertops may be discussed, but not faucets and pendants. When the contract is signed, construction begins on the mechanical rough, foundation and framing in accordance with the plans, and the client begins shopping for these selections.

There are two problems with this sequence: First, most clients come to the project without having done the necessary preparation and planning to lock in the floorplan details and budget. Finding photos of rooms they like on the internet is not the same as tackling the details of every finish for every room. Working with their designer or showroom personnel may be the first time the client has the guidance and direction needed to assimilate a comprehensive account of everything they want and envision for their new home. Shopping at actual showrooms is an eye-opening, educational experience where homeowners see new products, ideas, possibilities, and they find things they didn’t know existed or that they wanted. This exploration is the groundwork they need to complete before committing to the floorplan and finish specs for their new home.

Second, the client does not have the construction background to know that once construction begins, it is too late to make certain selection choices without causing expensive changes to the plumbing, gas and electrical systems. In their mind, the difference between an under-mount sink and a vessel sink is the style and look of it, not the installation. Lacking construction experience, the client will make selections, focused only on finding what they like, and staying within the budget. They decide on a free-standing vessel sink that calls for a wallmounted faucet and raised, exposed plumbing below. To the client, they have made their selection. To the builder, they have made changes.

Simply reversing this sequence, by directing clients to make the selections for these four finishes first, could eliminate so many problems, prevent cost overruns and put an end to the notion that builders make money off of change orders. It would also bring the interior designer into the project earlier, allowing his or her expertise to influence the home design from the very beginning. Here are just a few examples of the problems that can arise from selection changes.

Plumbing changes: added pot fillers need a water line run to the stove area; shower systems and handheld sprayers require additional plumbing or larger supplies; specialty tubs may change supply and drain locations. Lighting changes: large fixtures, such as oversized chandeliers and ceiling fans, require extra bracing; low voltage fixtures, like track lighting, requires a transformer and changes layout; decorative fixtures might go from three minipendants to two larger pendants.

Appliance changes: gas range from electric cooktop requires the builder to add a gas line; cooktop moved to the island require added connections and changes the vent location; icemakers—some models require a drain. Cabinet changes: furniture-style vanities need to be onsite for plumbing rough connections to fit; open vanities require exposed plumbing need to be raised; display cabinets with glass fronts and shelves can require accent lighting.

This may seem like radical thinking, to delay signing a contract and cashing that deposit check until these selections are made, but consider the many benefits of reducing change orders with this approach. The budget is accurate. Time is not wasted tracking change orders. Money is not wasted on redoing work. Projects without change orders can stay on schedule. Client confidence and trust is maintained.

Advising clients to make these selections in the design phase of the project not only ensures that these buyers get everything they want in their new home, but also gets builders everything they want—a successful project, satisfied clients, good referrals, and rave reviews. Happy clients can’t wait to show off their new home and brag about the great contractor they found to build it.

2015-dept6Melinda Miles is an Interior Designer and owner of Melinda Miles Interiors, LLC. She may be reached at

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