Happy endings: Finishing the punch list without coming to blows

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Besides being aptly named for the impulse it can inspire among clients and their contractors, the punch list is the final, aggravating hurdle of any renovation. 

But somewhat counterintuitively, the worst thing you can do is wait until the end of your project to hand over your list. That's when your contractor is ready to move on and your financial leverage is at its lowest.

“During the last 30 percent of the job, the client should come in on a weekly basis and point out things that need to be taken care of,” says Jeff Streich, a general contractor and the owner of Prime Renovations in Manhattan.  “If the client is on top of the contractor throughout the process, the final punch list should be small.”

He even recommends presenting a preliminary punch list just before the third installment payment rather than waiting for the fourth and final payment.

That final amount—typically 10 percent of the total job—along with the prospect of referral business is usually enough to motivate a contractor to finish a modestly sized punch list.   That may not be the case though if the contractor is about to start a much bigger job kicked off by a much larger check.

“To be on the safe side, for smaller jobs, I would tell a client to hold back 15% because then it’s worth it for the contractor to finish,” advises Streich. "Then as the punchlist is being completed, another payment would be fair--maybe half of what's left." 

Typically, there is nothing that challenging about a punch list, says Streich, "unless the contractor screwed up something to begin with and has to do something like open up a wall again or put in a pocket door but didn’t make the insides of the wall big enough.”

In that case, he says, “You could at least sit them down and say let’s do the easy things first, and then we’ll figure out how we can do the other things.”

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