The following article was originally published in Builder’s Exchange Quarterly. Summer 2015 edition.
By Aileen Leipprandt
It was reported that elite runner, Hyvon Ngetich, literally crawled the last two tenths of a mile to cross the finish line in the Austin Marathon on February 15, 2015. After leading most of the race, her body simply gave out. Instead of calling it quits, she crawled on her hands and knees to the end, taking third place with a time of 3:04:02.
Closing out a construction project is not that dramatic, nor should it be. As legal advisors to the construction industry, however, we often see relationships disintegrate at the final stages of the Project. What can you do to finish strong?
First, start well to finish well. Even before groundbreaking, prepare for close out by clearly defining responsibilities and deliverables in your contract. It’s easier to negotiate terms at the beginning of a project when relations are cordial, rather than the end when parties get sidetracked by unresolved claims. Clearly define Substantial and Final Completion and the relationship of those dates to warranty obligations, insurance requirements, liquidated damages and the statute of limitations. Specify when the Owner’s obligation for operation, maintenance, security, insurance and utilities begins to avoid gaps in insurance coverage. Evaluate whether warranty and as-built requirements are commercially reasonable. Confirm the punch list procedure has sufficient controls so that the process does not get bogged down by endless additions. And, to minimize subcontractor claims, negotiate a reduction in
retention as milestones are met.
Second, timely address claims to the extent you can. Deferred claims merely fester, derail close out and ultimately spawn calls to the legal team. Strive to neutralize claim language to avoid igniting emotion during the project.
Third, establish clear and efficient financial controls. You don’t want to chase missing lien waivers nor do you want to absorb trailing invoices that are too stale to present to upstream parties.
Fourth, don’t overlook the importance of comprehensive owner training on capital equipment. Proper handover of sophisticated systems can reduce callback and prevent damage to systems, thereby reducing warranty claims or contractor/design professional blame for operational challenges.
Fifth, carefully document all policies of insurance that apply to the project while the policy numbers, carriers, coverage limits and additional insureds are easily identifiable.
Finally, think creatively about solutions to end a difficult project on a high note. Diminish arm wrestling over whether work is truly defective by providing a warranty bond or extending the warranty. Do not overlook the reputational value gained through a smooth close out process. It’s not just first impressions that matter. Especially on construction projects, last impressions have a bigger and lingering impact. Just as Hyvon Ngetich’s heroic effort to cross the finish line in Austin, Texas left a lasting image of courage and perseverance, much can be gained when construction stakeholders focus not only on “when” a project should be completed, but also on “how.”