Naples Contractor Pioneers Use of Work Agreements to Ensure Quality Construction

Wed July 07, 2004 - Southeast Edition

Most homebuilders in Southwest Florida use the services of different subcontractors during the construction phase of a new home. While one company might handle the foundation and cement block walls, others are hired to install the plumbing and electric, build the interior walls, lay down the tile or carpet and put on the roof.

To ensure quality control from the moment the slab is poured until the time the keys are handed to the happy new owners, a few area homebuilding companies are having all of their subcontractors and vendors sign “Letters of Understanding” and “Scope of Work” agreements.

One such company pioneering the concept is Naples-based Coastal Breeze Homes, which specializes in constructing single-family residences priced in the $400,000 to $900,000 range.

Company President Greg Schmidt said these agreements clearly spell out in detail what his company expects from its trade partners.

“The Coastal Breeze Letter of Understanding is signed by each of our professional Florida licensed sub-contractors and was written and designed to specify a clear interpretation of our company’s high level of expectation for skills, materials and construction processes utilized in the building of a home,” said Schmidt, adding that up to this point in his company’s history, no subcontractor has refused to sign the Letters of Understanding.

“The team at Coastal Breeze Homes has created more than 20 separate “Scope of Work” agreements specific to the various subcontractors and vendors who might be working on one of its homes.

“For example, the first few pages of the Scope of Work agreements for the plumbing subcontractor and the electrical subcontractor might be identical because they deal with general items such as safety on the job site, clean-up, and work ethics,” said Schmidt. “But, the last couple of pages are very specific to the particular trade. It was a time-consuming process, but one we feel ensures quality workmanship and overall assists the entire construction process in a positive manner.”

Schmidt said the agreements are especially beneficial since employee turnover in subcontracting companies is a common occurrence.

“The scheduling of when our subcontractors will be working on one of our homes is such that between homes,” said Schmidt, “if one of their employees leaves and another takes his or her place, the Scope of Work agreement is there to ensure continuity.

“These agreements ensure us and the homeowner that throughout the building process each trade partner is focused on quality workmanship in every part of the home, making mistakes much less likely, and ensuring that the level of detail that we expect is actually carried out.”

Eddie Reynolds is co-owner of S&R Concrete, a company specializing in slab, block and tie beam construction. Reynolds, an Okeechobee native who has been in the business in Southwest Florida for 18 years, said he had no hesitation signing the agreements for Coastal Breeze Homes.

“We’ve been associated with Coastal Breeze Homes from the start when we were awarded the contract for the company’s first model in Imperial Golf Estates,” said Reynolds.

After reviewing the Letters of Understanding and Scope of Work agreements, Reynolds added he was happy to sign them.

“We do quality work and there wasn’t a single line in their agreements, regarding what is expected of us, that we don’t already do,” said Reynolds. “These agreements are a win-win for both companies.”

Danny LeFebvre founded Rock-It Drywall in 2000 due in part to his past working relationship with Coastal Breeze Homes.

“I was working for another company prior to 2000 that seemed more concerned with putting dry wall up in a production fashion, rather than quality fashion,” said LeFebvre. “That’s why I decided to go out on my own. And since the principals at Coastal Breeze Homes were already familiar with my work ethic they were the first to hire my new company to do their work.”

LeFebvre added he was pleasantly surprised when Coastal Breeze Homes presented the work agreements.

“The first time I read over the lengthy agreements I thought to myself, ’finally, a company dedicated to quality,’” said LeFebvre, who is on the job site daily supervising his four employees. “It was refreshing and I signed right away. And by signing, I felt my company became a part of their company. It’s just a great business arrangement, that in the end, benefits the homeowner.”

Coastal Breeze Homes makes sure each and every one of its trade partners are living up to the signed agreements.

“Like Danny, we visit our construction sites each day, at least once a day and sometimes several times a day,” said Schmidt. “When it comes to construction, close enough and good enough are not good enough. We are all striving for the same goal — perfection. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

Kaye Homes, which builds homes priced from the mid-$100,000s to more than $900,000, also has its trade partners sign work agreements. Stuart Kaye, owner and founder of Kaye Homes, said the company’s work agreements spell out exactly what Kaye Homes expects in regard to quality and timeliness.

“The primary purpose of the work agreements is to make it clear from the very beginning what we expect from our trade partners and what they can expect from us throughout the entire construction phase –– and beyond,” said Kaye. “That includes the specifications to what is to be built, the scope of work, the quality of craftsmanship and finish, and ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, customer care.”

Representatives from Kaye Homes meet with the trade partners on a regular basis to discuss a home’s progress and any issues that might have arisen.

Although Kaye Homes has many quality inspections throughout the entire construction phase, the work agreements also specify trade partners must report any irregularities in the construction.

“If a trade partner covers up even a minor flaw in construction the trade partner is responsible for the correction no matter how far construction has progressed,” said Kaye. “It’s a solid checks-and-balances system that in the end benefits all of our trade partners, our company and the homebuyer.”

The work agreements, according to Kaye, are not set in stone, but rather are refined as needed.

“There are new products and building techniques entering the market on a regular basis and as a company that keeps up with the latest trends we must revise our agreements to coincide with the times,” said Kaye.

The work agreements have paid off for Kaye Homes in a big way. According to the company’s quality control manager, Jim Mumm, the punch out lists, created at the end of a home’s construction phase, have gotten much shorter.

“The agreements ensure fewer mistakes are made,” said Mumm. “That makes my job much easier.”

Mumm, who has been with Kaye Homes for 15 months, has also implemented a second tier of quality control prior to the new homeowner’s walk-through.

“At the end of the construction phase, after our on-site construction manager signs off, I walk through the home myself, do my own punch out list, and have the trade partners change or correct what I observed,” said Mumm.

“After that work is done the owners are invited to take their walk-through at which time the home should be 99 percent perfect.”

According to Mumm, prior to the implementation of the program, it wasn’t unusual to have a page or more of small items on the homeowner’s punch out list.

“Now, their list is usually only two or three small items,” said Mumm.