Setting Limits for Punch-List Work

Cabinetmakers discuss how to avoid being punch-listed to death, and where to draw the line. April 22, 2014

After a recent enlightening experience in our cabinet/millwork shop we are considering adding language to our contract to clarify the punch-list process. The particular job involved numerous tiny callbacks by both the homeowner and builder, some a little dubious - for example, we built and installed the cabinets several months ago and this week received a call from the builder to adjust the handles on an appliance which we had nothing to do with. We have been in business doing high-end cabinet/trim for several years and have been fortunate not to run into a situation quite like this before, but I think it would be helpful to ourselves as well as our clients to clarify the process going forward.

Specifically I am considering: a. Defining the period of time in which the other party has to compile maybe two lists - an initial walk-through list as we near substantial completion and a final wrap-up (two weeks later, a month?), and (when applicable) b. on work that is to be finished by others, punch-out requests are to be made and allowed to be completed prior to the finisher/painter coming in.

What are your thoughts? Do any of you have contract language to this effect? In regards to finishing, am I off base that we should not be held liable to fix something the painter screwed up? (I wouldn't say we are opposed to doing some follow-up courtesy tweaking, but would like to reserve the right to avoid getting completely hosed.)

I did find some interesting information at the Knowledge Base but it didn't get too far into contract language specifically, though we could completely relate to the story of the micrometer.

Punch-List Management Strategies

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From Contributor F:
It’s tough when the customer is picky. We have a commercial GC we work for and this is a pre-pre-punch list before the doors are adjusted or anything is cleaned. The wall framing was bad so we had to remove the stone top and reinstall it which is why the wall got trashed.

Their process is pre-pre punch list:
Pre-Punch list
Punch list

Punch list with architect
Punch list with architect and owner

From Contributor F:
I guess my point is you can try can control it but in residential there will always be items that aren't discovered right away at which point its either punch list or warranty. In the scenario above the architect highlighted the fillers and asked if they were fillers, the GC's quality control guy interpreted this as intending the fillers to go to the floor. I responded with "All the horizontal line as submitted was maintained; the highlighted rectangle was interpreted as a question and we responded that yes it was a filler, also the highlight does not have the horizontal line crossed out nor is noted in the narrative."

At which point they sent an RFI to the architect who agreed that it was installed correctly. Some customers are tough to deal with and you either need to add it into the price or qualify how many punch lists you will come out and work on, but I don't think limiting punch lists absolves us of repairing things that need to be repaired. The problem is inefficient GC's, owners and architects.

From contributor M:
This is taken from part of my contract, but don't take it too seriously. I am not a lawyer. Go see a licensed attorney for legal advice. “Payments shall be made as provided in the agreement. For purposes of clarification, the term “substantial completion of the scope of work” means the Cabinetmaker has completed all work called for in the contract documents even though minor items may remain to be finished, corrected, adjusted, or installed and the woodwork is for the most part ready for use by the homeowner. These items will be addressed at this time and completed prior to payout of the final payment, but shall not delay the payment for substantial completion. Any and all punch list items must be submitted in writing within one week after substantial completion. After that period any issues will be considered to be warranty claims. The acceptance of the work and making of the final payment shall constitute waiver of all prior claims, or punch list items, by the homeowner. Final payment must be received prior to the acceptance of any warranty claims. Any changes to this agreement, or authorization for additional work, or expenses, shall be made in the form of a dually executed change order.”

From contributor G:
My contention is that these sorts of problems are often created by the owner’s rep or in your case the GC's quality guy as they justify their existence by finding problems. Similar to attorneys who make more by creating more problems or politicians (more expensive lawyers) who justify their existence by the problems they create. I wonder if a more effective policy would be that all problems must be resolved without a third party who's vested interest is in creating problems?

From Contributor F:
That contractor does that process on every project, they protect the owner to the detriment of the subs. For the same contactor I sat in a meeting in SF with the architects, owner’s rep, GC Pm and site super. We needed a detail changed and the architect was unwilling to change the detail or listen to the hardware manufacturers recommendations. I told him that over time the building could move and shift and the hardware needed access so it could be adjusted. He stated that the building wouldn't move. This was a 50 plus story high rise on a floating foundation. I told him I disagreed with his premise but we would build per his recommendation and not warranty any repairs that were caused by building movement. The GC never disagreed with the architect in this instance. After that project we try to do as little as possible for that GC and won't work on projects drawn by that firm.

From contributor S:
I've taken a novel approach to this the last few years and it has worked surprisingly well. When I feel that something is not my fault or is above and beyond our responsibility, I just say no. I don't sugar coat it and I don't apologize. It took 20 years in the business and a combination of impatience, confidence, and maturity to finally utter the word, but how gratifying it has been. And the funny part is, it doesn't seem to have changed anything, in fact I seem to have garnered more respect from those superintendents that will push until you push back. Try it, you might like it.